Navy Pier was opened to public in 1916 and at the time it was the largest pier in the world, at 292 feet wide and 3000 feet long. Its location is on is Lake Michigan near Streeterville, very close to Chicago's downtown. Originally named the Municipal Pier nr 2, the pier should have been accompanied by another one, according to Daniel Burnham's 19909 Chicago plan, but the second one was never built. Initially, the pier was meant for shipping and entertainment, but throughout the years it was also used for military purposes. However, the success it registered in the first decade started to decline in the late 1920s, as the open movie theatres and transportation by trucks began to steal the show. The pier received its current name in 1927, honoring the World War I veterans. During the World War II the Navy Pier was actually put to use for naval training operations. Later on, the Chicago branch of the University of Illinois took over, but in 1965 it moved and left the Pier to decay.
The redevelopment of the pier started more than 10 years later, with the restoration of the Auditorium building on the eastern side of the pier. In 1977 the Navy Pier was placed among the Chicago Landmarks. In the late 1980s the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition authority was established, and they committed to reconstruct the pier as recreational and entertaining center. The result was a flourishing complex, inaugurated in 1995. Since then, tourists from all over the world and residents of Chicago alike come to the Navy Pier to relax and have fun on the Lake Michigan. With more than 50 acres of shops, food courts, parks, gardens, promenades and many other attractions, Navy Pier is the finest Midwest tourist and leisure destination, welcoming over 8 million guests every year.
The two magnificent buildings on the Navy Pier are the Auditorium and the Headhouse, which were designed by the same architect, Charles Summer Frost. While the Headhouse hosts nowadays the Chicago Children's Museum, the Auditorium is home to various events, featuring a splendid Grand Ballroom with a high half-domed ceiling. Among the most popular attractions are the Ferris Wheel, measuring 148 feet, and 44 feet high musical carousel displaying 36 hand-painted animals. Some recent additions are the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and the 525-seat Shakespeare theater complex. At the western end of the Headhouse building visitors may stroll along the 19 acre Gateway Park which boasts a computerized fountain with 240 jets. Other options available for tourists are the exciting boat trips, water taxis, architecture or romantic dinner cruises. One of the ships you may ride is the historic charter "El Presidente", formerly used by US presidents.