|The great city of the prairie, hugging Lake Michigan, received a plan that would set its course for the twentieth|
century on January 8, 1910 (JWB, 2012)
On this date – January 8 of 1910 – the members of the Chicago plan commission met for the first time with the member of the Commercial Club. Held at the Congress Hotel, the meeting officially launched the brand new Chicago Plan, which presented according to The Chicago Tribune, “visions of Chicago as the most beautiful city in the world – the most healthful and practical.” During the evening the new plan for the city was assessed from a number of different angles.
|Daniel Burnham (Photo courtesy of|
Chicago History Museum)
First, there was praise for the internationally acclaimed architect, who had contributed the services of his firm, asking no fee in return, Daniel Burnham. Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Theodore W. Robinson, the President of the Commercial Club, paid tribute to the great architect. Mr. Robinson said of Burnham, “The genius which brought thousands to the worlds’ fair of 1893, a fair which many claimed would be big but not beautiful, has contributed his talent to the plan without renumeration. This is a significant occasion. From now on both these great organizations must pull together to make this one of the greatest of cities.”
The second organization to which Mr. Robinson referred was the Chicago Plan Commission, which worked with the Commercial Club for four years to produce the plan. Charles H. Wacker, the President of the Plan Commission also spoke that evening. Mr. Wacker observed that the member of the Commercial Club had gone to great lengths to support the work. “No time was spared, no money was stinted, and the best talent was secured,” Mr. Wacker stated.
|The Michigan Avenue Bridge, now the DuSable Bridge, completed in 1920 was a|
direct result of the Chicago Plan. In fact, its designer, Edward Bennett, was arguably the
man most responsible for the writing of the plan (JWB Photo)
Alderman B. W. Snow cast the plan in moral terms, saying, “Dirt, grime, and sordid conditions are not a part of industrial and commercial success. They are evidences of failure to grasp the fundamental truth that men who are happy, whose lives are cast in pleasant places, who are clean of body and mind, are the men who do things.”
The United States Secretary of the Treasury, Franklin MacVeagh, sent a message to the assemblage in which he tied this new kind of urban planning, specifically as it related to Chicago, to the interests of the entire nation. “Cities in the near future will be built on plans, as houses or parks are,” he wrote. “Chicago especially must be. She has a great mission and responsibility. She must be the metropolis of the Mississippi valley, and respond to the material and spiritual demands of a great people. She must be great in all particulars, and beautiful. The present great plan must be greater still and dominate every district and neighborhood as it is added.”
|The two-tiered Wacker Drive, to the right and following the river's curve, also came directly from|
the Chicago Plan's suggestions (JWB Photo)
Mr. Wacker also clearly outlined the financial stake that the city had in following through on the principles of the plan. He observed that in just 61 days during the previous summer Americans who visited France spent $2,000,000. The sum was so enticing that as the year came to an end the Paris Chamber of Deputies authorized a loan for $180,000,000 to fund “an elaborate scheme of improvements.”
Turning next to the opportunity that would be missed if the plan were not acted upon, Mr. Wacker observed, “Hundreds of thousands of people pass through Chicago every year for the purpose of spending their money in New York because they feel New York has more to offer them. New York has capitalized its attractiveness and has discovered that it paid in dollars and cents. A traveler seeks the places that give him comfort and beauty. He may visit London, but he spends week in Paris.”
Concluding his remarks, Mr. Wacker issued a plea, “Our golden opportunity is at hand. Today all the important features of the plan may be carried out at small cost. But the longer we wait the more difficult will it become. Large amounts are appropriated and expended annually in a haphazard and disorderly way. If we expend during a similar period the sum of $222,464,770, which was spent for extraordinary improvements in Chicago from 1882 to 1906, we shall save many millions of dollars and accomplish much more.”
Mr. Charles D. Norton, representing the United States Secretary of the Treasury, broadened the significance of the plan, relating it to the rapidly expanding nation. Mr. Norton proclaimed, “For what Chicago plans and executes will determine to what extent the comfort, the pleasure, and the pride of our mighty inland empire shall be satisfied. A hundred million of people will soon look to this city as their capital, their center in which to trade, to hear music, to see pictures, to enjoy themselves. This places a high responsibility upon the men who control public and private business in Chicago.”
Concluding remarks came from Alderman Snow who pulled all of these remarks together in assessing the importance of implementing the plan. He finished his speech by observing, “That which will improve the economic efficiency of the laboring men and women of our city to the same extent will add to the industrial and commercial possibilities of Chicago. If you will hammer home the truth that a city built along rational and modern lines means more of comfort, more of health, more of opportunity for physical, mental, and moral development for its people, you will find little difficulty in carrying out your ideas, but no longer limit yourselves by calling your plan the city of beauty.”
At the banquet that evening, now a century and three years distant, Chicago began the process of turning itself into a sleek, streamlined beauty, with continuous, well-planned improvements in infrastructure, parks, transportation systems, both automobile and railroad, and its lakeshore that would last for the next three decades. There were some slip-ups along the way, and much didn’t get done that could have while some projects were carried out that never should have been.
Still, if you listen to folks who are visiting Chicago for the first time, almost to a person they will say, “I never realized that Chicago was as beautiful as it is.” And they are right.
It’s quite a story.