Water Tower Place (10-20-1975)

Remember 1975?  What, you don’t?  Well, let me tell you about Chicago in 1975.

The center of the city was dying.  People were moving to the suburbs.  Offices were moving, factories were moving, all kinds of businesses were moving.

Stores were moving, too.  Woodfield had been open a few years.  Now it was mobbed.  Indoor shopping malls were the way of the future.

If downtown Chicago were going to survive, we needed an indoor shopping mall.  We didn’t want to wind up like Cleveland, or St. Louis, or Detroit.  But where could we put a whole mall near downtown?  Then somebody got the idea–a vertical indoor shopping mall!

And that’s how we got Water Tower Place.

Water Tower Place

It was a whole unified concept–a 74-floor highrise with 260 condos, a Ritz Carlton Hotel, and the vertical shopping mall.  The shopping mall took up the first eight floors.  The anchor stores were Marshall Field’s and Lord & Taylor.

Water Tower Place cost $150 million.  It took three years to build.  Meanwhile, Marshall Field’s started buying up antique jewelry, silver, pewter, and furniture–storing it in a warehouse, just to have it ready for the grand opening.

So now it’s 1975.  The stores were supposed to open at 10 a.m., but people were already lining up by 8.  Then they threw open the doors.  The first 2,000 women were each given a rose as they entered.  I don’t think the men got anything.

Most early indoor malls had been simple, just a big warehouse building partitioned into stores.  Water Tower Place was on Michigan Avenue, so they had to make it look special.  They had marble floors and walls, and chandeliers, and glass elevators around the atrium, and so on.

Well, the people came in, they saw these rich surroundings, and they went “ooh!” and “ah!”  And then they spent money.  You go into rich surroundings, and pretty soon you start acting like you’re rich, too.

Some of the stores in Water Tower Place hadn’t been finished, and they missed the grand opening.  Yet people were coming by the thousands.  This shopping center was going to be a huge success.

So in the last 39 years the center of Chicago has been revitalized.  And now it takes forever to get there, and it’s crowded, and it costs a fortune to park.  But would you rather live in Cleveland or St. Louis or Detroit?



8 Responses to “Water Tower Place (10-20-1975)”

  1. 1 Garry October 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    The small town rubes were always the worst at Water Tower Place.
    They would go up the main escalators from Michigan Ave. & just stop at the top & wouldn’t move until people started crashing into them & forced them to move.
    Dumb rubberneckers!

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt October 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      I think you’ll find this thing happening at any tourist spot. I imagine that I’m the same way when I go on vacation.

      • 3 Garry October 20, 2014 at 7:03 pm

        Sorry John, but this place was really different when the rubes showed up. I’ve been to lots of tourist traps over the years, & it just doesn’t happen that people stop dead in their tracks as soon as they get off the escalator steps, but are still on the metal plate that you step onto.
        It only happened at the top, leading to the second floor.
        No matter what the weather, I learned to walk around to the side & go upstairs from there.
        When the movie theaters were running, it was the closest place I could see some of the movies & it was a one bus ride for me for the early & cheap show in the morning.

  2. 4 benson October 20, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    John, I grew up in the city, but have lived several hours away for the past 35 years, but still get back on occasion. We just did a weekend shopping trip in August. Yes, the Michigan Ave. portion of downtown seems to be thriving beyond any planner’s, business person’s or politician’s wildest dreams.

    What I find interesting, back in the day (70’s and early 80’s), the malls were the mecca of shopping. Maybe not so much in Chicago, but certainly in the places I have lived since, it’s amazing to me how malls have just died. I had some friends who lived near the Brickyard, and I hear that died, and there are numerous similar stories across the midwest and in fact, the whole country.

    • 5 J.R. Schmidt October 20, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      I agree–the trend is definitely away from the indoor malls. When the developers created The Glen in Glenview some years back, they made a conscious effort to capture the look and feel of an old-time, small-town Main Street. Maybe in another 50 years the trend will reverse again, and indoor malls will once more be considered cutting edge.

      • 6 benson October 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm

        I can’t believe I’m starting a sentence with this, but “In life, I’ve learned..everything goes in cycles, which is strangely reassuring. LOL

  3. 7 terry g October 27, 2014 at 1:09 am

    John, I used to work at Sears (Sears Tower) during this time which we would do a McDonald’s Run to Water Tower Place and bring back bags of food for the office by hopping in a cab, take Lower Wacker and have a Big Mac feast.

    Fast food places at that time were non-existant in the high rent Loop and we would pool the money to pay for the cab fare. This continued till about 1979 when McD’s finally opened a restaurant on Adams and Wells.

    • 8 J.R. Schmidt October 27, 2014 at 6:15 am

      I worked at Marshall Field’s the summers of 1977 and ’78, and I remember it was tough finding a cheap place to eat in the Loop–though there was a basement place on Wabash near Madison that did a pretty good job.

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