Navy Pier celebrates 101st anniversary as tourist icon continues to evolve

CHICAGO -- Navy Pier is hosting a full day of free activities Saturday to kick off its 101st birthday celebration- and it's just getting started.

Navy Pier began as municipal pier in 1916, was later used a naval training center, and is now one of Chicago's biggest attractions, drawing millions every year. It was also one of the first homes of festivals that continue to attract people to Chicago today.

The celebration began Saturday morning at the new Lake Stage with Native American drums that reached back to the earliest population the region ever had.

"We’re 101 years old today and we’re celebrating by inviting the cultural community to join us in the celebration," said Navy Pier's Michelle T. Boone.

Through the day, the Pier is hosting a number of cultural events, from african and asian drumming to latin american celebrations. Tonight, the Lakefront Swing concert begins at the Lake Stage at Polk Brother’s Park on the southwest end of the pier at 7:30 p.m.

"This is a can’t miss jazz centennial celebration of the greats," said Navy Pier's Lydia Jordan-Parnell.

Another part of the celebrations is giving back, and the pier giving away 10,000 tickets to 101 of the city’s nonprofit groups to take a ride on the centennial ferris wheel. In all, officials say the pier lives up to its original vision.

"I really think Navy Pier lives up to the vision that Daniel Burnham had in identifying and creating a pier for the city to have  a place for the city respite and recreation, for the citizens to enjoy the lakefront, and so much more now today," Boone said.