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Historic Water Tower remains an iconic symbol of Chicago’s spirit and resilience
August 23, 2019 — The City of Chicago and a multitude of partner organizations will celebrate the sesquicentennial of a Chicago icon with a day-long festival, the Chicago Water Tower 150th Celebration on Saturday, September 14, from 10 am to 3 pm and beyond. Built in 1869 by architect William Boyington, the Water Tower became an important symbol of the spirit and resilience of Chicago after it was one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
“Chicago’s magnificent Water Tower has been a constant in our city’s history, as much an icon of our identity as our lake or our flag, representing both our ingenuity, architectural heritage, and boundless resiliency as a people,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “Just as our city has been shaped around it, it has also shaped us, bridging our past to our present, and continuously guiding our future for generations to come.”
Free programming will include family activities, lectures, tours, theater, music, dance and circus performances, public art, and exhibitions–along with food trucks, dining discounts, and complimentary admission to nearby cultural institutions. For details, visit watertowerarts.org/150th. Organizers include the City of Chicago (including the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Department of Water Management, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Fire Department, Department of Planning and Development), The Magnificent Mile Association, the newly-formed Water Tower Arts District and its members (including Lookingglass Theatre Company, Richard H. Driehaus Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Graham Foundation, among others), AIA Chicago (also celebrating its 150th anniversary this year), the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and others.
In the 1860s, Chief Engineer Ellis Chesbrough was brought to Chicago to find a solution for Chicago’s water supply which was polluted and inadequate for the growing population. Chesbrough designed a water supply system with tunnels extending nearly two miles into Lake Michigan to pull cleaner waterinto a pumping station for distribution to residents. To offset the pressure surges in the water, they added a 138-foot standpipe three feet in diameter that was housed in today’s iconic Chicago WaterTower.
Architect William Boyington designed both the Chicago Water Tower and the Chicago Avenue Pumping Station buildings in a Gothic Revival style of architecture constructed in distinctive yellow limestone quarried from Joliet, Illinois. In 1918, when Michigan Avenue (formerly Pine Street) was widened, the plan was altered in order to give the Water Tower its current featured location. For its 100th anniversary, the Chicago Water Tower was selected by the American Water Works Association to be the first American Water Landmark and was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1971. The Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.