Monday, July 16, 2018

July 16, 1866 -- State Street Inferno Takes 40 Homes


July 16, 1866 –For three hours a fire that begins in a haystack at the rear of State Street near Polk Street rages out of control, consuming 40 buildings over three acres of the southern section of the Loop.  Forty families are burned out of their homes as “The resistless fury of the flames for the first two hours was indeed sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of all who lived in the neighborhood.” [Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1866]The fire department cannot immediately respond to the fire because much of the equipment is tied up in another part of the city, and by the time help arrives the flames have spread from the west side of State Street to homes on the east side. In the 30 minutes that it takes for the fire apparatus to begin work, “the flames were spreading from house to house and every moment gaining ground.”  Wabash Avenue is impassable as homeowners are busy moving furniture, bedding and trunks into the street in panic.  They had reason to be afraid as firefighters, realizing that fighting the conflagration on both sides of State Street is fruitless, make a stand in the alley between State and Wabash, hoping to prevent the fire from spreading.  It is “Here, after a desperate struggle their efforts began to tell. The fire was kept in bounds, and the fears of those residents in the vicinity were, in a measure, allayed.” Two firefighters are injured seriously and carried to their homes, and a resident is also injured after falling from the roof of his home.  Preliminary estimates place losses at over $140,000 but “the most distressing part of the calamity is in the great number of poor families who are thus deprived of their homes, who have lost all their furniture, and are thrown into a state of destitution.”  As bad as the day is, it is only a preview of what will befall the city five years later.  The 1858 photo, which looks southwest from Washington and LaSalle Streets, gives some idea of how close together homes were placed as well as how easily a fire could consume a large area, given the right conditions.



July 16, 1859 – A reporter for the Chicago Press and Tribune takes a walk “in the eastern extremity of the city, within the North Division, in search of a breeze …”  [Chicago Daily Press and Tribune, July 16 1859] During his walk up Pine Street as far as Huron the reporter sees “very many splendid residences in rapid course of erection, and which when finished, with the beautiful houses and grounds of that vicinity, will make it one of the most splendid and interesting neighborhoods of the city.”  At the corner of Pine and Ontario Streets, a block of ten residences are being constructed, “similar to the great marble block on Michigan avenue.” At the corner of Pine and Huron Streets are two residences that Solomon Sturgis is building, each four stories in height with a basement.  Word is that Cyrus H. McCormick intends to begin a “first class dwelling” on Rush Street, between Erie and Huron and that work on a sewer on Huron Street from Rush to Cass Streets has been started.   All of the beautiful homes will, of course, be lost in another dozen years when the great fire of 1871 destroys the entire north side of the city.  There is no more Pine Street these days … the street on which the rich were busily building their beautiful homes back in 1859 is today’s Magnificent Mile on North Michigan Avenue.  The above etching shows Pine Street looking north toward the water tower from Huron Street not long after the tower was completed in 1869.  The photo below shows the same view today.


July 16, 1894 – In the midst of the Pullman strike Light Battery F, Second Artillery, is proceeding down Grand Boulevard, today’s Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, escorted by a cavalry escort, when disaster strikes.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports the following day,  “ . . . going at a gentle trot over a smooth boulevard a shell somewhere in one of the ammunition chests exploded, the detonation set off all the cartridges and all the rest of the shrapnel shells—a storm of powder and leaden balls and scraps of iron sufficient to stop the charge of a brigade of cavalry.  There was first the booming, deafening crash of the powder; it smashed every bit of glass in the neighborhood, jarred the whole southern side of the city, tore the caisson that had held it into bits of twisted iron and splinters of oak, crushed the life out of the four horses attached to it and to the gun following.  Two cannoneers had been sitting on the ammunition chest that exploded first.  Their comrades found the fragments of them, one to the right, one to the left, 150 yards away.  They did not look as if they had ever been men.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 17, 1894]  The men had left camp that morning for a 25-mile ride along the city’s boulevards to exercise the horses, learn more of the streets of the south side of the city and to convey the image that in the midst of the labor crisis the troops were there to maintain order.  Joseph Gaylor, Edward Doyle, and Jeremiah Donovan are buried at Fort Sheridan, where their graves can still be found today. Relatives claim the body of Private Fred Stoltz, and his remains are sent home to Sago, Michigan.  The photo above shows Grand Boulevard about a half-dozen years after the tragic event.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

July 15, 1925 -- Outer Drive and Twenty-Third Street Viaduct Opened


July 15, 1925 –A fireworks display in Grant Park caps a celebration that sees thousands of flower-decked automobiles and trucks pass through Grant Park to the Monroe Street viaduct to Michigan Avenue and then south to the new Twenty-Third Street viaduct, where a ribbon is cut and the new Outer Drive is officially opened. Good feelings run high as officials rhapsodize about the future of the city that night at a banquet at the Congress Hotel attended by more than 1,000 people.  South Park Board President Edward J. Kelly is optimistic that the new link bridge over the Chicago River, connecting the south and north drives, will be started in the coming year.  Illinois Central Railroad President Charles H. Markham predicts that the electrification of the railroad along the lakefront should be finished within the year, six months ahead of schedule. Chicago Mayor William Deever touts a new project to straighten the South Branch of the river so that streets may be extended into the southern portion of the Loop. Illinois Senator Charles S. Deneen continues the optimism, saying, “It is a hopeful sign when we realize that all our problems that we are discussing are problems of construction. We can’t have too many boulevards. They are crowded the moment they are opened. The Lincoln park system, too, is doing a great work in reclaiming land from the lake. Eventually this filling will be carried out to Evanston, perhaps, even to Waukegan.  There must be traffic routes for the travel that will follow.” [Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1925] The above photo shows the Outer Drive looking south from Thirty-Ninth Street in May, 1930.


July 15, 1916 – The $4,000,000 Municipal Pier is dedicated with between 50,000 and 100,000 people in attendance and a thousand automobiles parked between the long freight sheds on the pier.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “In spite of the heat thousands walked to the pier and walked the full length of it, through the freight sheds, to the launch landing.  Launches and steamers took limit loads of passengers on moonlight trips.  The most popular spots with the younger couples proved to be the two towers.  A continual procession climbed up the dozen or more flights of the spiral stairs, as well, to the utmost balcony.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 16, 1916]  There were no formal dedication ceremonies.


July 15, 1934 – On a perfect summer day with an Italian-American program as the day’s highlight, 112,000 paid fair-goers attend the Century of Progress World’s Fair on the lakefront.  The highlight of the day is the unveiling of a marble column from the ancient Italian city of Ostia, a gift of Italian Premier Benito Mussolini to commemorate the visit of General Italo Balbo’s flight to Chicago a year earlier.  Balbo makes a speech via short wave radio to 3,000 persons at the Italian Pavilion, the speech being preceded by a parade of 150 Italian societies dressed in national costumes.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

July 14, 1928 -- Palmolive Building Gets Added Height


July 14, 1928 –Announcement is made that the plan for the new Palmolive building, under construction at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton Street, will be amended to include 37 stories rather than the 15 stories that were originally proposed.  The architects for the project, Holabird and Root, had specified foundations for a taller structure, but the Palmolive-Peet Company and Colgate Company had decided on a more modest structure at the outset, changing the plan as the project begins to the taller building.  The tower promises to be a sensation, “of modern architecture” with “no exterior fire escapes to mar the architectural effect”.  The tower will be clad in Bedford limestone on all sides “with interesting light effects through the placing of flood lights on the various setbacks.”  The new building opened in 1929 with six series of set-backs on all four sides.


July 14, 1877 – Beginning at the offices of the West Park Commissioners at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Halsted Street, a line of carriages, led by the Great Western Light Guard Band, starts out at 2:00 p.m. for the formal opening of Humboldt Park.  Upon reaching the park, “the procession rolled solemnly along for a considerable time, much to the admiration of the assembled ladies and small boys, the latter tearing through the grounds barefooted after the brass band.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 15, 1877]  Coverage of the dedication is favorable although the park is still “in its infancy and cannot be expected to show off as well as some of its older neighbors.”  According to the Chicago Park District’s history of the park, the park is named for Baron Freidrich Heinrich Alexander Von Humboldt, a German scientist and explorer.  The original design for the park was the work of William LeBaron Jenney, and the 219- acre park was designed as a part of a unified whole using a system of boulevards to join three great parks, Humboldt, Garfield and Douglas.   Humboldt Park grew slowly, but as it grew Jenney’s original plan was followed only in the park’s northeastern section. 


July 14, 1918 – Four persons are killed and 28 injured when a North Shore Electric railroad train strikes a truck carrying a Chicago picnic party at the north entrance to Fort Sheridan.  The General Manager of the North Shore line blames the driver of the truck for failing to obey the warning signals at the railroad crossing, saying, “There is a clear view of the track for more than a mile at the point of the accident.  The motorman was sounding his whistle and the wig-wag danger signal was in operation.  The motorman slowed down to ten miles an hour as he approached the crossing because he had a regular stop to make.  The truck was hit by the coach and toppled into the ditch.  I am told the deaths and injuries were not caused by the actual collision, but in the fall into the ditch.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 15, 1918]

Friday, July 13, 2018

July 13, 1966 -- Eight Nurses Killed on City's South Side


July 13, 1966 –After spending the day drinking in taverns near his rooming house on the south side of the city, Richard Speck breaks into an apartment building near South Chicago Community Hospital.  Overnight he rounds up nine nurses, and, one-by-one, takes them to another room where he kills eight.  Only one of the nurses, Corazon Amurao, survives after hiding all night under a bed, emerging on the following morning to find the bloody scene. The nation is shocked by the horrendous crime, what some call the first mass murder of the twentieth century. Speck is caught after attempting suicide by cutting his wrists in a flop house three days later and is sentenced to death in a 1967 trial, a sentence that is later reduced to life in prison. The accused mass murderer dies in 1991.  The above photo shows Corazon Amurao, the long survivor of that unspeakable night, leaving the courthouse in Peoria, Illinois on April 6, 1967. 


July 13, 1903 – The Committee on Streets and Alleys recommends passage of an ordinance that turns over control of the city’s portion of Grant Park to the South Park Board.  The land involved is that part of the park west of the Illinois Central right-of-way and north of Jackson Boulevard.  The ordinance also reserves the rights of the Art Institute as well as the trustees of the Crerar Library in their desire to build in the area. Thrown into the mix is the possibility of locating a new city hall in the area.  The area in question is shown in the photo of the park shown below, a photo taken in 1911.


July 13, 1980 – Paul Gapp, the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, opens a piece on the State Street mall with these words, “The State Street mall is an esthetic failure, and that comes as a particularly harsh disappointment in a city that has produced so many triumphs of urban design in this century.”  The article lists a number of weaknesses in the mall, summarizing the experiment that began in 1979 as “a collection of neutral, ambiguous design elements that are mostly boring, ugly, or both.”  Gapp points to the protective shelters built above the entrances to the State Street subway “destroying any feeling of openness, and blocking formerly unimpeded views.”  He sees the hexagonal asphalt blocks used for paving the pedestrian areas as “unspeakably depressing,” and the bus shelters as “absurd . . . with no walls to soften the bite of winter winds and ward off wind-blown rain.”  The only seating is “on the narrow, often earth-soiled rims of tree planters . . . because city officials have long rejected comfortable downtown benches on the theory that they attract unsavory loafers.”  Ending the article, Gapp writes, “Constraints notwithstanding, we could have had a handsome mall on State Street.  Instead, we have a civic embarrassment.” [Chicago Tribune, July 13, 1980]   

Thursday, July 12, 2018

July 12, 1933 -- Supreme Court Hears Sanitary District Defense


July 12, 1933 –The Attorneys General for Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin appear before the United States Supreme Court, opposing a hearing requested by Illinois in cases pertaining to the Chicago Sanitary District.  The four Midwestern states that border the Great Lakes system object to a petition for a rehearing of a case in which a ruling went against Illinois involving “the right of Illinois, as a sovereign state, to divert water from Lake Michigan.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 12, 1933] The court rules that Illinois can divert water from Lake Michigan through the Chicago River at the rate of 1,500 cubic feet per second after 1938 in addition to 1,700 cubic feet per second for domestic purposes.  The four states claim that the amount diverted will be excessive, and “that Chicago has refused to meter the water diverted for domestic and industrial purposes.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s original 1930 ruling will stand, and by 1938 Chicago will have built three major sewage treatment plants along with a lock that separated Lake Michigan from the Chicago River.  The Chicago River lock, finished in 1938, is shown above.


July 12, 1955 – The architect of the city’s Bureau of Engineering, M. J. Glicken, says that a sculpture of “a woman with other ornamentation” [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 13, 1955] is being readied for placement on a city parking garage at Wacker Drive and State Street.  The bronze sculpture, which is 12 feet high and 14 feet wide and weighs three tons, is the work of sculptor Milton Horn, whom Mayor Richard J. Daley personally asked to create the monumental work that would show Chicago’s important place in the country and the world.  Controversial from the beginning, the sculpture was taken to the city’s bridge repair shops at Thirty-First Street and Sacramento Avenue when the garage was torn down in 1983.  Ignored for nearly 15 years it was restored for ten times the amount that the original commission brought Horn.  Today the sculpture hangs from the northwest portal of the Columbus Drive Bridge.  More about the sculpture and its creator can be found in Connecting the Windy City here.


July 12, 1970 – The Chicago Tribune reports on a challenge against the Public Building Commission of the city, involving the right to reproduce the image of the Picasso sculpture.  In its suit, filed before Federal Judge Alexander J. Napoli, The Letter Edged in Black Press, maintains that Pablo Picasso gave the work of art to the people of Chicago, not to the building commission.  The suit uses statements of Mayor Richard J. Daley and architect William H. Hartmann at the dedication ceremonies for the sculpture in 1967, in which both men talked of the artist’s gift “to the people of Chicago,” to support its assertion. The building commission responds that much was done to secure the rights for reproduction, including “securing from Chicago a written deed of gift which gave them the right to secure a copyright, affixing the copyright notice to the rear of the sculpture’s metal base, registering and securing a copyright claim, and notifying the public of its licensing policies.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1970]  The commission further maintains that the deed of gift which Picasso signed, giving the commission the right to reproduce the sculpture is the same as a copyright.  Incidentally, the official website of the CIty of Chicago proclaims to this day that "Picasso gave the sculpture as a gift to the people of Chicago."  The photo above was taken when the sculpture was dedicated on August 15, 1967.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

July 11, 1964 -- Michigan Avenue's Cutty Sark Sign Encounters Rough Water



July 11, 1964 –The Executive Director of the North Michigan Avenue Association, Nelson Forrest, says that the group will renew its fight to obtain stricter zoning laws governing advertising signs in the business district. Three months earlier the chairman of the association’s outdoor advertising committee, Howard L. Storch, had written the city’s commissioner of planning, Ira J. Bach, informing him of a number of complaints that had been received about a 60-by-60-foot billboard just east of 333 North Michigan Avenue that displayed a “full-rigged sailing ship advertising Cutty Sark whisky … on which news headlines are displayed.” [Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1964] Storch wrote, “We believe the sign depreciates avenue environment.  We are asking the department of city planning for its comment and possible amendments to the city zoning ordinance.”  Forrest speaks for the association, saying, “In our opinion it is illegal because it violates an existing zoning provision. Rooftop signs higher than 50 feet from curb level without a special use permit are not permitted.”  The city’s chief electrical inspector offers his opinion that the sign is completely legal since it is in C3 zoning atop a warehouse where height requirements are measured from the ground level which is the lower level of Michigan Avenue.  The black and white photo shows what the corner of Wacker and Michigan looked like in 1964.  The photo below that shows the corner as it appears today.


July 11, 1864 – A Chicago Tribune article on this date begins, “The Chicago river is not a very pleasant thing to see, smell, or read about, especially as a Sunday morning dissertation; it is not agreeable to swim in, or to drink out of; it has few charms for the voyager, and there are few indeed who care to walk or drive along its banks.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1864]  In an attempt to find some good news, the paper pays a visit to the distillery of U. H. Crosby, located on the North Branch of the river, near Chicago Avenue.  One of the major problems with the distilleries of this era was that “the products of the still are fed to the cows, and those animals make the nuisance complained of, their dung and other emissions running into a bog which, abutting on the river, is periodically emptied into it.”  A year earlier, the paper notes, the “cowsheds of Mr. Crosby were equally bad with the rest …” Over the twelve months since, though, the firm has installed a system that collects the waste of the cattle in a settling tank, the contents of which are pumped up and carried away with “three teams having been constantly employed through the season for that purpose.”  The work that the Crosby distillery has done shows, the paper notes, that the system is a practical solution to one source of the river’s pollution.  If other such industries cannot do similar work, the article observes, “then the sheds must be removed … the filth from these cowsheds must be not only kept out of the river, but taken away from where it will not poison the atmosphere of the city.”  As the above photo shows, the area looks a bit different these days.

July 11, 1890 – The steamship Tioga blows up while tied to a dock on the east side of the river just south of Randolph Street.  The ship ties up at 5:30 after a Great Lakes trip that originated in Buffalo, New York.  Stevedores begin immediately to carry cargo from her hold.  Not long after that unloading begins a tremendous explosion that can be heard all over the south side of the city erupts and “A shower of glass flew across Randolph Street Bridge like a heavy sand-storm on one of the Western deserts, and bits of wood from the wreck hit people blocks away.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 12, 1890]  The ship catches fire, which concealed the damage as firemen use the city’s horse-drawn steamers with assistance from fireboats to douse the flames. Then the terrible carnage is revealed.  Two bodies are floating in the river.  One is slumped against the boat’s pilothouse.  14 more bodies are found below deck.  Bodies continue to be found as the days progress with the dead climbing above two dozen.  The victims, almost all of them African-American laborers from Tennessee, are brought to the morgue as crowds watch silently.  The Tribune reports, “The men who were killed were almost unknown.  Many of their homes were in other towns, and no wives or mothers came to claim the bodies.  Their only friends were the men who had worked with them, and these gathered in groups in the warehouse and talked over the explosion.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

July 10, 1929 -- Clark Street Bridge Opens


July 10, 1929 –The Clark Street bridge is dedicated in a program arranged by the North Clark Street Committee of the North Central Association.  A parade starts on North Avenue and Clark Street with marchers and floats and several members of the Sac and Fox tribes in native dress, an acknowledgement that Clark Street began its life as a trail for Native Americans.  After the ribbon for the new bridge is cut, participating dignitaries adjourn to a luncheon at the Sherman Hotel.


July 10, 1893 -- Halfway through the greatest event in the city’s history, tragedy occurs on this day.  A day later the lead in the Chicago Daily Tribune captures the depth of the tragedy as the paper reports, “The World’s Fair received a baptism of fire and blood yesterday afternoon, the Cold-Storage Building proving a funeral pyre for twelve firemen, twenty-four persons receiving serious injuries.”  The cold storage building, the location of the tragedy, was erected by the directors of the Hercules Iron Works and sat on the east side of Stony Island Avenue just south of the Sixty-Fourth Street entrance to the fairgrounds.  The building, designed to resemble a Moorish palace, was five stories high and included a skating rink on the top floor.  There were four towers on each corner with a central tower, encasing the boiler flue, the central tower rising 191 feet above street level.  A promenade encircled the central tower about 70 feet below its inaccessible top.  The flue that ran up this central tower had been a subject of considerable debate since it veered so dangerously away from original specifications and had been subject to minor fires that had flared up in June, causing the cancellation of most of the insurance policies on the building.  At 1:30 p.m. an alarm went out when a small fire was spotted at the top of the flue stack in the tower’s crowning cupola, an area that was supposed to have been made of wrought iron instead of wood and lined with asbestos.  About a dozen firemen climbed to the gallery around the tower, nailing boards to the structure to get closer to the fire.  As they climbed, a puff of white smoke at the roof level of the warehouse preceded flames that cut off the escape of the fourteen firefighters trapped on the narrow ledge surrounding the tower.   As 50,000 fair-goers watched, the trapped men began to jump, one by one, leaping 60 feet onto the burning main roof.  The paper described the horrific scene, “Strong men turned their heads away and women fainted by the score.  The crowd was so dense that escape was impossible.  Down on his knees in the center of the plot surrounding the Pennsylvania railroad exhibit went a well-dressed man, and with hands uplifted he prayed to the Almighty to avert the awful calamity that seemed imminent.  As he prayed tears streamed from his eyes and his words were lost in the sobs and groans of those around him.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1893]  Twelve brave firefighters lost their lives on that July day, along with three civilians.   


July 10, 1925 – Building Commissioner Frank Doherty gives approval for the proposed 40-story Jewelers’ Building, today’s 35 East Wacker, recommending that Corporation Counsel F. X. Busch issue the necessary building permits as quickly as possible.  There is one major hang-up in getting the construction started – Fire Commissioner Joseph Connery wants a delay in construction until considerable modification is made in a scheme that would see 572 cars parking in the lower levels of the structure.  Connery believes that nothing will eliminate the hazards attendant to a huge parking garage in a skyscraper.  The Corporation Counsel seems ready to take the chance, saying, “Recent surveys indicate that an average of 3,000 automobiles are parked daily in loop streets.  Five or six other such buildings with equal facilities would nearly solve the parking problem and certainly relieve street congestion.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1925]