About This Artwork

Ralph Thomas Walker
American, 1889-1973

Century of Progress Exposition Tower of Water and Light, Chicago, Illinois, Final Design, 1930

Graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor on illustration board
66.5 x 44.6 cm (26 3/16 x 17 9/16 in.)

Gift of Haines Lundberg Waehler in honor of their centennial, 1983.222

Beginning in 1929, the planning commission of the Century of Progress Exposition worked on developing a scheme for the fairgrounds, themes for major buildings, and a centerpiece of inspirational proportions. New York architect Ralph Walker, a member of the commission, proposed a Tower of Light and Water, which was a soaring skyscraper-scale sculpture set in a lagoon. Cascading water and the lavish use of artificial light were to add even more drama to the giant structure.

The Depression forced the commission to scale back its plans. A combination of financial doubts (the tower provided minimal rentable space) and technical uncertainties about the complex water feats forced the proposal’s demise. A structure called the Skyride was built in its place as the centerpiece of the Century of Progress. Visitors could ride the aerial gondola between the main fair ground and the Island, or climb one of the 600-ft. towers and have a spectacular view of the city.

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