In 1855, the Chicago Board of Sewerage Commission was formed to seek solutions to the problems of waste disposal and drainage that were creating health problems and hindering commercial development of the city. City Engineer Ellis Sylvester Chesborough successfully lobbied for a two-mile tunnel beneath Lake Michigan that could carry uncontaminated water back to the city. This tunnel was completed in 1866, and in the same year the construction of the Pumping Station and Water Tower began.
The two buildings were built according to the design of William W. Boyington. Constructed of rough-faced Joliet limestone in a style known as castellated gothic, the two-story Pumping Station has a low-pitched roof and turrets rising from every corner. The Water Tower is divided into five sections, three of which comprise the base. An octagonal shaft rises from this base and is capped by a cupola of steel with a copper roof.
After several renovations, none of which changed the facade of either building, the Pumping Station still serves its original purpose. It now houses the nationally-acclaimed Lookingglass Theatre Company, recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. The company converted the boiler house into a state-of-the-art, 200-seat theater in 2003 and today theater-goers in Chicago can see plays and musicals at the historic building.
The Water Tower has been converted into a city art gallery showcasing the work of local photographers and artists.
The Chicago Avenue Water Tower and Pumping Station is located at N. Michigan Ave. between E. Chicago Ave. and E. Pearson St. Both buildings, now a Welcome Center, are open 7:30am to 7:00pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. For more information about the Lookingglass Theatre Company, visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
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