December 5, 1892 – There are four stars on the flag of Chicago, each star corresponding to a key event in the city’s history. If there were to be a fifth star – and it was not assigned to the 2016 World Series victory of the Cubs – it might very well be given to a case decided in the United States Supreme Court, the results of which were published on this date in 1892. The case pitted the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago against the Illinois Central Railroad in an effort to “obtain a judicial determination of the title of certain lands on the east or Lake-Front of the City of Chicago, situated between the Chicago River and Sixteenth street, which have been reclaimed from the waters of the lake and are occupied by the tracks, depots, warehouses, piers, and other structures used by the railroad company in its business, and also of the title claimed by the company to the submerged lands constituting the bed of the lake, lying east of the tracks, within the corporate limits of the city for a distance of a mile, and between the south line of the south pier near Chicago River extended eastwardly, and a line extended in the same direction from the south line of Lot 21, near the company’s round-house and machine shops.” In a lengthy explanation the court found that the city was not deprived of its riparian rights by a previous decision to allow the Illinois Central to construct tracks and a breakwater along the lakefront between Randolph Street and Park Row. The court said, “With this reservation of the right of the railroad company to use the tracts on ground reclaimed by it and the continuance of the breakwater, the city possesses the same right of riparian ownership, and is at full liberty to exercise it, which it ever did.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 6, 1892] Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen J. Field stated, “It is the settled law of this country that the ownership of and dominion and sovereignty over lands covered by the waters, within the limits of the several states, belong to the respective states within which they are found, with the consequent right to use or dispose of any portion thereof, when that can be done without substantial impairment of the interest of the public in the waters, and subject always to the paramount right of congress to control that navigation so far as may be necessary for the regulation of commerce with foreign nations and among the states.” The case has tremendous implications for the future of the city’s lakefront, which up to this point, had been expanded through landfill with parcels from north to south being claimed by property owners claiming that because they owned land adjoining the lake, they also owned the riparian rights and therefore could expand their property as far as they desired. In short, the city would look far different today if the case in 1892 had turned in a different direction. The photo above shows the lakefront just north of today's Art Institute probably in 1891 or early 1892. The portion of the lake that we can see, which is west of today's Columbus Drive, is part of the property included in the suit before the Supreme Court.
Monday, December 5, 2016
Sunday, December 4, 2016
December 4, 1902 – Fourteen men lose their lives in a fire at the Lincoln Hotel at 176 Madison Street, a converted business block that the city’s fire marshal calls the worst firetrap he has seen. The building went up in 1873, just two years after the Great Fire, and despite its proximity to that tragic event, it was built with wooden partitions, a single wooden staircase, and windows less than a foot in width. Six months before the fire two electric elevators were installed as the building was being converted into a hotel. The shafts of those elevators, enclosed within wooden casings, formed flues that provided a draft for the fire once it began. One of the newly installed elevators blocked all but 20 inches of the main stairway, stairs that should have been over twice as wide. There was only one fire escape in the four-story building, and that was reached by way of a partitioned six-foot by eight-foot hotel room that contained two beds. When the lights went out and the elevators failed early on in the catastrophe the residents found themselves in darkness and smoke, some with no way to escape. The night clerk discovered the fire at 5:40 a.m. and alerted as many guests as he could. 125 people began frantically trying to find a way out of the burning building, some by jumping out of narrow windows to the roofs of lower business buildings to the east and west. Firefighters initially could not make their way up the one stairway and were forced to fight the fire and try to save those trapped in the building by placing ladders against the west side of the building. Accompanying the tragedy was a condemnation of the city’s inspection process with a special focus placed on Chief Building Inspector Kiolbassa, of whom Fireproof Magazine said, “At his door lies the record of more torture and death brought to suffering, helplessness, as the direct result of his incompetency, than has ever before been charged to a public officer in the history of civic government.” [Fireproof Magazine, Volume 1; No. 5., p. 45.]
Saturday, December 3, 2016
December 3, 1948 – Pizzeria Uno opens for business. According to Eater Chicago Ike Sewell worked for Fleischmann’s Distilling Corporation and his future partner, Ric Ricardo, was the owner of Riccardo’s Restaurant and Gallery at 437 North Rush Street. The original plan was to open a Mexican Restaurant until Riccardo, an Italian by birth, tasted Mexican food for the first time. That pointed the duo in the direction of pizza, but not just the usual thin crust of tomato sauce, cheese and toppings, but a pizza that was worthy of the city with the big shoulders. The restaurant was originally called The Pizzeria and then Pizzeria Riccardo. It became Pizzeria Uno when Sewell and Riccardo opened Pizzeria Due a block away in 1955. Today there are over 130 Uno Pizzeria and Grill restaurants in 21states, Washington, D. C., South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Honduras, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Friday, December 2, 2016
December 2, 1945 – Before it falls to the wreckers, the mansion of Cyrus Hall McCormick at 675 North Rush Street is opened to Chicago Daily Tribune reporter Edward Barry for one last look. Barry writes, “To a person entering the old house suddenly from the busy streets of the near north side the impression was strong that he had stepped into a more tranquil, a more spacious age. Before him heavy walls of mellow walnut converged toward the fireplace set into the far wall . . . In an austere room to the right of the entrance hall were found the objects of art which the McCormicks brought back with them from their trips to Europe, and had sent to them from the ends of the earth. China of every imaginable design huddled under dust cloths . . . The deserted rooms were empty and cold. Where open fires formerly crackled and laughter resounded there was nothing to be heard but the hushed voice of the traffic outside.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 2, 1945] The 35-room mansion, reportedly patterned after a wing of the Louvre, took five years to build and was finished in 1879. After World War II ended, though, the old world order, at least as far as elaborate urban mansions for the rich were concerned, began to give way, and the McCormick mansion was finally demolished in 1955.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
December 1, 1891 – The World’s Columbian Exposition formally assumes possession of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition Building, the impressive building that sits on the lot where the Art Institute of Chicago stands today. The move makes way for movement on the building of the new art museum although there is still no guarantee that the new building will be constructed. The move also leaves the Academy of Sciences without a place for its collection, which has been held in the Exposition building since 1875. The University of Chicago has offered space for the academy on its campus, but the directors of the Academy of Sciences have rejected the offer, saying that it will take the specimens too far from the center of the city. The above photo shows the Inter-State Industrial Exposition Building and Michigan Avenue in 1890.