Monday, February 9, 2015

Skyscrapers Rule -- February 9, 1902

Michigan Avenue & Jackson Boulevard, 1895
Ryerson and Burnham Archive
Back in 1902 The Chicago Tribune printed an editorial in its February 9 edition, entitled “High Building Question Again”.  It followed the passage, a week earlier, of a City Council resolution that removed height restrictions on fire-proof buildings, allowing an estimated $20,000,000 in new office buildings in the Loop to rise.

Here, in part, is what the paper had to say . . .

In almost every instance the lofty steel structure replaces in whole or in part an inferior structure which was discreditable to the down-town district or which, like the Sanford Building on Randolph street that was burnt on Friday morning, endangered the safety of that district.  (The Sanford Building was located at 38 Randolph and held a paint supplier and a piano manufacturer.  The fire department with its horse-drawn fire engines was already divided because of a fire at 148 Michigan Avenue and was no match for the conflagration. The building was a total loss.)

. . . one would imagine from the protests and objections that are heard that these buildings which have been swept away to make room for better ones were architecturally and in every other way all that could be desired—symmetrical, commodious, “artistic,” respectful to the “sky line,” and secure.  Yet it is a fact that some of the worst specimens of architecture to be found anywhere in the city are in the business district . . . Who will say that Chicago has suffered artistically by their replacement by the present steel structure, or that the city would have suffered if it had been carried up to the height of sixteen stories, as it was originally designed to be?

Not increased danger from fire, but security against fire comes from lofty steel construction . . . These steel buildings are not merely fire proof themselves, but they tend to check the spread of a fire.  They are the thick and lofty fire walls of the business district, a barrier between the buildings adjacent to them and an advancing conflagration.

As regards the question of the safety of these tall steel buildings and their contents let the best qualified judges speak.  These are the insurance companies, which are vitally interested in safe construction . . . With their stand pipes, their fire escapes, and other precautions against fire they meet the requirements of the insurance companies . . . As regards stability, there is no room for argument.  These steel buildings rest on caissons which go down 70 feet.  They are practically founded on the everlasting rock.

It is to the public interest that the property-owner should use his land to the best advantage to himself, provided always he does not endanger public safety.  The old limitation on the height of buildings prevented many of the owners of real estate in the business district from using it to the best advantage . . . if the property-owner is restricted to ten stories he will not put up a ten-story building, for when brought into competition with other buildings it will not be profitable.  He will let his present four or five story inferior building stand, hoping It may earn him enough to pay taxes and fair interest on the original investment.  But it is not to the public advantage that his property should remain unimproved, but it is absurd to argue that he will put up new buildings merely to improve the “sky line” or enhance esthetic effects.

It was a good move and a good way to begin a new century.  

No comments: