View of the South Water Street Improvement Project (1925)

The South Water Street Improvement project sought to alleviate congestion in the city’s Loop district by replacing a dilapidated market with a multi-tiered thoroughfare that would skirt the Chicago River. The Plan of Chicago had called for the construction of raised boulevards along both sides of the river, so as to separate light and pleasure traffic from the commercial traffic connected to the river. The Plan did not explicitly call for a two-tiered roadway as it did for Michigan Avenue, but this was what was eventually recommended by the Chicago Plan Commission in 1917 and the City of Chicago’s Board of Local Improvements The lower levels incorporated loading docks in which commercial vehicles would transport imported goods to the basements of particular businesses.

The new thoroughfare was renamed “Wacker Drive” in honor of the Chicago Plan Commission’s former chairman, Charles H. Wacker, who resigned in 1926 due to poor health. This photograph, taken on May 29, 1925, shows construction of South Water Street and its accompanying dock. The Michigan Avenue Bridge is visible in the background, as well as the beginning of the thoroughfare’s lower level that would soon connect to Michigan Avenue’s subterranean roadway. Two recently constructed edifices, Wrigley Building (1921) and Tribune Tower (1925), soar on the river’s north side. Wacker Drive opened on October 20, 1926. It stretches  along the Chicago River’s banks from Michigan Avenue to Market Street.



Chicago’s Board of Local Improvements: City of Chicago. A Sixteen Year Record of Achievements 1915-1931. Chicago: Buckley, Dement & Company, 1931.

Condit, Carl W. Chicago, 1910-20: Building, Planning, and Urban Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Okrent, Lawrence. “How Daniel Burnham Accomplished Less (and More) than He Intended To.” In The Plan of Chicago @ 100: 15 Views of Burnham’s Legacy for a New Century. Wheaton, IL: Lambda Alpha International, Ely-Chicago, 2009.

Chicago Architectural Photo Company, “View of the South Water Street Improvement Project.” May 29th, 1925. Chicago History Museum, ICHi-67017