If you had told a Chicagoan 100 years ago that a tour of the Chicago River would top every visitor’s list, you would have been laughed out of town. What was once a meandering weed-choked stream turned smelly industrial channel is now lined with soaring skyscrapers and jammed with tour boats jockeying for position with kayakers and water taxis. Today the Chicago River is more popular than ever, with a new Riverwalk, dramatic new towers and boathouses, and entire new neighborhoods rising along the river’s edge.
In this special, Geoffrey explores all three branches of the river, aboard six very different vessels, including the less well-known stretches extending south to the Sanitary and Ship Canal and winding north through the Botanic Garden and Skokie Lagoons. Along the way, he shares dramatic stories of the river’s history (beginning with the city’s first resident, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, whose settlement was located on the site of what is now the new Apple Store) through rare archival images and lively commentary, including how Chicago reversed the river’s flow in one of America’s most ambitious and controversial engineering projects ever. Geoffrey will even visit his childhood home on the north branch, and will introduce us to the architects of notable structures along the route along with the concepts behind their designs. We’ll also meet people who live, work, and play along the river (and yes… even swim in it!).
THE CHICAGO RIVER TOUR WITH GEOFFREY BAER will premiere on Monday, November 27 at 7:30 pm on WTTW11. The website – wttw.com/river – will launch synchronously and will explore the River’s history, development, iconic structures, recreational offerings, environmental challenges, and more. The site will feature a virtual tour of the River, an animation explaining the storied reversal of the River, 360/virtual reality videos of Wolf Point and a “view from a bridge,” and stunning drone footage and images.
“It’s mind-boggling to see the transformation that has taken place along the river just in the last 20 years,” marvels Geoffrey. “The changes downtown, such as the Riverwalk and new residential and office towers, are the most obvious and dramatic. But along every stretch of the river we saw an exciting evolution in progress, from dirty industrial channel to urban amenity.”
“Filming this River Tour was an experience I will never forget,” said producer Eddie Griffin. “Our rainy summer presented some interesting production challenges, but we hope we have captured the river in all its glory, told some surprising and compelling stories, and spotlighted portions of it that are not as well known.”
Geoffrey Baer’s inaugural televised River tour in 1995 (his first WTTW special ever!) came about as a result of his work as a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. In 2005, he went back for an update. And now, 12 years later and after myriad changes in and along the Chicago River, he’s back for the most immersive exploration yet.
THE CHICAGO RIVER TOUR WITH GEOFFREY BAER is produced by Eddie Griffin, hosted by Geoffrey Baer, and written by Geoffrey Baer and Eddie Griffin. Associate Producer: Erica Gunderson. Director of Photography: Tim Boyd. Lighting Director: Danny Rozkuszka. Editor: Paul Thornton. Art Director: Linda Fox. Executive Producer: Dan Soles. The website is produced by WTTW’s digital team, including Content Producer Jessica Pupovac; Developers Justin Henderson, Kevin Crowley, and Grant Smith; and Digital Executive Producer Anne Gleason.
Major funding for THE CHICAGO RIVER TOUR WITH GEOFFREY BAER is provided by: BMO Harris Bank. Additional support is provided by: Judy and John McCarter, the Susan and Stephen Baird Foundation, AARP Chicago, ITW, and Peoples Gas. Funding is also provided by: Millennium Properties R/E, Paul and Joan Rubschlager, Ken Norgan, Peter Kelliher II, the Steve and Delores Sarovich Foundation, and Foley & Lardner LLP.
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