As a long term resident of the north side of Chicago, I am familiar with a building in Niles on west Touhy Avenue that was built to resemble the historic Leaning Tower of Pisa. However, I knew little of its history.
Robert Ilg was a successful businessman who owned a business Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company. In the early 1920’s, he built a 22 acre park for his employees. This was located on West Tuohy in Niles, Illinois. The park had two outdoor swimming pools. Seeking to preserve the natural beauty of the area, he proposed a half sized replica of the Tower in Pisa, Italy. The Niles building was to conceal the water tower for the outdoor swimming pools.The
The Niles Tower was to be 94 feet tall, 28 feet in diameter and leaning 7.4 feet tall. It was to be built of reinforced concrete. Construction extended between 1931 to 1934.
The Ilg recreation park also featured a wooden toboggan slide which has long since been demolished.
In 1960,the descendants of Robert Ilg donated part of the park for the construction of the Leaning Tower YMCA. Arrangements were made to turn over the Tower to the YMCA. The Y was obligated to spend $500 annually to maintain the the Tower and adjacent area.
Over the years, the Tower began showing signs of deterioration. In 1995,the village of Niles leased the Tower and adjacent area from the YMCA. A 1.2 million dollar renovation project was started. Concrete in the Tower was repaired. New lights were added to each of the 8 floors. A plaza was constructed around the Tower. This had four fountains, a 30 foot reflecting pool and new landscaping. The Leaning Tower Plaza was dedicated bin June of 1997. In April of 2019, the Tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The historic bells in the top of the Tower were restored and re-installed. Two of the bells were replaced. There are currently 7 bells in place.The
Work has been completed on the installation of new railings along the outdoor walkways. Eventually, it is planned that people will be able to climb the Tower.