Monday, July 25, 2011

The Kinzie Street Railroad Bridge

The Kinzie Street Railroad Bridge on the North Branch of
the Chicago River (JWB, 2011)

Crossing the river at Kinzie Street, it’s hard to miss the railroad bridge that stands in a permanently upraised position just north of the East Bank Club.  Looking at its stark form in the gentrified neighborhood along the North Branch of the river, you would never guess that the structure was once the most audacious bridge in the city, perhaps even the nation.

The bridge stands where the first railroad bridge in Chicago crossed the river back in 1852.  The site is also where the first all-steel railroad bridge in the country was constructed in 1879.  The bridge we see today is an overhead-counterweight bascule bridge, and when it was completed in 1908 it was the longest and heaviest bascule leaf bridge in the world.

Today it’s just a curiosity, a museum piece that time has passed by.  Using the extensive history of the bridge, compiled by the Historic American Engineering Record in 2004, it is fascinating to examine the story of the now unused railroad bridge.

The bridges in this location have always had an important role in Chicago’s growth, going back to the time of William B. Ogden, a guy who became rich selling real estate in the early years, lobbied for the Illinois and Michigan canal, and oversaw the first railroad to lay tracks in the city – the Galena and Chicago Union, which was later consolidated with the Chicago and Northwestern with Ogden in charge of the new line. 

When the Union Pacific completed its western line in 1868, Chicago had a connection across Kinzie Street all the way to the west coast, the Northwestern running to Omaha where the Union Pacific carried on.

The two Kinzie Street bridges between the former Apparel
Center and the East Bank Club (JWB, 2011)
There was no bridge crossing the river when the Galena and Chicago Union began; its operations were conducted from the west bank of the river.  Four years after it began, the G&CU built a pontoon bridge, and trains began crossing the river in 1852, ending their run at a station on Wells Street.  By 1861, just 13 years after the railroad began, it had extended its tracks all the way eastward to Ogden Slip and beyond that to the pier that would nearly a half-century later become Municipal Pier, today’s Navy Pier.

The first bridge, the pontoon structure, became obsolete in a matter of years.  The next bridge, finished in 1979, was one of the first all-steel railroad bridges in the country, fabricated with Bessemer steel rather than wrought iron.  Because of the high sulfur and phosphorus in Bessemer steel (the problem wasn’t solved until the advent of the open hearth process in the late-1880’s), this bridge, too, quickly proved inadequate because of the brittleness of the steel.   A replacement was built in 1898, but it only lasted a decade.

At this point things began to happen in a hurry as the rapidly growing city was bursting at the seams, nowhere more than on the river.  It was clear by the beginning of 1901 that the Wells Street Station was much too small for the passenger traffic that it was being asked to handle.  It had an additional drawback beside its narrow lot – it was on the wrong side of the river from the central business and hotel district of the Loop.

The Chicago and Northwestern decided in 1905, therefore, to construct a new terminal on Madison Street between Canal and Clinton Streets.  Chicago architects Charles S. Frost and Alfred H. Granger designed the new station, one that could handle five times as many passengers as the old Wells Street terminal.

The immediate problem was solved.  The Wells Street station was sufficient to serve the freight needs of the city’s north side, but the Kinzie Street river crossing was another matter.  Three bridges now stood at this location – the city-owned span that carried Kinzie Street across the river, the C&NW bridge and another just to the north that belonged to the Milwaukee Road.  Ore boats by this time were over 400 feet long, and the Secretary of War used his power under the River and Harbor Act of 1899 to order the removal of the three Kinzie Street bridges.

Because the space available for any bridge at this site was so small, both the city and the C&NW chose the bascule-type bridge for replacement of the old structures.  The railroad chose the Strauss Bascule and Bridge Company to design the new Kinzie Street crossing, at first proposing two double-tracked bridges and eventually narrowing that down to one double-tracked structure that would carry only freight traffic.

The bridge took nine months to construct, six of which were spent on preparing the foundations, that operation spanning the months of December of 1907 to May of 1908.  The largest component of the structure was the eastern abutment, which carried the entire weight of the span and its counterweight.  The Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company was chose to construct this section of the bridge, probably because its plant was located on Goose Island, just a half-mile up the river.

Noteworthy in the Strauss Bascule and Bridge Company’s design for the Kinzie Street bridge design is that it didn’t require a pit for the counterweight, one of the many innovations that the company’s founder, Joseph Baermann Strauss, brought to the engineering of movable structures.  Only five-feet tall, Strauss was granted over 150 patents for designs that involved movement and balance.

The Kinzie Street bridge is composed of three parts:  a fixed tower, a rotating bascule leaf, and a concrete counterweight that rotates independently of the bascule leaf.  The great advantage of this design is that the main trunion, or rotation point, is halfway up the fixed tower.  The counterweight is attached to the rear arm of the bridge so that in the closed position it rides above and behind the trunion.  As the bridge swings open, the counterweight moves down and inward without ever moving lower than the piers on which the structure sits.  Note the diagram from the Historic North American Engineering Record in order to see how the bridge functioned during its working years.

Diagram of Kinzie Street Bridge operation (HAER, 2004)
Aside from eliminating the deep pit for the counterweight in this design, Strauss’s design also carried another huge advantage – it could be erected in the upright position.  Because of this there was little interference with traffic on the river, an important consideration in light of how tight the Kinzie Street site already was.  The bascule leaf of the Kinzie Street bridge weighed about 800 tons and because the bridge was in near-perfect balance, only two 50-horsepower direct current electric motors were required to raise and lower it.  These were located in a shed at the top of the tower.

The last customer for the innovative span disappeared in 1999 when The Chicago Sun Times moved its printing plant from the site where Trump Tower currently stands to Damen and 39th Street.  Today the bridge remains in the permanently raised position, strangely out of place amidst the glassy towers that have replaced the old industrial corridor through which it ran. 

The massive ironwork of the single leaf
bascule Kinzie Street Railroad Bridge (JWB, 2011)
Absolutely innovative when it was erected, the Kinzie Street Bridge was a significant force in the growth of this great city, a city that passed it by long ago.  Stare at it long enough, though, and its power bores into your bones as you imagine the belching steam locomotives with their pounding drive wheels bringing their loads into and out of a city that grew from a small prairie hamlet into an industrial giant, making men rich beyond imagination, a city strutting and crowing proudly about the wide-eyed promise that in this place anything is possible.

The old bridge stands as mute testimony to that promise, holding it aloft for all to see.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Photo of the Week: Triple Play

Marina City, 330 North Wabash and Trump Tower - three good neighbors
(JWB, 2011)

Walking around the city, I suppose I’ll always look like I just rolled in from Farmville.  I don’t move quick, and I spend most of my time looking skyward.  No fast-paced stride, staring at some fixed point a half-block ahead, for me.

There’s just too much to see up high, where the details imagined on some designer’s drawing board are spread across fantastic structures in an endless display.

When I was younger, one of my friends said to me, “If you’re going to look up at those buildings all the time, could you at least keep your mouth closed?”

I’ve worked on his suggestion, and for the most part have been successful at avoiding the gape-jawed stare of a delegate just in from Waterloo for the corrugated box convention.

But there is some way cool stuff if you just bother to look up for it.

The other night I got an invite from a good friend to attend a small gathering on the 54th floor of Marina City’s west tower.  During the evening, with a glass of good Cabernet in hand, I rode up to the top of the building and got a look at one of the great views in Chicago.

Here, two classic designs and one that I am sure will stand the test of time line up for a portrait.

Nearest the camera, the east tower of Marina City, finished in the mid-1960’s, stands as the embodiment of Bertrand Goldberg’s architectural philosophy.  He saw the city as a positive force and designed his residential buildings to proclaim the (at that time) wasted potential of the central city as a dynamic force for folks bold enough to take up residence there.  This was the first major residential project in the central part of Chicago.  When it was completed, 85 percent of its occupants walked to their jobs.

In the middle is the last project of Mies van der Rohe, originally the Chicago headquarters for IBM, now 330 North LaSalle.  Finished in 1971, this is the tallest of Mies’s structures in the United States and the embodiment of the mid-century modern style.  Upon his arrival in Chicago in 1938, Mies said, “The long path from material through function to creative work has only a single goal:  to create order out of the desperate confusion of our time.”  There is n-o-t-h-i-n-g desperately confusing about this design.

And farthest east stands Trump Tower, Adrian Smith’s gift to the river.  Reflecting that river and the noble towers on both sides of it, Trump moved in, determined to be a good neighbor.  It narrows three times in its 92-story rise and each setback is scaled to respect those in the neighborhood.  The base of Trump matches the height of the Wrigley Building without the clock tower.  The second setback matches the height of Golberg’s circular towers, and the final setback begins at the height of Mies van der Rohe’s 330 North Wabash.

My mouth may have been closed a week ago, but my eyes were wide open as I looked out at these three great towers, arranged by date of birth, bold and beautiful next to the narrow river that runs through this gentle giant of a city. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Richard J. Daley Center (Part Three)

Cor-Ten steel and the Daley Center (JWB, 2008)

Once the pouring of the caissons began on Chicago’s new Civic Center, there was no turning back.  Already thousands of hours of work and hundreds of pages of drawings had gone into the planning of the impressive building with the 87-foot bays. 

Jacques Brownson was adamant about the fact that the exterior of the building would reflect the power in its design.  “. . . I wanted it to be a steel building.  I didn’t want it covered with marble.  I wanted to have a structure,” he said in a later interview.

He got his wish.  The decision was made to use Cor-Ten steel in the fabrication of the exterior elements of the building.  The United States Steel product had originally been developed for the bottoms of railroad hopper cars.  In addition to its resistance to the elements, it was a much stronger material than the steel of the that time.  New tools were required to fabricate it because of the additional force needed to shape and work it. 

One of the first uses of Cor-Ten in a commercial structure was in the John Deere Building in Moline, Illinois where Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo chose Cor-Ten to clad the building in accordance with company president William Hewitt’s insistence that the headquarters should avoid the latest trend of glass boxes and instead be more down-to-earth and rugged.  The Deere headquarters opened just a year before the Civic Center was completed, clearly indicating how quickly the Chicago building was planned and constructed.

The representative of United States Steel (the only other bidder on the project was Bethlehem Steel) was Mack Corner who submitted a bid for $13,1313,313. 

“I can’t understand,” said Brownson.  “I understand the thirteen million, but then you go into three hundred thirteen thousand, three hundred thirteen dollars.”

Corner replied, “Yes, I like threes.  I feel very comfortable with threes in the bid.”

The Richard J. Daley Center's massive cruciform columns (JWB, 2008)
So everything is cool, and Mr. Brownson jets down to the University of Florida where the windows proposed for the building were to be tested.  He’s sitting at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami when the waiter says, “Did you hear about the big accident up in Chicago that just happened this afternoon.  A building that is under construction fell down.”

There was only one building in Chicago that was under construction.

The fourth and fifth floors of the Civic Center had collapsed.

The investigation that followed the accident revealed that faulty welding was at the heart of the disaster.  Welders were paid by the amount of weld they laid down, and someone on the night shift had cheated a little, laying little pieces of welding rod in the joints and welding over the top of them.  On the outside the joint looked great, but good looks were not going to work in a building as massive as the new Civic Center.  United States Steel changed their procedures, and the work went on.

These days with all of the green roofs and L.E.E.D. certifications, one might think that this hulking steel tower might seem hopelessly obsolete.  But what we now call the Daley Center was and still is remarkably sensitive to the environment. The windows in the building are of dark tinted glass, which serves two purposes.  There is the obvious effect on energy use.  But the windows also darken the hallways, making it easier to see what is going on in the courtrooms without opening doors and disturbing the proceedings.

All of the materials are native to the area.  Solid oak for all the doors.  White oak for the benches and woodwork.  All the carpeting is natural wool.  The granite is from Minnesota.  The arms of the jurors’ chairs are upholstered, so that nervous jurors, scratching away at the furniture, won’t do a whole lot of damage.

Then there is that great plaza, Chicago’s agora.  And on the east side the three flagpoles just north of the eternal flame, poles 116 feet tall, composed of three pieces of continuously welded three-inch steel plate, fabricated by the American Bridge Company, the only company that felt that it could undertake the assignment.

American Bridge Company's flag poles and the Picasso (JWB, 2008)
And just to the west of those massive flagpoles is the element that makes the plaza, the Picasso statue.  (Jacques Brownson would disagree with the notion that the statue makes the plaza.  If it had been left to him, the plaza would have been open public space with the statue on the west side of the building.)

How the statue, a gift from the world’s foremost artist, came to Chicago makes for an interesting story, a tale that William Hartmann tells in his oral interview with Betty Blum. 

All three firms working on the Daley Center project agreed that Pablo Picasso was their man.  When they checked with the mayor, according to Hartmann, Daley said, “Well, if he’s the best in the world, go ahead and try it . . . I trust you.”

At the Art Institute Hartmann found Allan McNab, an Englishman, and McNab knew Robert Penrose, who had written a biography of Picasso in England.  Penrose agreed to contact the great artist, suggesting that Hartmann do the same.  Penrose encouraged Hartmann to suggest that sometime soon he would be n the south of France and would like to drop in and discuss the project with Picasso. 

Pablo Picasso's gift to Chicago (JWB, 2008)
“Penrose said that is the way to do it,” Hartmann said.  “You don’t make an appointment with Picasso.  You don’t make an appointment at all . . . you telephone and say you happen to be nearby, and he’ll say come up today or come up tomorrow, and beyond that you can’t get an appointment.”

As the Civic Center was being built, William Hartmann, Norm Schlossman, and Charles Murphy arrived at Picasso’s villa at Mougins.  Hartmann had come prepared, loaded with “a lot of materials, including a small model and lots of photographs.  Photographs of Chicagoans and photographs of Chicago and historical photographs, a whole collection of things to stimulate and things to show the importance of the site, of course, and what surrounds it and what it meant to the city.”  Included in the package was a picture of Ernest Hemingway, a close friend of Picasso’s. the man whom Picasso had taught everything he knew about bullfighting.

Picasso was offered no guarantees that his work would be accepted although he a common arrangement whereby the artist would be paid to undertake a preliminary study of the project.  Picasso was noncommittal, saying, “I’m not going to agree to that now but I’ll think about it.”

Months went by with no word from Picasso.  Hartmann continued to make trips to Picasso, bringing artifacts with him each trip, hoping the inspiration might spark the master’s temperament . . . a baseball cap, a message from the mayor, at one point even a Sioux Indian war bonnet.

Then the word came.  Picasso had something to show.  A delegation was quickly put together, and the visit was arranged.  The whole delegation arrived in southern France, “full of glorious expectations.” 

(JWB, 2008)
A call was made to confirm the visit.  Picasso wasn’t there.  His personal assistant suggested calling the following day.  The next day . . . Picasso still gone.  The next day?  Not there.  It went on for a week.

“He knew we were coming.  We met other people who had come to see him, too, during that period, and they were all bewildered.  So, one by one, people began to disappear, leaving just Penrose and me.”

Finally, Hartmann, who frankly admitted his reluctance to be the sole judge of Picasso’s work, got in touch with the artist while checking his bags at the Nice airport for his return to Chicago.  “Oh how are you,” Picasso said.  “Where have you been?  Come up immediately.”

So, finally Hartmann was able to make a proposal about the sculpture.  Again, he offered to pay Picasso for the studies necessary to complete the proposal.  Picasso’s answer was, “You know, I may not produce anything. I may produce something that you don’t like . . . It wouldn’t be good for me to have you turn down something, and it wouldn’t be good for you to turn down something that I’ve done.  So, it’s best we keep this low-key all the way through, keep it calm and relatively confidential.”

Back and forth between Chicago and Mougins Hartmann went, each time carrying new sources of possible inspiration.  It became evident that Picasso was enchanted with the project.  “It’s curious,” he said.  “Marseilles wants me to do a civic sculpture and that’s a gangster city and Chicago wants me to do a civic sculpture and it’s a gangster city.  Isn’t it strange?”

(JWB, 2008)
Finally, there it was – a 42-inch maquette that is still on display at the Art Institute.  Hartmann returned to Chicago with it immediately.

A gallery was secured in the Art Institute, lighting was arranged, and the members of the Building Commission was ushered in to view the maquette that awaited their approval.  The last one in was Mayor Daley, who had said something early in the process about his hopes for a piece that spoke of blind justice and the wings of an eagle.

According to Hartmann, the Mayor’s reaction was, “Hmm, I like it.”  The members of the Building Commission followed his lead.

It became clear that the sculpture should be of steel, the same steel as the new Civic Center.  U. S. Steel came up with a bid of around $300,000. 

“Well, it would be much better if the taxpayers didn’t have to pay for this, if it was supported somehow by the public,” Mayor Daley opined. 

In one single meeting representatives of the Deering Foundation, the Woods Charitable Fund and the Field Foundation pledged one hundred grand apiece to get the gigantic sculpture built.

One glitch, though, Picasso still had not named his price for the great work.  Hartmann took a check for $100,000 with him and headed for France.  After preliminaries where Hartmann showed the working drawings, outlining how Picasso’s original dimensions would be changed in the finished work, the talk came around to money.

The great man was given the check as Hartmann began the negotiations. “We couldn’t begin to pay you for what this work represents and all this but everybody is so appreciative and loves it so much, and I have this check which is a token form the people of Chicago and I hope you’ll accept it.” Hartmann said as he handed Picasso the check.

Picasso took it, examined it, and then passed it back to his wife, with a one-word response, “No.”

Hartmann’s reaction?  “I fell through the floor . . . Here I’m going to get a bill for a million dollars or God knows what, right?”

“No,” Picasso repeated and then paused. “I want this to be my gift to you and the people of Chicago.”  And he passed the check back to Hartmann.

Chicago greeted its new sculpture with proper deference.  The city had refused to close the streets around the Civic Center for the dedication ceremony, festivities that featured Gwendolyn Brooks and the Chicago Symphony.  But the streets closed anyway, as people crowded into them to be a part of the dedication.

There were detractors, of course.  Alderman John Hoellen said, “if It’s an animal it belongs in the zoo, if it’s art it belongs in the art museum, but get it out of our parade ground!”

But, of course, the great work has stood the test of time.  Think of Chicago and it will be one of a half-dozen images that personify the city.  It couldn’t be in a better place, in front of one of the most remarkable works of architecture in the city, with one blind eye and the wings of an eagle rising monumentally above the gangster city.