Wacker Drive’s Mystery Smokestack

Far too early one Sunday morning I was walking along the Chicago River where North Wacker Drive magically become West Wacker Drive lost in my own thoughts when something broke the relative silence of the city.

It was the sound of a diesel generator.  Certainly nothing unusual to hear on a Sunday morning.  Most of the places I’ve worked have tested their backup generators on Sunday mornings to make sure the vending machines and executive toilets will continue to work when the world comes to an end.  But this was different.  The exhaust from this unseen generator was venting out of a decorative smokestack I never noticed right in the middle of the sidewalk on Wacker Drive.

Here’s a picture:

 Wacker Drive Smokestack

Walking by the intersection of Lake and Wacker for roughly the last decade, I always assumed this was the bridgehouse.  But wait a minute… That’s the bridgehouse on  the right.  So, what’s that thing on the left?  That’s where I saw the diesel exhuast venting from.

It’s too far away from any building to be a backup generator for an office building.  An office building would have the vent on the roof, or on the generator itself.  Plus, it would be overly complicated to run ductwork along the roof of Lower Wacker Drive to reach this vent.

Check out the Bing maps view of the structure, and you can see the gaping maw leading into the bowels of the city.



The only theory I can come up with is that it’s connected to the Deep Tunnel project.  But that’s just a guess.  Anyone with a better theory, or some actual knowledge, I’d love to hear from you in the space below.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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