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This Century of Progress Headliner Got No Opening Act

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As you're gearing up for Lolla this weekend, or recovering from any number of "tastes", fairs, and grease-laden, beer-soaked fests throughout the city this time of year, perhaps another look back at the granddaddy of all Chicago celebrations is in order.

We're talking, of course, about the world's fair, specifically the 1933 Century of Progress that celebrated the centennial of our glorious town's 1833 incorporation, and in so doing, understandably had some grand ambitions in mind. Among them? New York architect Ralph Thomas Walker's dramatic Tower of Water and Light, which was designed to anchor the lower end of a lagoon on the site that stretched along the lakefront from 12th Place to 39th Street.
In typical Chicago architectural fashion, Walker's plan envisioned a gigantic tower in the lagoon, sculptural in its sky-scraping. The structure would incorporate cascading water and artificial light features as well (in case the name didn't tip you off), to significantly up its drama factor. Walker presented the proposal as a member of the fair's architectural planning commission, which had been tasked with drawing up the overall plan for the buildings and grounds and making sure they were worthy of the event's lofty vision.

Seeing as all this planning was going down at the end of the 1920s, you probably saw this next part coming: the stock market took a serious plummet, thereby forcing the planning commissions to alter their plans for the fair for budgetary reasons. Walker's soaring tower, as a result, got the boot, replaced with the fair's centerpiece Skyride aerial gondola.

Had that pesky stock market not ruined everyone's watery, light-filled fun, perhaps come Saturday Mumford & Sons would be headlining a stage with a very different backdrop.
· Ralph Walker Architect of the Century [Curbed New York]
· Tower of Water and Light [The Art Institute of Chicago]
· A Century of Progress Records [UIC]