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Flashback: Navy Pier Through The Years

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 6, 2012 10:00PM

Since Navy Pier is gearing up for its next facelift, we thought this would be a good time to look at its previous iterations. Born from the brain of Daniel Burnham, Navy Pier was part of the 1909 "Master Plan of Chicago," although he originally wanted five piers. That'd house a lot of tchotchke shops.

Between 1914 and 1916, the "Municipal Pier"—renamed Navy Pier in 1927—was built at a cost of $4.5 million. It housed soldiers during WWI, then came into its own as an amusement center—aka tourist trap—during the 1920s. But then The Great Depression happened, and then WWII happened. About 60,000 people trained at Navy pier during the war, including future president George H.W. Bush.

In 1946, the University of Illinois moved in, turning the mess hall into "the largest reading room" in Illinois, and it stayed until 1965. Navy Pier hosted a number of festivals and conventions, but when the new McCormick Place opened in 1971 it fell into disuse. It was renovated in 1976 during bicentennial celebrations, then was designated a Chicago Landmark the next year.

Navy Pier's last facelift was in 1995, when it turned into the row of restaurants and tchotchke shops it is today. See the Navy Pier website for the comprehensive timeline.

We found photos and old postcards in the Library of Congress, the Illinois Digital Archives and the Chicago History Museum's Chicago Daily News archives.

It was difficult to find more recently vintage photos, so watch the video below, a collage of photos from ChicagoFest At Navy Pier from 1979 to 1982.