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A Mountainous Burnham-Designed Civic Center, Unrealized

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Welcome to Curbed's Could Have Been, where we investigate some of the most outlandish proposals and grandiose buildings that were never built. Know of a plan that never saw the light of day? Send it to the tipline.

It's the axis of a tangled hub of asphalt nowadays — the Kennedy, Ryan, and Eisenhower all speed past nearby — but the intersection of Congress and Halsted was once the proposed site for everybody's favorite Chicago-planner-extraordinaire Daniel Burnham's pièce de résistance.

Riding the momentum of his visionary White City at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Burnham's storied 1909 Plan of Chicago gave us sprawling public lakefront access, Grant Park, and cultural anchors like the Field Museum. It did not, however, deliver the centerpiece Burnham had envisioned: a soaring domed Civic Center. The structure would have sat atop what is now the Circle Interchange and, Burnham and his fellow planners hoped, driven the city's downtown south and west from the Loop in a radial Parisian fashion.

Unfortunately for Danny, it appears the city never had much interest in his neoclassical behemoth. A new city hall was already under construction as the plan was shaping up and the general consensus was that downtown should stay put. The building never made it past the drawing board.

So, can you picture it looming above the highways today, peeking out between the buildings on UIC's campus? You don't have to. Look across the Eisenhower and you'll see the next best thing— the warehouse mural on the southwest corner of Morgan and Van Buren features imagery from the Plan, including the Civic Center, only a few blocks from where it was supposed to be built.
·Burnham Plan [Encyclopedia of Chicago]
·The Plan of Chicago, Legacy of the Plan [Burnham Plan Centennial]

—Gwendolyn Purdom