Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile

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One of the most prestigious and well-known sections of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile (or Mag Mile) is a shopper and historian’s paradise. Offering first-class shopping, five-star hotels, and some of the most popular landmarks in Chicago, the Magnificent Mile is a fantastic way to get a quick look at the best that the Windy City has to offer.

Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile History

The history of the Magnificent Mile runs parallel to the history and development of Chicago itself. In the years following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the retail district of the city was located at State Street, one block west of Michigan Avenue and anchored by Marshal Fields, but much further south. This area was known as the downtown Loop or the Loop Retail Historic District and ran from Lake Street to Van Buren Street closer to Grant Park.

The potential for the Magnificent Mile was always there, however. Indeed, architect Daniel Burnham included the development of North Michigan Avenue as part of his 1909 Plan of Chicago. It took until the 1920s, but the construction of a retail district eventually began with the goal to replace the factories and warehouses of Pine Street and elevate the area to match the already-present mansions and row houses of northern Michigan Ave.

The Great Depression put somewhat of a halt on this development, but also left open the opportunity for a quick buy-up of the land by two developers, Arthur Rubloff and William Zeckendorf. These two supported a master plan developed by the Chicago architecture firm Holabird & Root to renovate the old buildings and construct new ones along the thoroughfare in accordance with new zoning laws.

The focus on luxury quickly elevated the property values along the Magnificent Mile to among the highest in the city, outperforming the elite Towertown to the southwest. To this day, addresses along the northern stretch of Michigan Ave are the highest-priced in Chicago.

When the increasing popularity of suburban living in the middle of the twentieth century began to drive business away from downtown, the retail prominence of the Loop district ended. Yet, the prestige of the Mag Mile was preserved precisely because of its association with luxury brands not found in the suburbs. The role of the Mag Mile in setting the standard for Chicago retail was set with the construction of the Water Tower Place, a 74-story retail center and mixed-use building. Today, it sits alongside other prestigious retail destinations such as 5th Avenue in New York and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills as one of the most luxurious areas to shop in America.

Magnificent Mile: The Main Attraction

Unlike most Chicago attractions, there is no one set of hours or list of activities for the Magnificent Mile. With options that range from hotels and high-rise apartments to fine dining, luxury brand shopping, and historical walking tours, there are literally weeks of activities contained in the 3.1 million square feet of space that make up the Magnificent Mile. Here are some highlights:

There are literally too many buildings, shopping centers, and restaurants to list. In addition, the area offers several seasonal events such as the “Gardens of the Magnificent Mile” in the summer months, the “Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival” in the spring, and the “Magnificent Mile Lights Festival” during the holiday season.

Note: Many tours run down the Magnificent Mile including Big Bus.

Why the Magnificent Mile is a Must-See

Whether your goal is to get a great meal, do some serious shopping, or see some of the highlights of the Chicago skyline, a trip to the Magnificent Mile of north Michigan Avenue is in store. With a little bit of something for everyone in the family, a trip to the Mag Mile is a great way to see the best that Chicago has to offer in luxury, history, beauty, and fun.