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Table of Contents > Chapter 1

The Loop (continued)

The Chicago created by the streetcars, railroads and elevated trains became a showplace of American architecture. The fire of 1871 afforded tremendous opportunities to the young architects who flocked to the city. The Chicago School of Architecture emerged and actually transformed the way the nation and the world thought about buildings. The leader of the young architects who came to Chicago after the Civil War was William Le Baron Jenney. Trained in Paris, he served in the Union Army as an engineer and came to Chicago in 1868. Jenney pioneered new structural methods, especially the skeleton frame, which made it possible to build the first real skyscraper, the home Insurance Building, in 1884-85. because of increasing land values and the popularity of downtown locations, Chicago's buildings became taller and taller, creating the modern cityscape so familiar to us. Chicago architects Holabird & Roche, Adler & Sullivan, and Burnham & Root created the designs that set the style for the American city.

The Chicago Loop also became a major entertainment center (See Fig. 1). This was partly a response to the needs of the city, but also those of the business community and the convention trade. Hotels were centered in the Loop. Many of them stood along South Michigan Avenue below Van Buren Street (See Fig. 2). This hotel district stood close to the railroad station of the South Loop; and the railroads, of course, provided a major form of interurban transportation from the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century. Large railroad stations, like the Illinois Central Station, the Poll Street Station, the LaSalle Street Station, and the Grand Central Station, were all in the South Loop. Other hotels served the financial and business districts within the area (See Fig. 3).

This large and vital Loop was largely the result of the technology of its day, that is, of rail transportation designated for long-distance hauling and for moving people within the city. The Loop began to decline in certain respects when the technology changed. This occurred after World War II as the automobile came into more general use. The car made it possible to shop in neighborhood shopping centers and took business away from the center of the city. A growing trend toward decentralization began in the 1920s and continued through the 1970s.

The period after 1945 saw the rapid development of suburban shopping centers that catered to the automobile. Slowly at first, then much more rapidly, these outlying retail districts drained dollars away from the Loop. Industries all began to move corporate headquarters out of the city closer to expressways and especially closer to O'Hare Airport, to the northwest of the city.

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Figure 1: The Walnut Room in the Bismark Hotel, 1945. »

Figure 2: Michigan Avenue, 1913.  »

Figure 3: Blackstone Hotel, Michigan Avenue at Balbo, c. 1909. »

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