Navy Pier has been through a lot since it opened in 1916 as an entertainment venue and Great Lakes cargo facility. During its life,... more » the pier has housed soldiers, the Red Cross and civil defense units, served as a Naval training center and provided a home for the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. Today it is the Midwest's premier tourist destination.
Built as Municipal Pier #2, Navy Pier was a part of the visionary Plan for Chicago developed by Daniel Burnham in the early part of the 20th century. That plan called for five piers, but this is the only one ever built. Construction took two years and cost $4.5 million. When it opened in 1916, the 3,300-foot-long (1,010 meters) Navy Pier was the largest pier in the world.
The pier was designed to serve shippers on Lake Michigan and provide a cool public gathering place for citizens in those pre-air-conditioning days. Although the proliferation of cars and trucks undercut the pier's role as a shipping facility, it thrived as an entertainment venue in the 1920s and '30s. At one point the pier had its own streetcar line, a theater and an emergency room. In 1927 it was officially renamed Navy Pier in honor of the Naval personnel who were stationed there during the war.
From 1965-1990, the pier languished. It was used for exhibits and special events—including ChicagoFest, the precursor to Taste of Chicago, the city's annual summer music and food festival—but it continued to deteriorate. In 1989 control of the pier was turned over to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which oversaw its $200 million rejuvenation.
Navy Pier is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas and there is rarely a time during the summer when it is not teeming with people. Hoping to bring in crowds during Chicago's frigid winters, when it can be bone-chillingly cold at the lakefront, Navy Pier also is home to Winter Wonderfest in December. During the summer, there are fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night. less «