Da Bears Pt 1: History of the Chicago Bears Football Team

Here we are chin deep in the Chicago Bears football season. While “da Bears” may illicit thoughts of beer, polish sausage, and guys with mustaches, at Chicago Detours we think of history and architecture. So I looked into the history of the Chicago Bears and took a break from my regular tour guiding to go on a tour of Soldier Field.

The Decatur Staleys?

The history of the Chicago Bears begins in 1919 in Decatur, Illinois. The team we know as the Bears was founded there as the Decatur Staleys. The football team moved to Chicago two years later. In 1922, they started playing their games at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. It is from the Cubs’ name that we get the bear mascot, as footballers are bigger and stronger than baseballers and so should be the papa bear to its cub. The Chicago Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971. Honestly, it surprised me they only started playing downtown about 40 years ago.

Soldier Field opened in 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium and was renamed the following year in dedication of the men–and now women–who have served in the armed forces. In 1984, Soldier Field was given National Landmark status, which it no longer has. The designation was taken away after the controversial renovations of the early 2000s.

Skyline Suite

Never having been to a game, I decided to take a tour of Soldier Field to explore its history and architecture. The group got to walk out the tunnel to the field, which is real grass, tour the visitor’s locker room, and visit the swanky Skyline Suite (the view from which is pictured above), before heading out to the colonnade. I also found out that surprisingly the Chicago Bears constitute a mere 20% of what goes on at Soldier Field, which also hosts concerts and rallies among other events.

soldier field chicago architecture history of the chicago bears

The New Soldier Field

In referencing the 2003 renovations done to Soldier Field, Chicagoans often joke of the spaceship that landed in the original stadium. I have to admit that I have always agreed. On my tour of Soldier Field, however, our guide gave me a greater perspective on the changes made. He explained that the seating was lifted not only up but also closer to the field. While we were outside, he pointed out the original top row of seats. They were stone risers which would have held benches for seating. As pictured above, you can see the contrast between the original and the current top row. The current stands are both higher and closer–not to mention more comfortable.

This function-motivated explanation gave me more appreciation of the spaceship. It makes some more sense, despite its awkward contrast to the Greco-Roman style of the original building. The new Soldier Field has the least seats of any stadium in the NFL. But they are the closer to the field, making for a more exciting experience. More recently, changes to the building made it the first NFL stadium in the nation to acquire LEED status. That’s an interesting trade for the historic designation lost a few years earlier.

If you would like to explore Soldier Field, the tour schedule is updated monthly. We also drive out and see it quite frequently on our Detour 101 Chicago Highlights Tour. And have a look out for Part 2, with more about the Bears in pop culture.

–Elizabeth Tieri, Chicago Detours Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
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Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
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Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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