The History of Water Tower Place in Chicago

Imagine strolling through the bustling streets of downtown Chicago, surrounded by towering skyscrapers and the vibrant energy of city life. Amidst this urban landscape stands a timeless icon, a beacon of elegance and sophistication – Water Tower Place. With its rich history dating back to 1975, this iconic shopping destination has become a beloved landmark in the heart of Chicago. From its humble beginnings to its transformation into a premier shopping destination, this article explores the fascinating history of Water Tower Place, taking you on a journey through time and showcasing its enduring charm. So, grab a seat and prepare to be captivated by the story behind this architectural marvel.

Construction and Architectural Design

Construction of the Water Tower Place

The construction of Water Tower Place began in 1965 and was completed in 1975. This iconic building, located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, was developed by Urban Retail Properties and designed by renowned architect Edward D. Dart. The construction process involved the demolition of the original Chicago Water Tower building, which had been badly damaged in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Architectural Design and Features of Water Tower Place

Water Tower Place showcases an impressive architectural design that has become synonymous with the city of Chicago. The building stands at a height of 859 feet and consists of 74 floors. It is primarily made of steel and glass, with a distinctive cylindrical shape that adds to its unique appeal. The combination of modern aesthetics and clean lines creates a visually striking structure.

One of the standout features of Water Tower Place is its vertical atrium, which spans multiple floors and serves as the centerpiece of the building. The atrium is adorned with lush greenery, providing a refreshing and inviting atmosphere for shoppers and visitors. The glass elevators present in the atrium offer breathtaking views of the city as you ascend or descend.

Historical Significance

The Great Chicago Fire and Water Tower

In 1871, a devastating fire swept through Chicago, leaving much of the city in ruins. Despite the widespread destruction, the Chicago Water Tower miraculously survived the flames. Originally built in 1869, the Gothic-style sandstone tower served as a pumping station and reservoir, providing water to the city. Its survival during the Great Chicago Fire turned it into a symbol of hope and resilience for the people of Chicago.

Transformation of the Water Tower Place

Following the fire, the original Water Tower building stood as a testament to the city’s history. However, by the mid-20th century, it no longer served its original purpose and was in need of major repairs. The decision was made to redevelop the site and create a modern, mixed-use complex known as Water Tower Place.

The transformation of Water Tower Place brought new life to the area and revitalized the surrounding neighborhood. The integration of retail, dining, and entertainment spaces into the building helped to establish it as a hub of activity and a beloved landmark within the city.

The History of Water Tower Place in Chicago
Chicago Water Tower Place” by allie444 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Retail Success and Iconic Status

The Magnificent Mile

Water Tower Place sits in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, a prestigious stretch of Michigan Avenue known for its luxury shopping, upscale hotels, and iconic architecture. The Magnificent Mile attracts millions of tourists and locals each year, making it one of the most sought-after retail destinations in the world. Water Tower Place’s prime location on this illustrious avenue has played a significant role in its retail success and iconic status.

Anchor Stores and Luxury Retailers

Water Tower Place boasts an impressive lineup of anchor stores and luxury retailers. From international fashion brands to high-end boutiques, the shopping experience at Water Tower Place caters to a discerning clientele. Popular anchor stores include Macy’s, The Gap, and American Eagle Outfitters, while luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Tiffany & Co. can also be found within the complex.

Entertainment and Dining

Beyond its retail offerings, Water Tower Place is home to a range of entertainment and dining options. Visitors can enjoy a meal at one of the numerous restaurants offering various cuisines, from casual dining to fine dining experiences. Additionally, an eight-screen movie theater provides an opportunity for moviegoers to catch the latest films in a comfortable setting. Whether you’re looking to indulge in a shopping spree, enjoy a delicious meal, or catch a flick, Water Tower Place has you covered.

Renovations and Expansion

First Renovation in the 1980s

In the 1980s, Water Tower Place underwent its first major renovation to enhance its appeal and accommodate evolving consumer needs. The renovations included updates to the interior design, expansion of retail spaces, and the addition of new amenities to further enrich the shopping experience. These improvements ensured that Water Tower Place remained a cutting-edge destination for retail and entertainment.

Major Expansion in the 1990s

Building on the success of the previous renovation, Water Tower Place embarked on a major expansion project in the 1990s. This expansion involved the addition of an 11-story vertical extension, effectively increasing the building’s height. The expansion allowed for the inclusion of additional retail spaces, restaurants, and entertainment venues, further solidifying Water Tower Place’s status as a premier shopping destination.

Architectural Features and Highlights

The Atrium

As mentioned earlier, the atrium is a significant architectural feature of Water Tower Place. With its open, airy design and lush greenery, the atrium creates a sense of tranquility amidst the bustling retail environment. The atrium also serves as a gathering place, with comfortable seating areas offering a space to relax and soak in the ambiance.

Glass Elevators

Water Tower Place’s glass elevators are not only practical for transportation but also offer a unique visual experience. Gliding up and down the atrium, these elevators provide panoramic views of the city, allowing you to take in the awe-inspiring architecture of both the building and its surroundings.


Skywalks connect different sections of Water Tower Place, allowing shoppers to navigate easily between floors while enjoying the stunning views. These elevated walkways are adorned with large windows, offering glimpses of the cityscape as you journey through the complex.

Watertight Foundation

Water Tower Place boasts a notable architectural feature that helps protect the building—a watertight foundation. Located below ground level, this foundation prevents water from seeping into the building during heavy rains or flooding, ensuring the safety and integrity of the structure.

The History of Water Tower Place in Chicago
Chicago – Streeterville: John Hancock Center, Water Tower Place and Water Pumping Station” by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Cultural and Tourist Destination

Museum of Contemporary Art

Adjacent to Water Tower Place lies the renowned Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). With its ever-changing exhibits and thought-provoking collections, the MCA attracts art enthusiasts from around the world. Visitors to Water Tower Place can easily access the museum and explore its diverse range of contemporary art.

Historic Water Tower

Just steps away from Water Tower Place stands the historic Chicago Water Tower, the only surviving structure from the Great Chicago Fire. The Water Tower now serves as a symbol of resilience and houses a visitor center, allowing tourists to learn about the city’s history and the devastating fire that shaped it.

Chicago Sports Museum

Sports enthusiasts will delight in the Chicago Sports Museum, located within Water Tower Place. This interactive museum showcases the rich sports history of Chicago, paying homage to the city’s beloved teams and athletes. From memorabilia to interactive exhibits, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Chicago Sports Museum.

The Historic Pumping Station

Adjacent to Water Tower Place, visitors will also find the Historic Pumping Station. This historic landmark features stunning architecture and is home to the Lookingglass Theatre Company, renowned for its innovative performances and productions. The Pumping Station adds yet another layer of cultural significance to the Water Tower Place area.

Recent Developments and Future Plans

Refurbishments and Modernization

To ensure Water Tower Place remains a cutting-edge destination, recent refurbishments and modernization efforts have taken place. These improvements include updates to the interior design, technological enhancements, and the addition of new amenities. These ongoing efforts aim to provide visitors with an enhanced experience that keeps pace with the ever-changing retail landscape.

Future Plans and Upcoming Projects

Looking ahead, Water Tower Place has several exciting projects in the pipeline. These include the addition of new luxury retailers, the expansion of dining options, and the incorporation of innovative technologies to create a seamlessly connected shopping experience. The future of Water Tower Place promises to be even more enticing and captivating for visitors.

Social Impact and Community Involvement

Job Creation and Economic Development

Water Tower Place has made a significant impact on job creation and economic development in the Chicago area. The complex provides employment opportunities for a diverse workforce, ranging from retail staff to management positions. Additionally, the presence of Water Tower Place has contributed to the overall economic vitality of the community by attracting both local and international visitors who contribute to the city’s economy.

Community Programs and Partnerships

Water Tower Place actively engages with the local community through various programs and partnerships. These initiatives focus on promoting education, supporting local artists, and giving back to the community. Water Tower Place recognizes the importance of fostering strong relationships with its neighbors and strives to be a responsible and involved corporate citizen.

The History of Water Tower Place in Chicago
Chicago Water Tower Place” by wishymom (Stephanie Wallace Photography) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Water Tower Place Today

Shopping and Dining Experience

Today, Water Tower Place continues to offer a premier shopping and dining experience. Its diverse range of retailers ensures that there is something for everyone, from luxury brands to affordable fashion options. Coupled with its wide selection of dining establishments, visitors can indulge in a full day of retail therapy and culinary delights.

Cultural Events and Exhibitions

Water Tower Place is not only a shopping destination but also a venue for cultural events and exhibitions. Art installations, fashion shows, and live performances are just a few examples of the enriching experiences that visitors can enjoy within the complex. Water Tower Place constantly strives to create a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere that goes beyond the traditional retail experience.

Landmark Status and Recognition

Due to its architectural significance and cultural impact, Water Tower Place has been recognized as a Chicago landmark and holds a special place in the hearts of locals and tourists alike. Its iconic cylindrical shape and prominent location on the Magnificent Mile make it instantly recognizable, solidifying its status as a symbol of Chicago’s rich history and vibrant present.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you visit the Water Tower?

Absolutely! Water Tower Place is open to the public and welcomes visitors to explore its retail, dining, and entertainment offerings. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone looking for a memorable shopping experience in the heart of Chicago.

Water Tower Place is home to numerous popular stores catering to a wide range of tastes and budgets. Some of the notable retailers include Macy’s, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, American Eagle Outfitters, and Tiffany & Co. Whether you’re in search of high fashion, trendy pieces, or classic staples, you’re sure to find something that suits your style at Water Tower Place.

Is there parking available?

Yes, Water Tower Place offers parking options for visitors. The complex has a parking garage with convenient access to the retail and dining areas. Additionally, there are valet parking services available to ensure a hassle-free experience.

Are there any dining options?

Water Tower Place boasts a diverse range of dining options to suit every palate. Whether you’re craving international cuisine, a quick bite, or a leisurely meal, you’ll find restaurants catering to your taste buds within the complex. From casual eateries to fine dining establishments, there’s no shortage of choices to satisfy your cravings.

What are the nearby attractions?

Water Tower Place’s prime location on the Magnificent Mile puts it in close proximity to several other attractions. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Historic Water Tower, the Chicago Sports Museum, and the Historic Pumping Station are all nearby. Visitors can easily explore these cultural landmarks and experience the vibrant energy of downtown Chicago.

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