History of Streeterville

The Origins of Streeterville

The history of Streeterville dates back to the late 1800’s with the arrival of George Wellington “Cap” Streeter and his second wife Maria to Chicago. They originally planned on going to Honduras to become gunrunners and decided to first try out their boat, Reutan, in Lake Michigan. In 1886, a strong storm landed them in a sandbar, which was located approximately 450 feet east of Michigan Avenue. Captain Streeter chose to live on his boat and claimed the sandbar and the surrounding area as his.

After the great Chicago Fire of 1871, the city was rapidly growing and developers were looking for a place to dump their construction waste. Although Streeter did not have the authority to do so, he charged developers to use the sandbar and surrounding area as a waste area. The area quickly filled up with debris and Streeter started renting out the land, leading to the establishment of a shantytown. However, the wealthy landowners around “Streeterville” were worried that the shantytown would lower the property value of the area and fought to get rid of it.

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In 1889 police officers attempted to evict Streeter and his wife, Maria, but were unsuccessful and were driven away by rifles. During the same time, the wealthy landowners of the area instigated several court cases against Streeter. In 1893, the millionaire Kellogg Fairbank who owned the land that Streeter was occupying, filed a suit against him and Streeter was legally obligated to move off of the land. However, he decided to stay and continued selling plots of land. While the property owners realized that they could profit from building a road connecting downtown with the North Side, soon to be called Lake Shore Drive, entrepreneur Potter Palmer purchased some of this land and began developing it. After Palmer’s death in 1902, Streeter who claimed that some of this land belonged to him, decided to raise an army and set up a blockade as a means of maintaining “his” land, which was swiftly put to an end by the police. This was Streeter’s last major attempt to fight for his district.

The Interwar Period: 1920-1930

The opening of the Michigan Avenue Bridge in 1921 lead to commercial development along Michigan Avenue and made Streeterville the most prime real estate in Chicago. In April of 1928, after years of disputes over the area, the courts finally awarded the land to the Chicago Title & Trust. Northwestern University’s downtown campus for its Medical and Law Schools was established in 1924, as well as the residential district on East Lake Shore Drive. The Lake Shore Drive Bridge was completed in 1937.

The Postwar Boom: 1947-1976

During the 1960s the rapid construction of mixed use high rise buildings, such as the John Hancock Center in 1969 and the Water Tower Place in 1976 spurred the residential boom in Streeterville, leading to the area’s present boom.

Streeterville Today

Streeterville continuous to grow due to residential developments, such as MCL’s River East Project, 600 N. Fairbanks and Santiago Calatrava’s Chicago Spire, which when completed will be the tallest building in North America.