Stretching over 3,000 feet into the edge of Lake Michigan this Chicago attraction (Navy Pier) is the horizontal equivalent to one of the city’s iconic skyscrapers.
The massive concrete wood and brick structure attracts around 9 million 300,000 people to Chicago’s North Side every year.
Reeling in people from all corners of the globe.
It’s such a popular destination in fact that it’s considered the number-one tourist destination in the entire city of Chicago as well as the state of Illinois but what is this amazing attraction Navy Pier.
Some Fast Facts and Required Updates
Navy Pier Ferris Wheel Hours: 10 Am to 7 Pm
If you’ve ever been to the pier you’ll know it’s a glittering diamond in an already gorgeous City.
What makes Navy Pier so special to so many people. That’s the
- The food,
- The live music
- The Botanical Gardens
- The beer gardens
- The Shakespeare Theatre
- The IMAX theater
- The boats
- The carousel
- The infamous Ferris Wheel
However Navy Pier wasn’t always the recreational haven it is today.
History of Navy Pier
In 1989 Navy Pier took on new management in the form of the private organization Metropolitan pier and Exposition Authority (otherwise nicknamed Mick Peter).
Since the owners also owned Navy piers main competition McCormick place.
The company had multiple visions for the pier such as converting the space into luxury combos, charging money for admission, and making it an extension of downtown commercial districts.
Some public officials suggested turning it into a national park or even a casino.
In the end the company kept its wits about it and left the space free to the public while raising some new attractions and allowing new businesses to rent space inside
The nonprofit was able to completely recreate Navy Pier within six years while keeping to a 200 million dollar budget.
The renovated Navy pier boasted a few notable attractions such:
- 15 Story 40 gondola Ferris Wheel.
- A replica carousel from the 1920s.
- The Botanical Gardens otherwise known as the Crystal gardens
- A 300 seat beer garden
- A grand ballroom opened to events of all kinds
- and enough food joints to give visitors a well-rounded Taste of Chicago cuisine.
In its opening weekend in mid-july the Navy pier would host some well-known stars such as Johnny Cash and Bill Cosby.
When the Sun set over 16,000 white lights and firework displays would keep the pier lit for pedestrians.
The pier had its critics however many commented on its over commercialized field citing the nickname mick pier.
As an accurate description of the products the company had created.
Paul gap an architectural critic for Chicago Tribune wrote a harsh review before he passed away.
Navy Pier as we long knew it is dead by 1994 it will become a gussied up hybrid structure vaguely reminiscent of sitt theme parks suburban malls and pseudo marine buildings that other big cities have planted on their water fronts as venues for tourists and pursuit of freeze-dried atmosphere.
It also garnered criticism because most shops, sit-down restaurants and attractions were not open to the public.
Furthermore there were also compromises to be made on what advertisers could advertise there, what drinks would be sponsored by the pier, which hotdogs brands would serve their product on the pier, and which brand would be the piers official dog.
Needless to say the reopening of Navy Pier to the public was much anticipated and to many Chicagoans a bit disappointing.
Things to do in Navy Pier
As new attractions opened up Chicago natives warmed up to the pier.
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
One of the earliest additions was the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre opened in 1999.
Many of the theaters business practices are inspired by the playwright it is named after.
For example since its inception the theater offered well priced tickets so more young working-class people could experience world-class theatrical performances.
Just like how Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre let people buy tickets on the ground level for merely a penny.
In fact the theater itself is based on the globe theatres design as there’s a wide ground level with multiple upper terraces. The theaters popularity never burned out
According to the theaters website there are year-round season features as many as 20 productions and 650 performances including plays, musicals, world premieres, and visiting international tours.
They bring in around 225 thousand visitors each year
They’ve also been recognized for their talent they’ve won a regional Tony Award in 2008 they were recognized by Michelle Obama in 2014 for their literacy and creativity programs which host around 40,000 Chicago kids annually.
They won the Laurence Olivier Award essentially the Emmys but for theatre. For their production of a musical called Pacific overtures
In the past year the theatre showcased its newest stage the yard which is also heavily inspired by the Globe Theatre but gives the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre the honor of containing the largest and most versatile performing arts venue in the city.
The Botonical Garden
Among the various attractions that Navy Pier offered in 1995 some argue that the Botanical Garden is the most impressive even to this day.
Spread out across one acre of land the Crystal gardens are a beautiful botanical garden located directly inside the pier.
The Crystal gardens are contained within a six story glass atrium that is covered by a 50-foot arched ceiling.
Inside of this massive glass dome the Crystal gardens today are home to over 80 live palm trees, endless foliage, hanging twinkle lights, and leapfrog bounties.
Visitors can also experience breathtaking views of the lakefront.
The Chicago skyline and the ferris wheel from inside the garden.
The Crystal gardens are a wonderful experience for all visitors making this venue ideal for hosting corporate and social events.
With room for up to 1500 guests the Crystal gardens are a popular option for hosting events such as fundraisers, galas, weddings, brand launches, and dinners.
Also Check: Navy Pier Children’s Musuem Opening Hours
Ferris Wheel – Navy Pier
Navy Pier long featured one especially unique attraction the world’s first Ferris Wheel.
It debuted during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
The Ferris wheel owes its famous design to George Washington Gale ferris jr. A structural engineer from Pittsburg Pennsylvania who inspected steel for the exposition.
Ferris brought the idea for an enormous metal wheel to Daniel Burnham the fair’s lead architect.
After Burnham requested an iconic structure that could rival the Eiffel Tower which had been constructed for the 1889 Exposition in Paris.
Although it wasn’t the first amusement wheel it was the first of its kind with reduced steel framework.
In 1893 ferris finally completed its construction and the modern-day Ferris wheel was created.
It was 264 feet tall and showed its riders of you unlike any other.
As passengers sat in their gondolas they experienced spectacular views of the city and Lake Michigan.
Upwards of one point four million people rode the wheel during the fair.
However after the Ferris wheel was deemed financially unsustainable it was disassembled and moved to North Clark Street in 1895 where it operated until 1903.
After serving a short term in st. Louis for the 1900 world’s fair the original wheel was destroyed and sold for scrap metal.
In 2016 a New Ferris Wheel opened on Navy Pier as part of its centennial celebration.
It replaced an earlier version that had been installed in 1995. Often called the Centennial wheel it is 196 feet tall and carries 42 gondolas all of which feature high-tech safety glass and air conditioner.
Although the original wheel was not preserved and the ferris wheel at Navy Pier has technologically evolved the experience remains the same.
Tourists view some of the most breathtaking views of their lives at Navy Pier.
In honor of its centennial anniversary Navy Pier made large-scale enhancements and additions to the pier. These included
New restaurants and dramatic landscape renovations that heightened the Navy Pier experience.
Navy Pier completed the Centennial vision the first phase of pier redevelopment in the summer of 2016
This introduces the bulk Rose Park fountain and Plaza as a beautiful gateway to the pier. Environmentally friendly and redesigned South dock promenade
A new set of dining options and a new Navy Pier Centennial wheel and rides.
Additionally the Centennial vision transforms a Navy Pier into a venue for diverse artistic and cultural ventures.
In the summer of 2016 multiple programs for art, theater music fitness and dance productions debuted at the pier.
Navy piers rich history countless activities and programs and dynamic social setting have made it a cornerstone of Chicago culture.
It exists at the intersection of the booming Renaissance of historical Chicago and the rapid progress of the modern world
For generations Navy Pier has been home to countless cherished memories and it will continue to be one for many generations to come.