Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at March 22

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune, these are just some of the events that occurred on this date as the city grew . . .

March 22, 1879
The Chicago Tribune for this date reported the principal actions at city hall.  First, the school janitors would finally be paid a part of their January salaries sometime during the afternoon.  Secondly, two cases of scarlet fever and one of diphtheria were reported.  Thirdly, the Bell Telephone Company applied to the Public-Works Department for permission to erect upwards of 2,000 poles “to conduct wires along the principal streets of the city.”   And finally, attention was called to the fact that some of the limestone blocks in the brand new City Hall had split.  It was concluded that “the cracks are due to the frost and have effected no injury to the structure, as was feared in some quarters that they would.”  The explanation for the cracks in the building was that the stone was taken out of the quarry at the end of the season and was used in the building in haste in order to get the first story finished before winter came on. 

County Building Demolition -- 1904-5
What actually happened was that the structure, designed by city architect James J. Egan, was structurally unsound from the beginning.  Taking more than a dozen years to build at an extraordinary cost of five million dollars, its two-story base with 35-foot tall Corinthian columns couldn’t support the elaborate superstructure.  After standing for less than 20 years, the building was torn down to make way for the present City-County building, designed by Holabird & Roche, across from the Daley Center at Washington Street between Clark and La Salle.

March 22, 1887
Under the headline Lawyer Story Stops Yerkes’ Work, The Tribune on this day reported that attorney Allan C. Story “was awakened yesterday morning in his house at the corner of North Clark and Schiller streets by the noise of several hundred men working on the North Side cable road.” 

(Note to Mr. Yerkes . . . try never to awaken a sleeping lawyer)

The workmen were busy tearing up track and digging the trench where the cable was to run in Mr. Charles Tyson Yerkes’s new north side cable system.  At least 2,000 men were already at work and “Mr. Story, not being an early riser, was not yet awake.  Although Mr. Story usually takes breakfast before going to his office, he was in too much of a hurry yesterday morning, but hastily putting on his clothes hailed one of Mr. Yerkes’ yellow barouches and rode down to his office.”

At the office Mr. Story notified Mr. Yerkes’ retained attorneys, Goudy & Green, that he would have an injunction before Judge Tuley before 1:00 in the afternoon.  After much discussion, a hearing was set for the following Wednesday and Yerkes’ company was ordered not to tear up the street directly in front of Mr. Story’s house.

Gov. Peter Altgeld (JWB,  2009)
Mr. Yerkes’ attorney, Mr. Green, fought the injunction with three arguments.  First, that it would be a rather harsh action to put 2,000 men out of work, waiting for the resolution of an injunction with little merit.  Secondly, that the whole cable project would have to be stopped if this part of it were halted.  And, finally, that Mr. Yerkes’ company really had no control over the men working on the project.  They were employed by another contractor.

A little more than seven years later Mr. Yerkes would leave Chicago for London, having offered Governor Peter Altgeld between one and two million dollars for his help in guaranteeing the traction baron lifetime contracts in Chicago.  Altgeld refused the bribe; Yerkes left the city.

March 22, 1903
On this date The Tribune reported that the Western Electric company had purchased 109 acres of land at 22nd Street and 48th Avenue.  The company planned to spend $1,200,000 immediately in buildings and nearly as much more for equipment as the site.  No fewer than 1,200 men would be employed in what would become the largest industrial facility in the southwest section of the city.

The plans included a one-story cable factory with floor space of 150,000 square feet.  An extensive machine shop and foundry would also be erected on the new Belt Line railroad. At the center of the property would stand a water tower over 46 feet square and 174 feet high.  Four artesian wells would supply the tower and the cisterns for the plant’s sprinkler systems with a combined capacity of more than 1,500,000 gallons. 

The Hawthorne Works Facility (
The main building would be of “artistic design, in the style of the castellated towers of the fifteenth century.  A red tile roof will surmount the tower and upon one of its corners will be a circular turret, from which a flagstaff 60 feet high will be raised.  This building will also serve as a clock tower, clock faces ten feet in diameter being shown on the four fronts.”

Of course, this was the plan for what would become the Hawthorne Works, which at its height would employ 48,000 workers.  Today a shopping center stands in its place.  Among other things, it was at this plant where George Elton Mayo’s 1927-32 experiments led to his description of “The Hawthorne Effect.”  Mayo proposed that improvements in production occurred not in response to actual improvements in working conditions but because employees perceived that management was interested in those improvements.  []

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“The greatest nomadic race of the present day,” said a foreign writer once, “are the Chicagoans.”

So began a Tribune article on this date in 1903.  “In accounting for this it may be said that the great bulk of the residents have not lived in the city long enough to develop homes in the English sense that generation after generation has been born there.”

“There is nothing about the surroundings of seven rooms and a bath which would bring tears in his eyes were he to think of leaving them,” the article continued.

So spring found a great number of Chicagoans searching for more commodious apartments with more modern conveniences.  When the location was the problem, and the house was comfortable, the solution was to move the whole structure to a more suitable location.

Traditionally, most leases in Chicago expired on May 1.  As a result for the first week or two of May the city was filled with moving drays of all sizes as the great relocation took place.  Companies became so good at moving goods and, quite often, whole buildings that the city became the center of engineering expertise in the movement of structures.  This is the business in which George Pullman got his start.  This was the expertise that enabled the developers of the brand new Reliance building to jack the old structure up, place a new ground floor underneath it, and wait for the leases to expire before leveling the upper floors, all while doctors and dentists were still practicing on those soon-to-be-demolished upper stories.

March 22, 1929
The Tribune on this date featured a headline that read Fears Disaster if City Airport is Not Expanded.

The article continued, “Chicago’s ‘one track airport’ with its congested airplane traffic and crowded runways will be the scene of an airplane disaster this summer unless the city heeds the plea of aviation men for expansion of the Municipal field, Lester D. Seymour, consulting engineer of the Chicago aero commission and general manager of National Air transport, predicted yesterday.”

Mr. Seymour pointed out that while smaller cities were spending millions on developing their airfields, Chicago in 1928 spent just $160,000 and had appropriated only $60,540 for 1929.  “This situation,” he said, “is a disgrace to the second largest city in the country where 11 air mail, express and passenger lines operate 40 planes in and out daily on a regular schedule in addition to sightseeing and training planes.”

Just the previous Sunday 600 passengers were carried in and out of the airfield with about 400 arrivals and departures of planes.  “Big planes carrying from twelve to fourteen persons landed on the runways in quick succession,” Mr. Seymour said.  “If this condition is permitted to continue, a major tragedy will surely occur here this summer, and it may be of a nature directly chargeable to the city’s failure to provide funds for an airport suitable to the needs of the busiest air terminal in America.”

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The Merchandise Mart (JWB, 2010)
Also on this day James Simpson, Jr., the son of the president of Marshall Field & Co., drove the first rivet in the steel framework of the new Merchandise Mart, which, when finished just into 1930, would be the world’s largest building.  Mr. Simpson wore overalls and a shirt as a member of the project superintendent’s force.  It was projected that the new building would house 2,000 manufacturers, wholesalers and importers.

March 29, 1944
On the evening of March 29, The Tribune reported, DePaul center Geroge Mikan, at 6’ 9”, would oppose 7-foot Bob Kurland as DePaul took on Oklahoma A & M in the semifinal round of the National Invitational Tournament.  It was forecast that this game, played in Madison Square Garden, would totally overshadow the opening game, which pitted St. John’s of Brooklyn, the defending champion, and Kentucky.

The St. John’s Redmen ended up defeating DePaul in the final round of the tournament by a score of 47 to 39.  Mr. Mikan was named player of the year in 1944 and 1945 and led DePaul to the national title in 1945.  He went on to play professional basketball with the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League and the Minneapolis Lakers of the newly created National Basketball Association.  Mr. Mikan ended his professional career in 1956, scoring close to 22,000 points with 4, 267 rebounds and 1,245 assists.

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Bad news on the home front as The Tribune announced “Beer industry spokesmen reported yesterday that there will be no bock this year because its production, from a special carmelized malt, would necessitate a change in operations, a slower, longer process.”  Along with that, handling bock beer, which matures during the winter months, required extra deliveries, additional help, and more extensive trucking facilities, which were limited due to war time restrictions.

In a further bit of bad news, reports from New York confirmed that the alcoholic content of civilian beer was down to 3.31 per cent by weight, as compared to 3.56 in 1940.  Frank Wetzel, secretary of the Illinois Association of Brewers, scoffed at the report.  The paper reported, “And beer drinkers, interviewed at bars, were undecided.  Some, who identified themselves as experts, said they thought they had noticed a change in beer.  Others said no.”

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In a sad bit of war news The Tribune on this date reported that since the preceding October Sgt. Robert K. Bell’s letters to his parents in Denver, Indiana had a lot to say about his little black cocker spaniel named Flak.  Sgt. Bell paid $50 for the dog, and each time the aviator left on a bombing run, Flak would stand near the runway, barking a good luck farewell.  Each time the crew’s plane returned, Flak was there to greet his master.

Then one day, as happened so often during the long air war, the plane did not return.

Sgt. Bell’s sister, Marietta, a 21-year-old student nurse at Michael Reese Hospital, wrote a letter to General Henry Arnold, the head of the army air forces.

The letter said:

“Robert, my brother, was killed in action.  He had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Flak, his dog, is five months old.  I am appealing to you for my parents’ sake.  They are quite elderly and my mother is not well.  She made the statement, ‘If we only had Robert’s dog here with us so that we could look after it, as he would if he were living.’”

“’I know it would receive the best of care, as we live on a small country farm.  This would be all we would have to remember him by.  We will pay anything that is asked.  But please try to return Flak to us.’”

On March 21 Miss Bell received her reply.   The Army would begin working to bring Sgt. Bell’s faithful companion to the farm he would never see again.

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