Millenium Park is the northwest corner of Chicago’s vast Grant Park between Lake Michigan and Michigan Avenue. Its crown jewel, Frank Gehry’s Pritzger Pavilion, replaced the old band shell. I lived in Chicago in 1979 when Pope John Paul II, the Polish Pope, visited the city. Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw and many feared the park would collapse into the subterranean parking structures when two million people came for Pontiff’s public Mass in Grant Park.
Millenium Park officially opened in 2004 and has been continuously tweaked into one of the finest public spaces in the world. The park includes not only the Pritzger Pavilion (bandshell) but also the perennial crowd favorites, the “bean” — artist Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate — and Catalan conceptual artist Jaime Plensa’s Crown Fountain, an interactive work of public art integrating fountains and video sculpture, a wondrous, watery playground for children of all ages. The park also features an ice-skating rink in winter and sprawling gardens. The silver bridge was Frank Gehry’s first bridge and provides an entry to a bandshell like no other.
I was in Chicago June 20-22 for the Chicago Symphony’s concert version of Verdi’s Aida under the baton of Music Director Ricardo Muti, and for the Manet exhibition at the Art Institute, across the street (or the bridge) from Millenium Park. I lived in Chicago, my father’s home town, for a total of fifteen discontinuous years, and I was blown away by how it reinvented its historic center as a fantastic, user-friendly, and fascinating public space.