You shouldn’t swim in it, but it’s sure nice to look at.
Published Aug. 19, 2020, at 12:30 p.m.
Text by Whet Moser
Once upon a time, the Chicago River was a famously rank industrial corridor that served to move freight and poop out of the city. As Chicago’s industrial base changed and the residential population grew downtown — spurred in large part by Bertrand Goldberg’s forward-thinking Marina City project — Chicagoans began to embrace the river as more amenity than sewer. In 1973, Richard J. Daley told the House of Representatives his dream of Loop workers “catching salmon, trout, and bass” along its banks on their lunch break.
Today? Uh, you shouldn’t swim in it. There aren’t any salmon. Sometimes it still serves as a sewer. But it’s a lot nicer!
Because the river spent so long in service to manufacturing, much of it is blocked off by commercial buildings, particularly on the South Side. On the North Side, parks cover its banks. But if you want to live on the city’s other waterfront, there are some options — even outside of the high-rises that have followed in Marina City’s wake.
If there’s a sign Chicago is truly rethinking its relationship to the river, it’s this set of 17 modern townhomes in Bridgeport at the corner of the South Branch and Bubbly Creek — so named because of what happened when the meatpacking industry used it as a dump. Today it’s the subject of ongoing reclamation and the location of Park 571, crowned by Jeanne Gang-designed boathouses. The exterior of these large townhouses mirrors Gang’s design; inside is fairly standard modern new-construction fare, with a high-ceilinged living room overlooking the river. Three beds, four baths, and 2,200 square feet will set you back $549,000.
Okay, once you get this far north, the North Branch isn’t much more than a creek. But it’s technically on the river, so that gives us an excuse to gawk at this wonderfully of-its-era house by late north-suburban homebuilder Charles Page. On the outside it’s a handsome, conservative split-level ranch; inside it has spectacular wood ceilings, skylights, interior windows, and very big fireplaces. And you don’t need the river to be very big when you have your own hotel-sized indoor pool. For $1.19 million, you get five beds and five baths at nearly 6,000 square feet.
This massive new house is a rare waterfront home on the near Northwest side. It’s got the expected trimmings at its price, including SubZero and Wolf hardware, an 11-foot kitchen island, his-and-hers walk-in closets, full baths for each of the three second-floor bedrooms, and so forth. The real topper is the 21’x10’ deck with a fireplace, TV, and river views.
Here’s a pleasant two-bedroom, two-bath condo squeezed between Western Avenue and the river along the Elston shopping corridor. The HOA fees are $382 a month on top of its $410,000 price, but there’s a boat slip, and the balcony is practically on the river. The roof deck is… basic, but it’s got a nice view of the greenery that comes with being on the water.
Along Chicago Avenue in River West, you’ve probably seen the Spirit of Progress statue topping what used to be the Montgomery Ward administration building. (The massive building next door was the two million square-foot Catalog House.) Inside is a doozy of an industrial condo with a subway-tile bathroom and a lofted area that looks down on the river. It’s a specific aesthetic, but for $575,000 (and $640 a month in HOA fees), a spectacular one.