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5 Things We Learned From This Footage Of A 1956 Chicago Boat Tour

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on May 18, 2016 6:18PM

Today, we spotted the footage above, reportedly from a 1956 Chicago River boat tour, on Reddit. (It was also posted on YouTube more than a year ago.) Shot on a tourist's home camera, the footage is beautiful and captures a long-gone Chicago skyline, not to mention a different era of Chicago, period. At the same time, there are lots of common threads running from then to now—today's daily papers were around back then, the El was running, and there are plenty of recognizable silhouettes on the skyline.

Below, we rounded up our main takeaways from the video with an assist from Chicago architectural history buff Ward Miller, executive director at Preservation Chicago.

1. The El was around in the '50s, but the cars looked different.

Is it just me, or does the 1956 El look like a bunch of buggies strung together?


2. Mies van der Rohe basically owned the Chicago skyline in 1956.

Four of the buildings shown here are van der Rohe's work: the matching, silvery towers on the left are 868-80 Lake Shore Drive, the two van der Rohe buildings that "kicked off the International Style," according to Miller. The two more bluish towers under construction on the right are also van der Rohe's work, Lake Shore Drive 900-910.

The Palmolive Building (the tall, skinny building to the right of 900-910) is also pictured. It once housed the Playboy offices and currently houses Vince Vaughn.


3. Chicago's current daily papers were both around back in 1956.

Here's a riverside billboard for Tribune want ads (so yes, even in 1956, people were running ads for ads):


And here's a riverside sign that reads "New Home Of The Chicago Sun-Times." The Sun-Times was founded in 1948, so it was still relatively new in 1956. The Trib, on the other hand, was more than 100 years old when this was shot—it was founded in 1847.


4. Merchandise Mart looked... almost exactly the same.

Merchandise Mart was completed in 1930, and according to Miller, the Mart shown here is the original one. It's been through various tweaks in the 60 years since the video was shot (limestone cleanings, remodels, etc.), but recently, it's been restored to look almost exactly like this, Miller said.


5. The Prudential Building was a bigger deal in 1956.

The Prudential Building was completed in 1955, so it was fairly new when this video was shot—and at the time, it was also widely considered the tallest building in Chicago. (Miller thinks that's debatable.) If you count the spire, the Prudential Building is roughly 900 feet tall, which puts it at about half the height of Chicago's current tallest building, the Willis Tower. (The Prudential Building is also shaped like a giant walkie talkie.)