Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day -- November 11, 2014

Normandy American Cemetery (JWB Photo)

In Flanders Field
By Major John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
to you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep, though poppies grow
in Flanders fields.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chicago Week in Review November 10 - 17

Chicago Week in Review – November 10 – 17
Reports taken from the Chicago Tribune

November 10, 1891
Captain E. D. Comings floats a big plan for carrying passengers to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition by way of the lake.  Projecting the ability to transport 17,000 passengers an hour between the city and Jackson Park, Captain Comings announced the formation of a company that would build or lease five excursion stammers, each holding 3,500 passengers and capable of serving an onboard meal. The plan also included the vision of building a “Coney Island” somewhere on the lake not more than 20 miles from the city, to which the great steamers could transport passengers after the fair closed in the fall of 1893.

Columbian Exposition Pier in foreground (wikimeida.org)
 November 11, 1890
Constable Robert Crawford and a friend drive off the opened Halsted Street bridge and plunge into the Chicago River at 12:30 a.m.  Approaching the abutment at the crossing, the constable apparently failed to notice that the swing bridge had rotated on its turntable, and horse, buggy and the two occupants soared into the night air.  The companion jumped and landed on solid ground.  Mr. Crawford went into the river, striking a piling as he fell, and became entangled in the buggy’s harness, which kept him from hitting the water.  Nearby sailors heard his cries for help and came to the rescue.  The horse never reappeared.

November 12, 1863
“It smells rank to high heaven,” The Chicago Tribune editorializes about the condition of the Chicago River, “and to every man and woman’s olfactories which approach within ninety rods of its redolent shores.  What is to be done with it?  It is a question, the solution of which must be reached at once.  Delays are dangerous, and growing more so every day.  Some remedy must be applied.  Either the cause of its present condition must be abated, or some new and untried experiment must remedy the evil.”

November 13, 1951
An 8.5 million dollar, two-level garage under Michigan Avenue and Grant Park, extending from Randolph Street to Monroe is proposed by the park board.  Planned to hold 2,567 cars, the structure would be financed with revenue bonds.  Ralph H. Burke, city airport engineer and former chief engineer of the park district, said that first construction would begin under the park with a temporary roadway acting as a detour while Michigan Avenue entrance and exit ramps were constructed.

November 14, 2010
The 116-year-old Francis J. Dewes mansion in Lincoln Park goes on the market for $9.9 million.   With 16 rooms and eight working fireplaces, the mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Dewes came to Chicago in 1868 from Prussia and served as a bookkeeper at established breweries in the city before founding his own company in 1882.  A tour of the mansion can be found here and here and here.

November 15, 1954
The will of Edward H. Bennett, designer of Buckingham Fountain and the bridge at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, reveals an estate of $325,000.  The will leaves $250,000 to his widow, Olive; $3,000 each to two sisters, and architectural books, documents, jewelry and seven valuable portraits to his son, Edward H. Bennett, Jr.

November 16, 1902
Chicago football led to misery just as much a century ago as it does today.  At 2:30 a.m. at Emil Devic’s bar at 1610 Wabash a group of college students were celebrating a football victory when some glasses fell to the floor and broke.  John Hoback, the bar tender brought the glasses back to the bar where Joseph Ryan, the establishment’s manager, insisted he return to the table and charge the customers for the damage.  Mr. Hoback, apparently taking objection to the tone in which the demand was made, announced that he was quitting, and Mr. Ryan argued with him, finally firing him.  At that point he bar tender claimed that Ryan started over the bar for him.  “When Ryan rushed at me I knew he would kill me if he could,” said Hoback, “so I drew my revolver and shot him.”  Ryan died of two shots to the head.   

November 17, 1891

William Ordway Partridge, the sculptor of the statue of Shakespeare in Lincoln Park, leaves the Leland Hotel to return to his studio in the Boulevard Montpanasse in Paris.  Before leaving the sculptor said, “Your Art Institute has the nucleus of what can easily be made one of the best all around schools of art in the world, with possibly Kensington as its only superior.  Then, too, I consider Chicago admirable for the absolute independence of its taste in art.  The East adopts or admires a thing because Europe has stamped it with approval.  Chicago does so because Chicagoans feel it to be art, no matter whether others have praised or have even seen it.”

Shakespeare by William Ordway Partridge
(JWB Photo)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Globe Explosion -- November 8, 1861

1860's Chicago River, looking west toward Wells Street from Clark
(History of Chicago 1857 until the Fire)

So screamed the headline of the Chicago Tribune on November 9, 1861.  The article that followed described the explosion of the steamship Globe, tied up at a Wells Street dock, a disaster that claimed the lives of 15 people.  The ship, one of the largest at work on the Great Lakes, had come into port from Buffalo at about 4:00 a.m. on November 8.  As it prepared to unload freight later in the morning, an explosion of “fearful violence” occurred, “tearing the steamer in pieces with a large destruction of property.”  [Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1861]

The tremendous sound of the explosion reverberated throughout the city, and people rushed to the docks to witness the spectacle.  The ship, torn apart for two-thirds of her length, sank almost immediately with about 20 feet of her upper works still visible.  It was immediately clear that the death toll would be large.

Among the dead were several individuals who were as much victims of fate as of the explosion of the steamer.  James R. Hobby, 25-years-old, was assisting a clerk who had gone on board to check on a shipment for his employer.  The clerk had returned to the office moments earlier, leaving James to finish the work. 

Mary Golding, 15-years-old, was on the dock with her ten-year-old sister, picking up apples that had fallen from broken barrels, part of the ship’s cargo.  Mary died.  Her sister, who was less than ten feet away, was uninjured and ran home to their parents’ home at Franklin and Kinzie, screaming that “somebody had fired a cannon at Mary and killed her.”  

Patrick Donahoe was killed by a large oak beam as he stood in front of a saloon on Wells Street.  A father and two daughters who had booked passage on the ship and left it after it docked,returned to pick up their luggage just before the disaster.  The father and one of his daughters died.  The other daughter survived.

The explosion of the steamer was of such force that huge pieces of the vessel were hurled in all directions, prompting incredible stories of near-misses.  

Nelson Luddington was driving his buggy along Wells Street when a stick of firewood from the Globe completely destroyed the buggy.   A 200-pound piece of chain was hurled through the window of a produce dealer, slamming into a heavy iron safe, which prevented it from traveling through the wall into the adjoining office where several people were at work.

A 200-pound deck beam rocketed through the fourth floor window of a business on Lake Street, near Wells.  A large piece of chain, about five feet long, fell through the roof and ceiling of the Merchants’ Police Station on Wells Street and passed between two men as they lay sleeping after doing night service.

Captain Amos Pratt had left the boat at about 7:30 a.m., about two hours before the explosion.  His belief was that after the boat docked, water was drawn down in one of the boilers while the other boiler was keep at a low pressure for moving the boat and hoisting freight.  He surmised that explosion was caused by “carelessness on the part of someone,” most probably by failure to check the system adequately before introducing cold river water into a red-hot boiler that had no water in it.  The boilers had passed an inspection by United States officials the previous May in Buffalo.

The Globe lay where it sank until April of 1862 as the parties involved in its removal fought over who would pay for the operation. In February of that year the Chicago City Attorney ruled that the city was most certainly not responsible for cleaning up the wreckage.  By March the boat’s owners had hired contractor Martin Quigley to clean up the wreckage, paying him $1,500 and any material that he could salvage.  In that process another crewmember’s body, believed to be the fireman’s, was found on March 18, 1861.

In a short two-sentence blurb on April 3 The Tribune reported that three tugboats were towing the hulk toward Miller & Hook’s dry dock on the north branch of the river.  “It is good riddance to our river,” the paper concluded.

The accident, as horrible as it was, could have been a lot worse.  “. . . it is a hair-breadth escape for hundreds,” The Tribune observed, “when with a violence an explosion of gunpowder could scarcely parallel, a boiler is thus blown up in the very heart of a busy city, and sends its fearful missiles whirling hundreds of feet through the air to light at random in our streets.  Reviewing the disaster it is almost miraculous, to see how few lives were lost, and amid all the sorrow, this is an abundant cause for congratulation.” [Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1861]

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Masonic Temple Cornerstone Laid -- November 6, 1890

The Masonic Temple Building 1892-1939
A big kerfuffle on this day, November 6, of 1890 as the city turned out for the ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the building that would rise at the corner of State Street and Randolph.  The Masonic Temple, it was promised, would be the tallest building in the world when it was completed.

As dignitaries gathered the box to be placed inside the cornerstone was prepared.  The stone which was to seal the box within the base of the building stood ready, inscribed with these words, “Erected by the Masonic Fraternity, A. D. 1890, Temple Association.”  [Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1890]  The paper pointed out that such heavy stones were purely decorative, observing that “In this structure, a type of the American school of architecture, the masonry is only to protect the real supports of the building steel beams.”

Music blared as horses “prancing with military spirit” passed by.  The parade was a dazzling display as “Men bearing glittering swords came by, their snowy plumes shining against the black background of the Knights’ dress.  There were red crosses, black crosses, and double-barred crosses, and every uniform as neat as wax, each uniformed man wearing spotless gloves.  Magnificently-embroidered banners with knightly crests then floated on the breeze.”

The streets were packed.  Windows were filled with spectators.  The roofs along State Street were lined with hundreds of people.  

As Chicago began to prepare for the great World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, an event that citizens saw as placing Chicago among the great cities of the world, the Masonic Temple would strengthen that notion.  Towering 275 feet above State Street, this would be the tallest building in the world.  “All of the arts of the present century will be employed to embellish its interior and give it an attractive exterior, and no expense will be spared to make it one of the most, if not the most complete structure in existence,” wrote The Tribune.

One of the many interior meeting rooms
(Chicago Daily News Archives - Library of Congress)
In fact, it was anticipated that the new building would cost $2,000,000, close to 52 million dollars these days.  The entrance, 42 feet high and 28 feet wide, led into “a rotunda having an area of 3,700 square feet and open to the extreme height of the building, finished up to the 275-foot roof with plate-glass and white polished marble.”  [Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1890]

In addition to several hundred offices, there were over 100 Masonic lodge rooms, some of them having a capacity of over 1,000 people.  Each floor had a 12-foot central corridor with offices and stores lining each side, half looking through windows to the street, the other half overlooking the central atrium.

Fifty thousand safe deposit boxes were placed in the basement of the building, providing for annual income of $125,000. The Bankers’ National Bank with a capitalized valuation of $1,000,000 agreed to a ten-year lease on the corner space on the ground floor of the building for $160,000.

The light court and atrium lobby
(Chicago Daily News Archive - Library of Congress)
There were 17 elevators, capable of carrying 70,000 passengers a day.  The Tribune brayed, “Even that of the great Eiffel tower of Paris and the World Building of New York will have to yield the honor to Chicago in this respect.” [Chicago Tribune, March 14, 1892] 

Hydraulically operated, the pumping apparatus used to run them was capable of “supplying water every day to a town of 60,000 inhabitants.”  The elevator cables alone would span a distance of 16 miles.  Rough calculations suggested that the elevators would travel 123,136 miles a year or “nearly five times around the earth.”

Three of the lifts would be dedicated to ferrying people to the observatory at the top of the building where a “beautiful pavilion garden will relieve the eye after the grand panorama of the city and the surrounding lake and country scenery has been viewed.”

The great building soon became a tragic memorial as less than three months after the dedication the building’s genius architect, John Welborn Root, died suddenly after “being seized with a severe chill” after a visit of architects from the east coast, who had shared the preliminary plans for the 1893 fair at Root's house.

Although Mr. Root was not a member of the order, the Masons gathered together to “join with our citizens generally in the deep sorrow felt at the loss of this prominent citizen, whose personal worth and professional skill brought him in close contact with this ancient fraternity, as the designer of the great Masonic Temple, the erection of which had so auspiciously begun under the direction of his master mind.” [Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1891]

View of Randolph and State from the roof
(Chicago Daily New Archive - Library of Congress)
By March 1, 1891 the foundation for the great building was complete with “piers completed, cap-stones on, and the base of the steel columns set.” [Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1891]  Workers had toiled in three shifts around the clock to complete this section of the project, and that was the first part of a schedule that moved forward at breakneck speed. 

There were penalties for any contractor who could not meet the ambitious schedule.  The contractor responsible for erecting the steel frame of the building was required to take out a $100,000 bond, payable if the company did not meet the deadline for having that phase of the project finished.  There was a $500 a day penalty for each floor not completed on time.   The steel contractor was to forfeit $1,000 a day for each day a scheduled delivery was late.

As a result, exactly one year later, on November 6, 1891, the capstone was laid at the top of the 19-story, marking the practical completion of the great structure.  “In one year’s time the big building has progressed from the cornerstone to the capstone, and it stands today a towering monument to the master minds that conceived it and to that fraternity, old almost as history itself, which has caused it to be built,” The Tribune reported.  [Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1891]

“A grander or more brilliant procession of Masons never marched along the streets in Chicago,” wrote The Tribune.  More than 500 uniformed knights were in the line, their white plumes waving and their highly burnished swords clanking as they tramped along.”  The procession was led by two platoons of policemen who tried to clear a path through the spectators who had lined the route. 1,550 more men, representing the Masonic lodges of the city, followed the contingent of dignitaries.

A rope extending from a crane at the highest point of the front wall of the building was attached to the capstone, which lay on a table covered with the American flag.  “It was so small and plain-looking that it was dwarfed by the mighty Temple,” wrote The Tribune.

By June 1, 1892 the conservatory in the building opened 300 feet above State Street.  Although it was a foggy day when the opening reception was held inside the space, optimism ran high.  One of the directors of the Masonic Fraternity Temple Association, Amos Grannis, observed, “During the World’s Fair we expect the conservatory to become a popular resort . . . The dancing floor has a surface of 10,000 square feet and the conservatory will make a splendid place for parties.  In clear weather the Michigan shore can be seen, and a splendid view of Chicago, including the World’s Fair, is one of the advantages offered.” [Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1892]

Ah, if only things had worked out as well as they were planned.  Two weeks after the conservatory opened, the complaints of the building’s tenants were so many and so vigorous that The Tribune observed that the “nice linen-woven paper” used to record them was too thin to carry their weight.

There were complaints about the elevators.  There were no signs to show which elevators went where and “the men who operate the cages wear such an air of lofty superiority that the humble passenger hardly dares to ask a question, fearing a rebuke for being so presumptuous.”  [Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1892]

E. D. Neff in Room 1505 stated that “the supply of electricity has been so irregular as to make it of no value to me.  For the first twenty days in May it was impossible to do business for the reason that the current was shut off so frequently.”

Dr. F. A. Stetson stated that until May 20 the hallway in front of his office door was “ornamented by a large mortar box, and the passageways were so dirty and full of plaster that he could not put down carpets until June 1.”

An owner who had leased space in the building for a music conservatory was told to “stop the playing of musical instruments in his rooms.”  A gentleman who had leased a space to sell candy and soda water found that leases had been given to other parties to sell candy in the building’s hallways.

The rental agent (you’re not going to believe this), E. R. Bliss, was shown the list of complaints and responded that he “was tired of the job,” that he had only been drawn into it by the death of one of the other partners.

By the end of July even the building’s crown jewel had lost its sparkle.  The glass roof of the twentieth floor conservatory and its small windows tucked under the eaves of the roof, combined to send the temperature in the showplace to 112 degrees and the air "became so hot and stifling for a time that the banks of ferns and other plants set about the room grew brown and seared like a Kansas cornfield when a hot wind blows over it.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1892]

And there was the smoke.  The Tribune observed dryly, “The Masonic Temple has entered the field against the tugs, the switch engines, and other able-bodied and veteran smoke-producers only a few months ago. Yet so steady and so voluminous has been its output that the others have been compelled to acknowledge its superiority.”  [Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1892] 

A column at the building’s entrance beckoned visitors to take a trip to the conservatory, “the highest point of observation in the city.”   The Tribune declared, “The extent to which the Masonic Temple smokestack obscures the view of the city is not dwelt upon in the advertisements of the Temple.  Certainly no other building does more in that direction than the Temple.”

The smoking titan
(Chicago Daily News Archive - Library of Congress)
The great building stood until 1939 when it was demolished.  Proposed construction of the State Street subway would have required extensive and prohibitively expensive foundation modification.  The elevators never really lived up to their billing because the capacity of some of the spaces on the upper floors would have required service that could not be delivered in buildings that are being designed today.

But, my God, what a building this was.  Think about it – within three short years, the tallest building on earth, a World’s Fair that would attract 27.5 million people to the city, and an Art Institute worthy of any city in the world.  Chicago had become a city on the make.

At the ceremony for the laying of the building’s capstone on November 6, 1891, the Reverend Dr. H. W. Thomas observed, “Men die, institutions live.  When we are gone, when other feet shall walk these streets a hundred or a thousand years hence, while the waters wash these shores, till time is no more, may this temple stand for the glory of God, the honor of the Masonry, and the good of man.”

Not quite a thousand.  A little less than half a century.  A really, really good one to remember, though.

Randolph and State, c. 1902
Notice the clock at Marshall Field's
Chicago Daily News Archive - Library of Congress

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Marshall Fields Elevator Fall -- November 5, 1902

Marshall Field's in 1902
Big cities were dangerous places as the twentieth century began.  Maybe that is still true, but we can’t imagine the daily onslaught of train fatalities, unfortunate falls beneath streetcar wheels, poisonings, diseases and fires that besieged the average citizen as the 1900’s began.

One event that clearly shows the truth of that statement occurred on this date, November 5, of 1902.  It happened in the brand new store of Marshall Field when an elevator and its two passengers fell from the ninth floor to the basement of the building.  The 25-year-old elevator operator, Thomas Byrne, was killed in the accident.  His passenger, John Steiskal, suffered injuries and was removed to the Presbyterian Hospital.


Harry G. Selfridge, the manager of the store, was also injured as he was cut by falling glass as he helped to clear away the wreckage.  You may recognize Mr. Selfridge’s name.  He worked his way up the ladder at Field’s and left in 1906 for London where he spent an extraordinary sum to open a department store on the west end of Oxford Street. 

It was a dramatic accident at Marshall Field’s as the entire building shook when the car landed, and the sound of the crash reverberated throughout the interior of the store.  The car fell with such speed that the counterweights were hurled through the roof of the building.  That was unfortunate because much of the cabling came back down the elevator shaft, and that seems to have been the cause of young Mr. Byrne’s death.

Harry Selfridge
Said Mr. Selfridge, “The cause of the accident is unknown to me, but is being investigated as rapidly as possible.  The car did not fall precipitately, but gradually, comparatively, as shown by the safety apparatus.  Our employee would not have been killed but for the fall of the cables.”

Just a cursory look at newspaper accounts of 1902 show that elevator injuries and deaths occurred with regularity with nearly one incident per month.  I think that if I were living back in 1902, I might be inclined to take the stairs.

Chicago Elevator Mishaps in 1902 – A Partial List

• January 11 – Elevator falls in Chamber of Commerce Building, the third mishap in the same building in a month, killing a workman.
• January 27 – Two workmen escape death when an elevator falls at Openheim’s General Store at Forty-Seventh and Ashland.
• March 10 – Mrs. Anna Schneider is killed in a West Side Hospital elevator as she is being transferred on a wheeled cart from one ward to another.
• April 14 – 16-year-old George Calbach is killed as he is caught between the weights of two elevators while riding in a freight elevator at 128 Franklin Street.
• May 12 – Seven men and two women escape from an elevator in the Marquette Building after it falls three floors.
• May 15 – Joseph Brown, a teamster, is injured as an elevator falls at 170 Clinton Street, the second such mishap in a year.
• June 4 – A young boy, identified, is killed in an elevator at 221 State Street.
• June 6 – An elevator drops from the sixth story of the Warren Springer Building at 199 South Canal Street, injuring three.
• July 15 – Frank H. Griswold, president of the Northwestern Storage Company, the Newberry Storage and Warehouse Company, and the Griswold Storage and Tansfer Company is killed by a falling elevator at 280 Michigan Avenue.
• July 28 – 14-year-old Tolif Buchkowski, is maimed as a he is wedged between a heavy freight elevator and a stone wall.
• November 7 – L. D. Johnson, a clerk, is crushed between an elevator cage and the shaft of the Schlesinger & Mayer’s store.
• December 6 – Emil Ryandorf, 17-years-old, has his skull fractured when he falls down an elevator shaft at the Warren Springer Company, 231 South Canal Street.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

State Street Bridge Fracas -- November 2, 1867

The old State Street bridge, destroyed by the Chicago fire in 1871
Tonight Nik Wallenda will be doing his high-wire daredevil thing, crossing the river between State and Dearborn on a tightrope after walking from the east tower to the west tower of Marina City . . . blindfolded.  There will be plenty of exciting action – the skies are clear, the wind has died down, and the city is pumped up.

There was plenty of action at the State Street bridge on this date, November 2, in 1867 as two assistant bridge tenders got into a tussle at 1:00 in the morning.  “That a murder was not committed, was in no way the fault of the combatants, for there was neither a lack of intent, nor were the weapons employed impotent to produce such a result,” reported The Tribune.  [Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1867]

Apparently assistant bridge tender John Gannon was off-duty during the early part of the night and came to the bridge around midnight “somewhat the worse for the liquor he had imbibed during his vacation.”  Upon his arrival Edward Williams, the assistant on duty, who had “also imbibed somewhat freely” jumped on him “in terms more forcible than elegant” for reporting to work in a condition that would prevent him from responsibly carrying out his duties.

Words were exchanged, which quickly led to a “desperate struggle . . . in the little bridge-house about which a number of persons . . . began to collect.”  Mr. Williams, “being evidently the soberest of the two,” grabbed hold of a club and knocked his opponent to the floor.  Mr. Gannon did not stay down for long, and the struggle continued.

At some point Mr. Williams grabbed hold of an axe and “with this he dealt a crushing blow on his adversary’s skull” which “more than sufficed to bring Gannon down.”  Williams was just about to administer the finishing blow when the head bridge-tender, Thomas Lewis, ran into the bridge house and wrestled the lethal weapon out of his employee’s hands.  The police arrived and Williams was hauled off to the Armory.

Mr. Gannon was in a pretty bad way, “covered with gore from his head to his feet, suffering from a “fearful gash” to the back of his skull.  The bridge house was a mess with “the walls, the floor, the bed, and everything about the place . . . thickly covered with blood.”

Quite a night on the river.  Ending its report The Tribune observed, “Altogether, the two constitute an exemplary pair of bridge-tenders, who ought to receive promotion.”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Montgomery Ward Administrative Building -- November 1, 1929

758 Larrabee (www.redfin.com)
On January 27, 1927 the Chicago Tribune reported that foundations were being sunk along the Chicago River at Chicago Avenue as the Wells Brothers Construction company began the eight-story administrative building for Montgomery Ward & Co.  Although the firm’s founder had been dead for 13 years, he had purchased the 160 foot by 320 foot lot at the same time that he bought the lot to the north where the huge warehouse building at 600 West Chicago was constructed in 1908.  For information on the 1908 building you can look here and here.

On this date, November 1, in 1929 the new administrative building opened.  It was a sleek building, designed by a the construction department of Montgomery Ward under the supervision of chief engineer Willis J. McCauley.  As The Tribune described it, the building would be “of modernistic architecture and feature “A heating plant fueled by oil which will not send forth great clouds of smoke into Chicago’s skies.  Fire escapes that are concealed within the building, instead of sprawling over the walls.  All roof paraphernalia inclosed and architecturally treated.”  [Chicago Tribune, October 27, 1929]

Art deco treatment of balconies in residential conversion (JWB Photo)
A retail store filled the ground floor of the structure with clerical offices on the second and third floors.  A large cafeteria accommodated employees as well as shopper.  The executive offices for the chain store and retail store divisions were located on the fifth floor.  The sixth floor was given over to the merchandise-buying group while the seventh floor contained offices for the catalog and general operating departments.  The eighth floor was set aside for the firm’s top executives with “walnut trimmed rooms, fireplaces, and the other perquisites of the ‘big shots.’”  The structure, financed by a $2,000,000 bond issue, contained 450,000 square feet of floor space.

George Mulligan's Spirit of Progress (JWB Photo)
A feature of the administrative center from its inception was a 12-story tower that would feature a statue called The Spirit of Progress.  There is some misinformation that is heard from time to time about this stature, conceived by sculptor George Mulligan, that has it being moved to the top of the building after its display as Cirrus at the 1933 and 1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair.  In fact, the website of the architectural firm that renovated the building in 2005, FitzGerald Associates Architects, claims this.

Another commonly held opinion is that the statue came from Montgomery Ward’s building on Michigan Avenue that was truncated by 13 stories and from which a weather vane in the form of a female figure was removed in 1947 for safety reasons.

The statue, though, was discussed in the 1927 Tribune article, six years before the Century of Progress and 20 years before the statue on Michigan Avenue was removed.

In the first decade of the new millennium FitzGerald Associates Architects developed a plan to convert the massive building into 241 condominiums with “luxurious penthouse units constructed in the former mechanical penthouse that feature nearly-unrivaled panoramic city views.” [www.fitzgeraldassociates.net]  Two central light courts were created that soared from the second floor to the roof, a plan that turned unusable interior space into inward-facing units that even had their own balconies.  The addition of the exterior balconies, railings and window treatments on the arcaded river walk are understated art-deco reminders of the fact that the original building rose in the heart of the art deco era in Chicago.

View from 758 Larrabee (homesbymarco.com)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chicago River Closed -- October 31, 1925

Stuck.  {Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1925}
The wind is straight out of the north today with gusts close to 50 m.p.h.  I just squeaked through Lake Shore Drive at North Avenue a half-hour ago and the waves were beginning to break over the concrete barriers separating the bike path from the highway.  It looks like it’s going to be an interesting afternoon in the Windy City.  I’m scheduled to give a 3:30 Chicago River tour, and I’m R-E-A-L-L-Y looking forward to that!  I wonder what Nick Wollenda is thinking as he contemplates walking across the river on a tightrope 60-some stories above the river . . .

The wind was straight out of the south on this day, October 31, back in 1925 when the lake freighter Calcite went aground in the river between the upraised Dearborn and Clark Street bridges.  The ship, launched in 1912 and measuring 426 feet long and 54 feet wide, carried 6,000 tons of crushed stone.  When it went aground, it blocked the river as well as all of the street traffic on Dearborn and Clark.

It was another demonstration of the capricious nature of the Chicago River, a river that changed its moods with the winds and the tides.  The wind on the day in question resulted in the depth of the river being lower than it had been In years.  Harbor Master James M. Vandenberg said that if the wind did not change, it would be necessary for the Chicago Sanitary District to shut off the current in the river by closing the locks in Lockport in order to raise the depth of the channel enough to re-float the ship.  [Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1925]

Calcite Wheelhouse 
The Calcite continued working for another 36 years after the incident and way finally broken up for scrap in 1961.  You can still see part of the old freighter, though.  The wheelhouse was saved and is now part of the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, a county park on the Presque Isle Peninsula of Michigan on the western shore of Lake Huron.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

River Boat Whistle Ban -- October 30, 1902

The Chicago River in 1902 at State Street (City Files Press)
Last night I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with some great folks, the owners and crews of the First Lady fleet in Chicago and a number of ellow docents who stand on the decks of those boats in good weather and bad, giving the particulars of the great buildings that line the banks of the Chicago River.

The Leading Lady locked though the entrance to the river and spent an hour or so on Lake Michigan.  It was a perfect night – brisk, but not so cold that you couldn’t stand up on deck and nurse a Sam Adams.  The cloud cover reflected the lights of the city, wrapping the downtown towers in a canopy of diffused light that did not obscure the sharpness of the brilliantly lit city.

It was kind of magic; it felt darned good to be where I was and where I am.
It’s a far different place than it was in the old days, a hundred or more years ago when smoke belched from the chimneys of a thousand buildings running on coal.  Boilers exploded with regularity, scalding, maiming and killing dozens.

A hundred thousand horses or more clopped over cobblestone streets, requiring a huge force of street sweepers to tidy up after them each day.  Scores of coal-fired freight and passenger trains moved within blocks of the center of the city each day, whistles screaming and smokestacks belching clouds of black smoke.

And, of course, there was the river, stinking in the summer, sluggish all year long, at times running red into the lake as it carried the waste of the tanneries, distilleries, packing houses, and gas companies that lined its banks.

On this date in 1902 the members of the City Council, unable to make a dent in all of the chaos, drew the line at steamboat whistles.  “Frantic blowing of discordant steamboat whistles is under the ban in Chicago river.  Tug captains and commanders of vessels passing up and down the stream must, according to an order from the city hall, make their bridge signals short and repeat them only in case accident is impending.”  [Chicago Tribune, October 31, 1902]

John McCarthy, the city’s Harbor Master, along with his deputies, were given orders to arrest all violators of the rule and charge them with disorderly contact.  There was further talk of regulating the size of the whistles that boats used.

It wasn’t much, but it was something.