Layers of the City: Chicago Edition

The first place to show me how a city can be stacked like a layer cake, Chicago provided ample opportunities to explore all levels of the city. The experience of noticing the expansion joints in roads that I assumed were on solid ground opened my eyes to the possibilities of stacking uses.

Underground Life

A vacant lot two stories below street level solved the mystery of the expansion joints, by exposing the inner guts.  Two more roads sit below street level to segregate trash pick-up and deliveries from the flow of traffic.  These lover levels also provide some opportunities for parking without monopolizing valuable real estate above.  Retail shops connected by pedestrian passageways are also interspersed in these layers.

River Life

At the same elevation as the “underground life,” the Chicago River flows through the heart of the city.  On and along the river are a variety of activities.  Pedestrian paths, cafes, housing, parks, industrial uses, and homeless encampments line the shores.  Meanwhile, the river abounds with ducks, boat tours, water taxis, construction staging, and marinas.

Street Level

Back up on the street level, life buzzes.  Vehicular and pedestrian traffic rush passed, occasionally pealing off to visit the numerous shops, offices, museums, restaurants, cafes, parks, and trails.

Pie in the Sky

Yet, more life looms above.  Several of the skyscrapers have penthouse, or nearly penthouse, restaurants.  Others have rooftop observation platforms.  Between these and the street are many other opportunities for enjoying life including a religious sanctuary, the “L”, gardens, art, pedestrian bridges, and of course, offices, apartments, hotel rooms, and shops.

Unlike Pittsburgh, in Chicago, the public is welcome in some form on every level to gain a full experience of the city.

The World’s Tallest Church Building

Chicago Temple

Everything in Chicago is stretched–even churches.  My eye was caught by this building as I looked to cross a street in Chicago and saw the steeple on top of this skyscraper a couple blocks down.  I was very confused at first, trying to figure out why an office building had a steeple on top of it.  Then I saw the name of the church, First United Methodist Church, carved into the side of the building.  The only other indication on the exterior visible from a distance that suggested the religious use of the interior was the doorway.

Chicago Temple Doorway

This building is also known as the Chicago Temple.  The congregation was founded in 1831 and has been worshiping at this site since 1838.  The current building was built in 1924 and has 23 floors.

One of my souvenirs from Chicago was the book “City of the Century” by Donald L. Miller, which describes the history of Chicago up to the 1893 World’s Fair.  So it doesn’t talk about the building of this church building, but it does describe the building of the Auditorium–Chicago’s multipurpose Opera House.  The book notes “there was no government support of the arts in the United States, so the Auditorium would have to pay for itself” (361).  As a result the theater was enclosed in a office/hotel complex.

It seemed like there might have been similar thinking in the design of this church building–as real estate was expensive downtown, covering the church with office space could help it afford its location.  However, if that is why the building is mixed-use, it was not inspired by the Auditorium, which was built in the late 1880s.  According the history page of the church’s website, there has been a multipurpose church building on this site since 1858.  The first one was a 4-story structure with stores and businesses on the first two floors and the church above.

First Methodist Church

The new building has a two-story sanctuary on the first floor.  Accounts differ as to how many this can hold (500, 1000, 1200 people).  The second floor has another smaller sanctuary.  Floors three and four hold the accessory rooms–classrooms, meeting rooms, etc.  The parson’s house is also located in the building.  The remaining floors are office space.  The crowning jewel, is a small chapel underneath the steeple.

I regret that I did not take the time to stop and investigate whether I could explore the inside of the building.  As I was focused on a specific task when I came upon the building, I did not even think about trying to see inside.  If you are interested, I found a YouTube video that shows what I take to be the first floor sanctuary and the small chapel under the steeple.

Pedestrian Bridges: Chicago

BP Bridge

There are two pedestrian bridges connecting to Millennium Park in Chicago.  The first I encountered was the BP Bridge.  I admired the undulating silver sculpture above as I walked past and was thrilled to discover it was a pedestrian bridge.  My excited was quickly crushed as the bridge was closed to traffic due to construction at the other end.  I realized that I have become quite addicted to bridge-walking.  I was on my way to see The Bean before renting a bike to ride along the lake, when seeing this bridge completely sidetracked me.  I had a desperate urge to walk a bridge.  Fortunately, there was another pedestrian bridge nearby and while it was not nearly as enticing, it had some interesting parts.

BP Bridge The Nichols Bridgeway

The Nichols Bridgeway connects Millennium Park with the Art Institute of Chicago.  Both ends had space-age-like toughs, which I assumed were supposed to be a fancy drainage system.  If their purpose is a drainage system, the upper end by the Institute has failed and been turned into a wishing well.

Lower Trough Upper Trough/Wishing Well

The part I liked best about this bridge was that while it looked like the surface was level, there were ridges or “speed-bumps” every few feet.  I wondered if these were merely artistic or if they had a functional value like reducing the slipperiness of the bridge during icy conditions.

Bumpy Walkway The Nichols Bridgeway

What is a Bridge? Chicago Edition I

Stetson Ave, Chicago, from the Hyatt

In July 2012, a few months into the height of my Pittsburgh bridge-walking, I pondered the definition of a bridge in What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition I and What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition II.  Asking what a bridge is may seem a little odd.  After all, it’s one of those things that you know it when you see it, right?  Yet, in walking bridges, I’ve discovered it really isn’t that simple.  In everyday life, the actual semantics of what a bridge is, is not important–you either cross it or you don’t and move on with your life.  But if you’re trying to walk as many Pittsburgh bridges as you can (as I am) or to count the number of bridges a city has to see which has the most of any city in the world (as others have), spelling out a clear definition of a bridge becomes important.  By the end of my previous posts on the definition of a bridge, it seemed like I had covered almost all the difficulties: is a bridge still a bridge if it no longer bridges anything? what’s the difference between a bridge and a ramp? how many is one bridge?….but then I went to Chicago and faced a new facet to this problem.

The issue Chicago brings up is best illustrated by the image above.  Is there a bridge in that picture?….No, right?….Try again.  If you walk past the buildings on the right, you get a new perspective on the seemingly solid ground you stand on (pictured below).

Discovering Ground Level on Stetson Ave
Looking Back Toward Hyatt on Stetson

Walking around on this street and the blocks around it, you may notice metal joints like those normally found only in bridges running across the roads and sidewalks.  You may also feel the ground bounce like a bridge as a large truck drives by.

Metal Joints across road and sidewalk on Michigan Ave
Metal joint across road on Columbus Drive

Are these roads, then, really bridges?  If no, what are they?  If yes, where does one bridge end and the other begin?  For example, is the Michigan Avenue Bridge across the Chicago River, visible in the back left of the image above-left, just a continuation of the Michigan Avenue road-bridge or is it a separate bridge?


Other posts in this series:

What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition I (July 18, 2012)

What is a Bridge? Pittsburgh Edition II (July 27, 2012)

What is a Bridge? Chicago Edition II (February 1, 2020)

What is a Bridge? Bethlehem Edition I (July 1, 2020)

What is a Bridge? Bethlehem Edition II (July 15, 2020)

Sandwich Shops

While in London last spring, I discovered a sandwich shop chain that I fell absolutely in love with: Pret a Manger.  I ended up eating lunch most days at one of their many locations around the city.  The food was great.  They had sandwiches on small baguettes, in wraps, and between two “normal” square slices of bread (which have been cut into triangles, as everyone knows triangle sandwiches taste better).  The flavors of sandwiches included ham and cheese, egg salad, and brie, tomato and basil.  The ingredients were fresh and real–meaning ham of the bone, not sliced deli ham, and arugula instead of shredded, nondescript “lettuce.”  And then the sides to go with the sandwich were interesting, exciting, and tasty.  The chip flavors I remember were “cheddar and red onion” and “sea salt and apple cider vinegar.”  Both delicious!  I was also attracted to the Pret sodas (I normally skip the soda options at restaurants).  I enjoyed the Grape & Elderflower, Apple, and Ginger Beer sodas.

Pret was the first place I had lunch in London and from the first bite, I couldn’t wait to come back and try another flavor of their sandwiches, chips, and drinks.  On my third day in London, I was ready for lunch, but could not find a Pret anywhere near where I was, so I went to another sandwich chain that I had been seeing around.  The style of this other place, the name of which I forget, was similar to Pret, but the taste was no comparison.  After trying this other place, I made sure that I was near a Pret at lunchtime for the remainder of my trip.

Besides the taste, I also enjoyed the convenience of the chain.  All the sandwiches are premade, so all you have to do is grab-and-go.  You don’t have a clerk staring you down while you decide what flavor you want today and you don’t have to wait for it to be made once you’ve made the decision.  All of which suits my personality better.

I cannot think of a sandwich shop in the US that has premade sandwiches.  It seems to me that one of the things the Subways, Quiznos, and the others are after with the don’t make it until it’s order deal is to prove that their food is fresh.  Blimpie’s for example doesn’t even slice the meat and cheese until you’ve put your order in.  Despite being premade, the sandwiches at Pret always tasted fresh and satisfying because they were made with solid food such as dense, but small bread, and chunks of chicken meat.  The chain’s website explains the secret: “Pret opened in London in 1986. College friends, Sinclair and Julian, made proper sandwiches avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market today….They created the sort of food they craved but couldn’t find anywhere else.”  “Our partners drop off the very best ingredients to our shops everyday. We don’t mind that good, natural food goes off quickly. We don’t keep our sandwiches, baguettes and wraps overnight.”

One of my biggest disappointments on returning home was that I might never get another Pret sandwich (unless they’re still there the next time I’m in London) and instead the only options for buying sandwiches out would be places like Subway and Quiznos.  It was quite devastating.  Like the partners who started the Pret chain, I was going to be craving fresh, “proper” food, but unable to find it anywhere….

But then, I went to New York City for Christmas.  Walking around the first night there, I was thrilled to spot not one, but two Prets.  Needless to say, I went there every opportunity I got.  The options were somewhat different, particularly the chips–there were only boring, regular American flavors and styles to choose from (though they still weren’t national brands like Lays)–but the food was still good.  The egg salad wrap was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  The roast beef, arugula, mustard-mayo and chicken, bacon, mayo baguettes were also yummy.  They also had the Pret Ginger Beer Soda, which tasted as yummy as the Ginger Beer I had in London, both Pret and non-Pret.  I’ve found Ginger Beer in Pittsburgh, but it’s just not the same.

It turns out that Pret a Manger has set up locations in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.  As Chicago is one of the next US Cities I hope to visit, I know I will be getting another Pret sandwich soon.  I wonder though, if the large, diverse populations of these cities are necessary for a place like Pret a Manger to be successful.  Is it possible for a truly fresh sandwich shop to succeed (and set up multiple branches) in a smaller, less diverse city like Pittsburgh?