Architecture Party at the Water Tower! No, Really.

If you’ve looked at the “Hang in there, kitty!” calendar tacked to your cubicle partition you may have noticed that posted in proximity to the perilously pendulous puss is a fat red circle around Saturday, September 14th.

As a good student of Chicago architecture, we don’t have to tell you what that day means.  But in case you spent the majority of freshman history class doodling cranes and girders protruding from the spirals of your notebook, we’ll spill the beans: It’s the 150th anniversary of the Old Chicago Water Tower.

The Old Chicago Water Tower (Artefaqs stock photography)

Yes, that water tower.  The water tower that survived the Great Fire. The water tower that can be seen on logos, t-shirts, and tourist trinkets by the millions.  The water tower that lends its name to the shopping mall and condo tower that was once the home of Oprah Winfrey until she became too fabulous for flyover country and decamped for the Pacific isles.  That water tower.

To celebrate the water tower’s sesquicentennial (you may remember that word from Wisconsin license plates), AIA Chicago has joined a bunch of other organizations to put together a “neighborhood festival.”

The full details of what that means are still TBA.  But the AIA’s TBA has A’ed, and includes a series of architecture and water-related lectures.  If you’re not into lectures, a “day-long festival with family-friendly activities” is also in the works, but that TBA is still on the QT.

The AIA’s end of things has a former director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District talking about protecting Lake Michigan; the North Michigan Avenue Association pontificating on the popularity of the prominent pillar; a historian talking about the water tower’s architect, William Boyington; and the city’s water quality honcho detailing how the wet stuff gets from the big lake into your bathtub.

For a visual reminder of the anniversary, the Magnificent Mile Association is going to install 25 five-foot-tall copies of the water tower along North Michigan Avenue.  

Diagram of the Old Chicago Water Tower
Diagram of the Old Chicago Water Tower

Author: Editor

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

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