STREETERVILLE — A Christmas tree trimmed with references to the popular erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" was removed from Navy Pier's Winter WonderFest after event staff questioned whether handcuffs and other decorations were appropriate for the kid-focused festival.
The 95 trees for this year's fest, which kicks off Friday, were installed this week after they were decorated by Near West Side event design firm Ivan Carlson, which has done the tree-trimming every year since the fest's inception in 2001.
Gary Jackson, Ivan Carlson's creative director, said Navy Pier requested this year's trees have themes, like Disney cartoon characters or famous modern artists (one trio of trees nods to Jackson Pollack, Piet Mondrian and Roy Lichtenstein). Other motifs include a tree covered in toys and puzzles and monochromatic color schemes.
The "Fifty Shades" tree had paint chips "like you'd get at a hardware store" in different shades of gray, handcuffs and gray spherical ornaments numbered one through 50, said one worker who saw the tree while it was on the floor at one point this week.
Jackson said the tree "was just based loosely on the book, and it was geared more toward the adults, thinking the children would never figure it out. But we decided it was a little on the risque side, so we redesigned it to a lime green, gray, black and silver theme."
Suzi Groetsema, a spokeswoman for Navy Pier, said when officials realized during the setup for the event how the tree was designed, they asked that it be removed.
"We kind of give [Ivan Carlson] creative license to do what they want. All their trees are gorgeous, so we don't actually know every single tree," she said. "Since it's not family-friendly, [and] that wasn't planned ... when we came across it, we had that taken down."
Another Navy Pier spokesman, Nick Shields, said parents don't have to worry about their kids seeing a tree referencing a racy subject matter at the 13th annual event.
"Trust me, we have no 'Fifty Shades of Grey' tree that's going to be at Winter Wonderfest," he said.
What will be at the fest are 25 rides and attractions and an ice-skating rink borrowed from the Blackhawks. New features this year include an indoor zipline mounted above an inflatable slide and a "Winter WonderTown" of miniature houses. A ride-on train debuted last year.
An estimated 625,000 visitors are expected to attend the fest in the 170,000-square-foot festival hall.
A crew of nearly 250 people worked for 10 days to bring the fest to Navy Pier's Festival Hall.
Click on the video above to watch as crews set up the Winter WonderFest.
Winter WonderFest runs from Friday through Jan. 12. Admission starts at $13 per person, and family packages are available. Buy tickets at the Winter WonderFest website.