Mystery Spot: The Leaning Tower of Niles

February 11, 2011 7:31:34 AM PST
The Niles Leaning Tower has a long history, dating back to the 1920's when Robert Ilg built a 22-acre park on the current Leaning Tower site at 6300 West Touhy Avenue, then called Mechlenuger Road.

Ilg had a water tower in the park to service two swimming pools and constructed the leaning tower to conceal the water tower.

The Niles Leaning Tower was complete in 1934, exactly 600 years after the Leaning Tower of Pisa was completed. It is a one-half size replica of the tower in Pisa, Italy, which is one of Niles' sister cities.

When Ilg died in 1964, he left the Tower and the land to the nearby YMCA, who had helped him earlier in his life. A condition of the donation was that the Tower was to remain standing until 2059 with at least $500 a year spent on maintenance and upkeep, or Ilg's heirs would inherit the land.

In 1995, Mayor Nicholas Blase and the Board of Trustees began a plan to renovate the Tower. The improvements on the structure, façade, and surrounding plaza area were completed in 1996. The Leaning Tower Plaza area now has four fountains, a 30-foot reflecting pool, and landscaping.

At the dedication ceremonies in 1997, the Village of Niles hosted a concert featuring Italian musician Enzo Incandela to celebrate the new look of the Leaning Tower. There was great response, so the Village decided to host three more concerts in 1997.

Concerts at the Leaning Tower were canceled about two years ago due to budget cutbacks.

Leaning Tower of Niles
Address: 6300 Touhy Ave., Niles, IL
Directions: Leaning Tower YMCA. I-94 exit 39A. Drive west on Touhy Ave. for about two miles. The Tower will be on the right.
Phone: 847-647-8222

The Leaning Tower is a perennial stop for Roadsiders in the Chicago area, and only 15 minutes northeast of O'Hare Intl. Airport (and 10 minutes from the World's First Franchised McDonald's in Des Plaines). The Leaning Tower of Niles is, of course, a replica of Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is roughly half-sized -- 94 feet, vs. the authentic's 177 feet, and leans about 7'4" off plum (vs. Pisa's 15 foot tilt). But that hardly matters when you're standing across the street taking a picture. And the savings in overseas airfare and reduced risk of injury is worth considering.

America's Leaning Tower was built in 1934 (600 years after the original), and for many years has stood in front of the Tower YMCA. It was a utility tower, made from steel, concrete and precast stone, designed to store water. A plaque at its base says it was built to honor the outstanding scientist Galileo Galilei.

The plaza around the tower was renovated in the late 1990s, adding a fountain and other touches.

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