Michigan-Wacker Historic District
The Michigan-Wacker Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Michigan-Wacker Historic District is located at the northern edge of the Chicago Loop at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive on the south bank of the Chicago River and includes areas on both the south and north banks of the river. The most obvious physical feature, both natural and man-made, are the river, the two aforementioned streets, and the series of tall buildings that defines the district.
The District is a remarkable concentration of 1920s skyscrapers, a concentration unrivalled in Chicago or, in all likelihood, any other city.
The location of so many major structures within so small an area and in so short a time is a function of neither historical chance nor wholly of the building boom of the 1920s, but of the implementation of two facets of the Burnham-Bennett Plan of Chicago (1909). Until 1919, Michigan Avenue from Randolph north to the river was a narrow, decaying street, described by Walter Moody as presenting "the appearance of a poor, tenth-rate city." Its traffic crossed the river on the congested Rush Street Bridge and Michigan then continued north of the river as the primarily residential Pine Street. The Plan of Chicago called for widening, construction of a bridge, and re-design of the Michigan Avenue Bridge on 14 May 1920. And the opening of the bridge signaled the beginning of the commercial development of North Michigan Avenue, a development whose first, celebrated symptom was the Wrigley Building. The second facet of the Plan of Chicago affecting the area was the removal of the old South Water Street Market and redevelopment of the south bank of the Chicago River as a boulevard, the well-known Wacker Improvement. Agitation for implementation of the improvement began with the Plan itself, but did not become really serious until the 1920 proposal of Bennett and Parsons. By 1925, the Market had been relocated 2 miles south of the Loop and the following year the original portion of Wacker Drive was completed. In a few short years, 1919-1926, what had been one of the less desirable parts of Chicago's central business district became a prized location. The erection of major structures was a foregone conclusion.