With the opening of the computer-shaped Apple Store on Michigan Avenue last Friday, I was inspired to look at another architectural duck in Chicago: the boat-shaped bar on North Avenue Beach. I’ve written about novelty architecture and ducks once before (perhaps the most confusing but also most fun architectural term around!), and they never fail to catch my eye. Of course, that is what they are meant to do!
The North Avenue Boat House was constructed in 1999. Despite its fairly recent construction date (the original architectural duck was constructed in 1931) its whimsey is not completely random: the building was built to replace a 1939 building with streamline nautical motifs. The boat-shaped plan is eye-catching and serves a civic purpose as well. The building was built to house public restrooms, concessions, and Chicago’s lifeguard training program. Today it is perhaps most notably the location of the Castaways Bar & Grill.
Throughout the summer, the North Avenue Boat House is a center of activity, serving tourists and locals alike from it’s prime location at the end of the sand on North Avenue Beach. As we move into the off season, the beach and boat house have emptied out. On a gray day, from a distance off down the beach, the building begins to look more and more like a sea-worthy boat, on its way out onto Lake Michigan.
Sources and further reading:
Since I know you’re now eager to just look at other interestingly-shaped buildings, here’s a collection of 9 Weird and Wonderful Architectural “Ducks.”
The most helpful source in my search was this page on the North Avenue Boat House by Wheeler Kearns Architects. It includes some great aerial photographs of the building!
Want to make the trip? Castaways is open seasonally but the beach is open year round.