Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rooftop Helicopter Service -- March 20, 1946

What a Wonderful World This Would Be (
With the United States aircraft carrier Shangri La outbound from Norfolk, Virginia with a load of equipment “more fantastic than any she carried in her war time strikes against Japan,” [Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1946] headed toward the Bikini atoll in preparation of the atomic bomb test, Chicago, too, prepared to meet the future.

On this date in, March 20, 1946 Chicago business leaders discussed construction of special landing decks on top of downtown buildings, a plan that would lead to helicopter shuttle service between downtown and the Chicago airport at Sixty-Third Street and Cicero Avenue.

Eight years earlier an “autogiro” had landed on top of the main post office building, pointing its nose toward the future. Earlier in 1946 the Hilton hotel chain, the owner of the Stevens Hotel and the Palmer House, announced that they were prepared to institute helicopter service from one of its California affiliates, the Long Beach Hilton.  According to The Tribune, “Hilton officials said that at Long Beach a helicopter will be able to settle to a landing on the roof, 17 stories up.  After unloading, the pilot will fly the ‘windmill’ plane away and the passengers will have a short walk to the elevator.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1946]

Hotel chains were getting ready.  At the Stevens, now The Hilton, on South Michigan Avenue, the fact that most air lines were already occupying offices downtown within a block or two of the hotel, made the prospect of helicopter transportation between the hotel and the airport very attractive.

At the Sherman House on Randolph Street officials said “they would spread some planks on the roof at the first sign of a helicopter hovering overhead.”  Even The Drake Hotel way up there on the north end of Michigan Avenue was described as “being hospitably inclined.”

The hoteliers were joined by the merchants.  Randall Cooper, executive secretary of the State Street Council, said that stores had thought of using helicopters for longer than the hotels had.

“We have known for years that Chicago’s world famous shopping street is the number one attraction for women visitors who have only an hour or two in the city,” he said.  “When an out of town woman has a wait between trains, she makes a beeline for State Street . . . It would be an exciting experience for people bound over at the airport for two or three hours to be flown quickly into the heart of the shopping district.  It is something we have definitely in mind.”

According to The Tribune on that optimistic day in March of 1946, “Hotel and store roofs easily could be adapted to helicopter landings by placing a platform above existing roof structures.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1946]

Looking out at all of those empty roofs close to 70 years later, one has to conclude that it apparently wasn’t all that easy. Or that plunking a bar a dozen or more stories up was a far more lucrative proposition.

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