Thursday, April 3, 2014

La Salle Street Planning - April 3, 1902

La Salle Street, looking south toward the
Board of Trade (JWB, 2012)
For those folks who have the pleasure of driving from the Loop to the north side of Chicago, it is as easy to take Lake Shore Drive for granted as it is to take it to Edgewater.  But for years and years Chicago struggled with a way to connect the portion of the city south of the river with the significant chunk of real estate north of it.

On April 3, 1902 a group of businessmen gathered together to discuss the connection across the river.  Their conclusion after considering “practically every street from the lake to Market street” [Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1902] was that La Salle Street offered the best solution.

For about two hundred thousand dollars those who were present thought they could get a mile of asphalt paving, a bascule bridge over the La Salle Street tunnel, and the lowering of the streetcar tracks at Illinois Street.

The group felt that La Salle Street offered the best way to get across the river for several reasons.  First among them was that the section of La Salle between Lincoln Park and Chicago Avenue was “practically . . . a boulevard” and that between Chicago Avenue and the Loop there were “several blocks that now are fairly presentable.” The paving of the street in the Loop was of brick, which was “in excellent condition.” 

Once the tracks of the North Division line were lowered at Illinois Street, and a connection was created between the north end of La Salle and the roads within the Lincoln Park, the road itself would be virtually ready.  It could be connected to Jackson Street at the Board of Trade and from there traffic could move east or west.

The bascule bridge across the river would obviously be the key to the whole plan.

Attorney Frank Hamlin of the Lincoln Park board said, “It seems to me to be a good plan, even though it might be merely temporary.  The name sounds well, for Chicago and the Northwest owe much to La Salle.  They have given him far too little credit.”

The only dissenting voice came from Lincoln Park Commissioner W. W. Tracy, who said, “I do not know whether Lincoln Park would take up with such an idea or not.  It is hard pressed for money and can barely keep up the boulevards it now has under its control.  The best solution of the trouble, I think, is to take the North Shore drive, as originally planned.”

As is so often the case, all of the talk was just that – talk.  A design for the La Salle Street Bridge was finished 14 years later, but the bridge itself wasn’t completed until 1928.  It cost about a million bucks more than the men thought the whole project would cost back in 1902. 

By the late 1920’s, of course, the extension of Lake Shore Drive was well underway and the new Michigan Avenue Bridge had made that thoroughfare a speedy route across the river.  The improvement of La Salle Street still was a plan that provided an attractive north-south route featuring a wide boulevard that allowed the efficient movement of automobile traffic from the Loop to the north side.  The enhancement of the boulevard was completed by the mid-1930’s.  It remains one of the quicker ways to get from Lincoln Park to the Loop with an advantage of providing a transition from open space to office space filled with local color with a Chicago history lesson thrown into the bargain.

La Salle Street tunnel beneath the river, 1909
Perhaps a little improvement was necessary (Chicago Daily News Photo Archive)

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