How Millenium Park Changed One Michigan Avenue High Rise | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

What’s That Building? How Millennium Park Changed One Michigan Avenue High Rise

You may not have noticed the 40-story brown building just across the street from the northern end of Millennium Park. That is, until the Nutella Cafe opened at 151 N. Michigan Ave. this summer.

The sidewalk level has been made over from a concrete slab into a row of storefronts — including Nutella Cafe, Garrett’s Popcorn, Protein Bar and Lids — to appeal to the foot traffic that Millennium Park generates.

There may be no single building whose character has changed as much as 151 N. Michigan Ave., Morning Shift contributor Dennis Rodkin said. Rodkin joined the show to look back at how the space has evolved:

The property once belonged to one of the first Europeans to settle in Chicago

John Baptiste Beaubien operated a fur trading post on the property where Millennium Park Plaza now stands. He also built his first house in Chicago in 1812, staying there until at least 1832, when the city was founded. Today, a namesake street runs along the east side of the the fur trading property: Beaubien Court.

In the late-1800s, a brick building rose up on the corner

The five-story building was completed in 1872, and in 1873 the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad moved in. That same building remained standing, though changed and expanded, until it was demolished in the 1970s.

In the mid-1950s, it advertised Coca-Cola

Publisher John Cuneo had big plans when he bought the site in 1925: build a 36-story tower and lease it to General Motors. But the Great Depression halted that plan, and so the old building stayed standing as a suburban train station operated by Illinois Central. But Cuneo did manage to get a contract from Coca-Cola to hang a light-up sign nearly four-stories tall on the south face of the building, which became a landmark from the 1940s through the 1960s.

(Roger W/Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1980s, a new high rise hid its storefronts

The building was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the Doral Plaza Apartments, which were completed in 1982. But the building’s look was far less open than it is today. 

151 N. Michigan commercial space 1 Protein Bar (Jason Marck/WBEZ)

The building's street level was one long slab of concrete, with only one entrance on Michigan Avenue that led to a convenience store. The street level was replaced when Millennium Park opened in 2004, with the retail space we know now.

Nutella Bar, at 151 N. Michigan commercial space. (Jason Marck/WBEZ)

As Rodkin puts it: “It’s like seeing the shyest wallflower at school slowly emerge into a gregarious party person, all because of the cool kid who moved in next door: Millennium Park.”

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