Nicholas J. Melas Centennial Plaza and Fountain, 1989
Chicago River Esplanade
McClurg Court and the Chicago River on the north bank
The Chicago River, arguably, may be the reason Chicago became a great city. It allowed for travel and commerce between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways. Before 1900, the natural flow emptied into Lake Michigan. However, the polluted water source sickened residents with numerous waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid. Thanks to an amazing engineering feat, the flow of the river was reversed. To this day, perhaps the most famous point about this river is the fact that it flows away from the lake due to man-made efforts. The Nicholas J. Melas Centennial Fountain and Plaza was constructed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this achievement. It is named after Nicholas J. Melas, who was first elected to the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago in 1962 and re-elected five times, serving for 30 years. Melas served the last 18 years as President of the Board.
The fountain and plaza were designed by Lohan Associates, headed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's grandson Dirk Lohan, who was also responsible for the controversial 2002 Soldier Field renovation. Every hour on the hour during warm weather months, a water cannon on the fountain shoots an 80-foot arc of water from the north to the south bank. The AIA Guide to Chicago notes, “The summit of the stepped granite pavilion represents the eastern continental divide (located just southwest of Chicago), with water flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean and west to the Gulf of Mexico.”