Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Home Again

Well, we’re back home after a 2,100-mile driving odyssey up the east coast and across the Allegheny Mountains to flat land once again.  It’s good to be back in this sleek city, warm once again after a winter that nearly lured the glaciers into a new southern crawl.

Our trip took us first to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country with its early Spanish influence in evidence everywhere with a dallop of robber-baron opulence and a huge assortment of charming contemporary bed-and-breakfast inns.

The dome of the Flagler College dormitory, once the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine
(JWB Photo, 2014)
Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, where construction began in 1672 . (JWB Photo, 2014)
From there we continued up the coast to Savannah, Georgia, a gentle city with a park every two blocks no matter which way we walked.  History and refinement is part of the air you breathe as you walk the old brick paths on your way to the bars and shops carved out of the old cotton warehouses along the Savannah River. 

But there was also misery here, and you feel that, too.  Before the cotton gin it took one slave a whole day to remove the seeds from a pound of cotton.  Four hundred pounds made up a bale, and those warehouses were piled to the rafters with those bales.

Just one of the many parks that beautify Savannah (JWB Photo, 2014)
The 1858 fountain in Forsyth Park, Savannah (JWB Photo, 2014)
One of hundreds of small gardens and courtyards that separate
many of the homes in Savannah (JWB Photo, 2014)
Great little bar we stopped in for an afternoon thirst-quencher.  There
are plenty from which to choose.  (JWB Photo, 2014)
On to Charlotte to visit old and good friends and from there on to Arlington, Virginia to spend a day or two with my kid sister, a time that included an unbelievable meal at the Capital Grille and a quick Metro trip into the National Mall for a stroll around the National Sculpture Garden.

Harry Weese's unbelievable Metro system, still fresh, vibrant and visually
stunning after more than a half-century (JWB Photo, 2014)
Joan MirĂ³'s Personnage Gothique, Oeseau-Eclai at the National
Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (JWB Photo, 2014)
And then . . . a stop outside New York City to visit our daughter and son-in-law, who generously allowed us full and complete access to our granddaughters, Maddie, just short of her third birthday, and little Faye who is using her seventh month to experiment with hands-and-knees exploration.

The Highlight of the Trip -- Maddie and her little sister, Faye (JWB Photo, 2014)
It was an 800-plus mile hike from there to home with a stop at the Flossmoor Station Brewery, one of the original brew houses in the area, for a great burger, an unbelievable nacho, and a couple of great tasting Pullman brown ales.

It is an amazing thing to drive into this beautiful city on a clear night in May after a long time spent on the road.  Chicago doesn’t crowd you as you enter it; it’s not a city that insists that you love it.  It stands back, separated from Lake Shore Drive by the expanse of Grant Park, its glittering towers waiting for you to come to them. 

There isn’t a one of those towers that, on a still spring night, doesn’t seem perfectly placed, especially on this night, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, with 300 East Randolph proclaiming in letters five stories tall, Some Gave All.  Waking up the next morning, with the bikers pushing their way up and down the drive and the boaters just heading out on a nearly windless lake, everything was right with the world.  

We were where we belonged.

Welcome home to a city that allows you to love it with no conditions.
(JWB Photo, 2014)
So we’re back.  I’m home, back home, home to share some more of the amazing stories that make up the history of this improbably beautiful prairie berg, the city I love.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Washington Boulevard Bridge -- May 10, 1913

Everybody is a little touchy back in May of 1913 as a result of waiting six years for the Washington Boulevard Bridge to be completed.  On this date, May 10, of that year The Chicago Tribune reported, “When the old bridge came down work on the Panama canal had but begun.  The new bridge and the big ditch across the isthmus will be completed at about the same time.  Apparently they are both engineering works of world shaking size and difficulty.”

Ah . . . for the days when serious journalism and sarcasm were mixed together as easily and a viscously as beef tallow and the waters of the Chicago River.

The Washington Boulevard swing bridge, complete in 1891
(Chicago Daily News photo archive)
The former Washington Boulevard bridge, which was finished in 1891 and which was only 16-years-old when it was replaced, lost its right to exist because the United States decreed that the tunnel which passed beneath the river at Washington Boulevard had to be lowered.  An annoying number of ships passing up and down the South Branch of the river kept grounding themselves on the roof of the tunnel and plugged the channel, which was already narrowed because the turntable on which the bridge opened and closed was in the middle of the river.

So the tunnel had to be lowered eight feet, and that required the removal of the center span of the swing bridge.  Plans were drawn for a new bascule-type bridge with a span of 140 feet.  Oops.  The Sanitary District decided subsequently that it wanted a clear span of 170 feet.  Back to the drawing board.  Then the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad moved from its old station on the north side of the river at Wells Street to a new station west of the river between Madison and Washington, and it was decided that the bridge would have to be wider.  More plans, more delays, still no bridge.

Finally, the plans were ready and a bond issue was proposed and approved by the citizens of Chicago in April of 1911.  Oops.  Because of a technicality in the wording of the proposed bond issue on the ballot, the vote was declared invalid, and the subsequent bond issue was not voted upon until November of 1911.  Finally, in August of 1911, using money that the City Council had previously approved, the new bridge was begun – four years after the old bridge had been removed.

The new Washington Boulevard bridge, 1913
“In the opinion of leading bridge engineers and builders,” The Tribune stated, “it should easily be possible to complete such a bridge as that at Washington street . . . in one year from the day of beginning work on the foundations.  There are scores of bridges in the country much larger and more complicated than any of these which have been opened for traffic within a year.”

The situation was especially alarming because the bridges at Madison, Lake and Jackson were all scheduled for replacement within the year. 

The Tribune concluded, “. . . people who shudder at the prospect of having Lake and Madison streets and Jackson boulevard closed for at least a couple of years may possibly get a suggestion from the casual remark of a minor official at the city hall in discussing the six years’ delay in replacing the Washington street bridge.  ‘If the people had hollered loud enough,’ he said, ‘they could have had at least a temporary bridge way back in 1908.’” [Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1913]

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lake Shore Drive Proposal -- May 9, 1954

The "S-Curve" (Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection)
From the “I Tried to Tell You, but You Just Wouldn’t Listen” department. 

Back on this date, May 9, in 1954 the Cook County Highway Superintendent William Mortimer, along with his chief engineer, Hugo Stark (which, by the way, is a GREAT name for an engineer) offered their opinions that the eight million dollar reworking of Lake Shore Drive between Oak Street and Roosevelt Road was doomed because it failed to do anything about the two 90-degree turns at the Roosevelt Bridge that crossed the river.

More than that, though, they also said that the plan omitted any provision for a connection between the Congress Expressway, for which preliminary planning was far along, and Lake Shore Drive. 

A third problem stemmed from the proposed convention building.  One of the plans for the new exhibition building had the huge center located on the lake front.  “If it is to be somewhere on the lake front,” Mr. Mortimer stated, “we must provide for its traffic and for its parking.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1954]

It wasn’t until 1982 that something was finally done about the first problem, and construction began on new lake fill to reduce the severity of the turns on the south side of the bridge, a project that was completed in 1987.

Still, I loved that “S-Curve”.  I remember coming into the city from the north in the back seat of my dad’s 1959 Chevy, watching him slow the car to walking speed to negotiate that first right angle turn.  And then . . . there was the city, rearing up sleek and huge, as we headed west after the turn, going slow enough as we approached the second sharp turn so that there was time enough to let the immensity of this vast stone city into the willing heart of my nine-year-old being.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Chicago River Canned Meat Salvage Company -- 1919

Meat Me on the River (Chicago Daily News Archive)
So . . . on March 10, 1919 the wall of a warehouse that belonged to the United States Army’s quartermaster gave way, and 2,000 cases of beef for the fortunate troops fell into the Chicago River.  The clerk at the warehouse, Edward J. Maher, saw the whole thing take place, which was not a good thing for his career.  On April 26 Mr. Maher was “discharged from service in the quartermaster’s department.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1919]

Mr. Maher left the nation’s service, a wiser man, and he “took into his confidence Frank Zahour, a detective sergeant; Marcel Wieczerek, bridge tender, and Fred Bezwiewecz.  They formed a closed corporation for the salvage of the beef and set forth in a tug.”

Unfortunately for the beef quartet, Special Agent Jerry Bouchal of the Chicago Junction Railroad spotted the beef boys and “ended the existence of the salvage operation by taking the officers, directors and stockholders into custody.”

So it was that “The affairs of the Chicago River Canned Meat Salvage company [were] concluded except for the difficulties in which the promoters find themselves.”

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chicago in the Week of May 5 - 11, 1902

Events of the Week of May 5-11 in 1902

May 5:  The tug Leslie is crippled and the schooner Jeanette smashed through on the port bow after a collision with the steamer J. W. Westcott at the Washington Street Bridge.

These days it’s just a bunch of tour boats mixed in with some pleasure boaters with enough kayakers to keep everyone on egg  but back in the early 1900’s time was money, and there was plenty of money to be made on the river.  In a duel that had been heating up since their entrance to the harbor, the Westcott attempted to cut off the Leslie at the Washington Street bridge.  Bad move.  “The Westcott stuck the piles protecting the bridge’s center pier, snapping several of them and sheering across the channel and against the tug.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1902]  The Jeanette, which was being towed by the Leslie, crashed into the stern of its tug, crushing its stern and breaking its rudder, forcing the crew to seek safety on shore, while the Westcott continued unscathed.  The Jeanette “was badly damaged below the water line.”

Approach to the Washington Street Bridge (Chicago Daily News Archive)
May 5:  An agreement is reached between the Illinois Central Railroad and the city for opening up beaches between Twelfth and Fifty-Sixth Street.

The prospect of bathing beaches for South Side residents looked far more positive as a result of the trip that Illinois Central Railroad officials took between Twelfth and Fifty-First Street on this date.  The party started out from the Illinois Central offices, taking a train to Twenty-Sixth Street.  From there the group walked to Forty-Seventh Street, a trek that prompted the decision to focus attention on the section of lakefront from Forty-Seventh to Fiftieth Street.  The best choice for a bathing beach was at Thirty-Ninth Street, where today there is still an awesome view of downtown Chicago.

39th Street and the Lake without railroad tracks today
(Bronzeville & Hyde Park Real Estate Blog-Chicago)
May 6:  Mayor Carter Harrison offers an opinion that the north end of Michigan Avenue should be lined with small shops.

“There would be millions for any company of men who would gradually buy the property abutting on that part of Michigan avenue, and construct buildings suitable for small stores on the street floor and office or light manufacturing on the upper floors,” Mayor Carter H. Harrison declares.  His comments stemmed from an admission that the city was unable to repair the asphalt path that led from the post office on (the site of today’s Federal Center between Adams and Jackson on the north and south and Dearborn and Clark on the east and west) to the Rush Street Bridge, the “only automobile and bicycle path connecting the South Side park and boulevard system with the Lake Shore drive and Lincoln Park.  “I am sorry to see that path go,” said the Mayor.  “it’s hard to be broke.” [Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1902]

Mayor Carter H. Harrison (Wikipedia)
May 6:  Heirs of the Friedman estate file suit to prevent all further work on the clubhouse of the Chicago Yacht Club.

A bill of complaint is presented before Judge Kohlsaat in an effort to gain an injunction that will compel the officials of the Chicago Yacht Club to remove its three-story frame building, nearing completion, at the foot of Monroe Street.  The suit alleges “that the defendant yacht club has attempted to evade the law by driving piles outside the breakwater, the contention being that this action of the club in effect is as subversive of the law that the Lake Front Park shall be forever free from buildings as if the structure were placed within the harbor.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1902] The other contention of the suit was that the clubhouse established a precedent and that once it was completed “there would be nothing to prevent other clubs or private individuals from erecting other buildings to the north and south of it, thus shutting off the view of the lake which was guaranteed to the property-owners of the lakefront.”  Attorney H. R. Platt stated, “The view is an absolute right which under the law of the State belongs to the property-owners.”

Looks like the thing got built (www.icoyc.org)
May 7:  The funeral of Potter Palmer takes place.

“With simple ceremonies the remains of Potter Palmer were laid to rest at noon.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1902]  Outside of the Palmer mansion at 100 Lake Shore Drive (today it’s 1350 where there are a couple of tall residential towers) the street was packed with people.  “None was refused entrance [to the mansion] who could show that he had come through motives other than curiosity.”  The Reverend James S. Stone, Rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church, read the service with a passage taken from the Fifteenth Chapter of Corinthians.  There was no sermon.  Everyone who was in the Potter home was allowed to file past the casket, and the ceremony was finished in less than an hour.  The procession then proceeded north to Graceland Cemetery where attendance was limited to immediate friends and close family.  The honorary pallbearers included:  Marshall Field, Robert T. Lincoln, Carter H. Harrison, J. Ogden Armour. Frank O. Lowden. H. G. Selfridge, James H. Eckels, Cyrus H. McCormick, Watson F. Blair and Otto Gresham.

The resting place of Potter Palmer in Graceland Cemetery (JWB Photo)

May 9:  After the steamer Yakima blocks the south branch for two days the Drainage Board orders every center pier bridge on that branch to be replaced with a bascule bridge.

When the Yakima managed to ground itself at the busiest section of the Chicago River, tempers fired and accusations flew.  The steamer was freed three separate times and managed to ground itself again with each release.  City officials ordered that the lock gates at Lockport be completely closed to provide more depth to the river to facilitate the operation  A Chicago and Northwestern locomotive was even provided to yank on the ship “but its efforts failed, its huge drivers whirling on the track when full steam was used . . .”  [Chicago Tribune, May  10, 1902]  The whole thing had been a fiasco with dozens of elevated trains stranded, traffic on the river at a standstill, and “150 persons . . . imprisoned in the middle of the river.”  It was the straw that broke the river camel’s back, and the Engineering Committee of the Drainage Board ordered that every center pier bridge in the South Branch of the Chicago River was to be replaced by a bascule bridge.  The Chief of Engineers was ordered “to make surveys and prepare plans for bascule bridges at every point on the South Branch for which provision has not already been made, and the Law department was directed to begin condemnation proceedings to acquire the land necessary for the bridges and by-passes.”

The Wells Street swing bridge (Chicago Daily News Archive)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Marina City Takes New York City -- May 3, 1960

Marina City Changes the Game (JWB Photo)
Something interesting was happening In New York City on this date, May 3, of 1960.  The President of the Building Services Employees International union, William McFetridge, was in town to address the delegates of the union’s twelfth annual convention.  Standing next to a scale model of the project that would become Marina City, Mr. Mcfetridge said, “We have every reason to believe we will make a go of this venture even though all the details haven’t been ironed out.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1960]

The day before Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had invited Mr. McFetridge and the union to bring their bucks to New York City in order to undertake a project similar to the twin towers that would make up the Chicago project.  “And I wouldn’t mind at all if it proved to be bigger than Rockefeller center,” the governor said.  [Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1960]

Plans for Marina City had begun in the late 1950’s and were revealed in September of 1959 when Mr. McFetridge said that the project in Chicago would “be a pilot project in a national program of using union reserve funds to help insure the future of the downtown areas in major cities.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 15, 1959]  

Spurred by a twofold impetus, the fact that most of the 250,000 members of the Service Employees’ union depended on work in the cores of major cities and in Chicago, specifically, the beginning of a year-old plan for downtown redevelopment totaling $1,500,000,000, the Marina City project was hyped from the beginning.  

Marina City seen from the penthouse of its taller neighbor, Trump Tower (JWB Photo)
Back in 1959 the towers were projected to rise 40 stories, contain 1,500 apartments, provide space for 1,000 motor boats, 400 cars and have an auditorium that would seat 1,000 people.  Rent for an efficiency apartment was to be $125 a month with one-bedroom apartments going for $165 and two-bedroom units renting for $210.  The city’s Commissioner of Planning, Ira Bach, said at the announcement of the plans in 1959, “This building complex will serve as a strong anchor and stimulant to the redevelopment program for the central area.”

Two days later a Tribune editorial echoed Mr. Bach’s comments, “Marina City should be welcomed, not only because its 40 story towers will be a spectacular addition to the Chicago skyline, but because it should encourage similar developments on the near north side.  Downtown Chicago carries so much of the city’s tax load that its economic health is of great importance.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 17, 1959]

Plans begin to fall into place in December of 1959 as the Chicago Title and Trust company issued its five millionth title insurance policy for the block of real estate that the Building Service Employees International union had purchased from the Chicago and North Western railroad on the north bank of the river between State and Dearborn streets, most of “Block 1” in the original plat for the city.  [Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1959]

Just in front of the billboard in this 1944
photo is where Marina City would end up (the collection of Charles W. Cushman)
The railroad had owned the property for a century, and it was on this site that the log cabin of Dr. Alexander Wolcott, a government Indian agent, built  near the cabin of John Kinzie.  The price for the land on which Marina City stands today was pegged at three million dollars when the railroad unloaded it.

As plans were refined the original design for the project changed.  It grew taller – from 40 to 60 stories – making it the tallest housing structure in the world and the fourth highest building in Chicago.  The first five floors would be used for entrances, service facilities, and stores with the next 14 floors providing space for 900 cars.  There would be 256 efficiency units, 576 one- bedroom units, and 64 two-bedroom units.  There would be space available for 700 small pleasure boats.

These plans would also change as the design was refined.

In July of 1960 the financing for the project was in place.  In case of default he Federal Housing Administration committed to insuring the $17,819,100 mortgage for the residential portion of the 36 million dollar project.  This was the largest commitment issued by the F.H.A. up to that time.  Dovenmuehle Inc. issued a mortgage loan with a 39 years term at 5.25 percent interest.  A separate mortgage was secured on the commercial section of the project and the other half of the cost of the residential towers came from private sources, principally the Building Service Employees union.  [marinacityonline.com]

Mayor Daley exchanges a handshake with Cardinal Bernard Sheil at
the groundbreaking ceremony.  Bertrand Goldberg is the man with the big smile.
The Groundbreaking ceremony took place on November 22, 1960 and included a phone call from the newly elected President of the United State, John F. Kennedy, who probably figured he owed Mayor Daley the courtesy of a chat after the closely contested election.

And the distinctive towers began to rise.  The construction was not without trouble.  Three workers were killed in September of 1961 in a 43-story fall in the collapse of part of a form that they were helping to raise.  In June of that year seven workers were injured when a construction hoist fell ten floors.  There were several small fires, including one in which butane tanks being used to dry new concrete exploded in the west tower stairwell.  Even the home of the building’s developer, Charles r. Sweibel, was robbed while the family was off boating.

Less than two years after the groundbreaking ceremony the first tenant moved into Apartment 2135 in the east tower.  Daniel Aguilar, 28-years-old, and his wife, Jo, were the first tenants in the highest residential building in the world, a building that began to redefine the way Chicagoans looked at the core of their city.   [Chicago Tribune, October 14, 1962]

In an essay that was published by the Museum of Science and Industry Marina City’s architect, Bertrand Goldberg, said, “in the Marina City forms. I made it possible for people to participate in community formation. Both in the use of space and in the form of space I discovered that behavior can be influenced by the shape of space. The faceless anonymity of the corporate box which we had used for the buildings for our government, our health, our education, our business and our living, I discovered could be replaced more effectively by a new development of architectural structure and forms that supported its use by people.”  [Goldberg, Bertrand.  “Rich is Right.”  March 4, 1986]

I like to think that Chicago is a people place, and Marina City is, if it is anything else, first and foremost a place for people, a place that provides those people with one of the most breath-taking views of the city that can be found.

Still impressive trend-setters (JWB Photo)