February 12, 1955 – Authorities begin an investigation into the fire that kills 29 men and injures over a dozen more at the Barton Hotel. It is estimated that 245 men are asleep in the hotel, located on four floors above the Standard Store Fixture Company at 644-48 West Madison Street. Many of the victims are down-and-out men who are trapped in “cagelike rooms” that they have rented for 60 to 85 cents a night. [Chicago Tribune, February 13, 1955] The Tribune describes the sleeping accommodations as “cubicles four feet wide, six feet long, and seven feet high. The bunks were separated by corrugated iron sheets and each was covered at the top by meshed chicken wire. An aisle ran between each two rows of cubicles.” The fire starts just after midnight on the second floor, and flames quickly spread to the upper floors, engulfing the building as men, blinded and choked by thick smoke, run screaming toward exits. Firemen are hampered by temperatures close to zero, and three of them are injured in the desperate attempt to rescue victims. The hotel maintenance man, Tony Dykes, says, “About 2 a.m. I heard someone in the back of the hotel holler: ‘Fire!’ … I heard the alarm go off in the hotel and then the lights went out. I went back toward room 137 to see what I could do, but the smoke was so thick I had to give up.”
Also on this date from an earlier blog entry . . .
February 12, 1949 -- A spokesman for the North Central association charges that construction of a huge water filtration plant on 55 acres north of Navy pier would cause property values on the near north side to plummet. Frederick M. Bowes, vice president of the association, said that if the city attempts to build the plant it would be in violation of a contract signed by the former Lincoln Park board when riparian rights were obtained for the construction of what is now the inner drive, and he promised that the association would fight in the courts to have the project stopped. Harry L. Wells, the business manager for Northwestern University, which controlled a significant chunk of land in the area (and still does), said, "We'd like to see a fine territory developed around the university. When you start putting a filtration plant there it isn't going go be that kind of territory." The purification plant was, tied up in court for years, but it finally opened in 1968 as the James W. Jardine Water Purification Plant in the exact spot for which it was originally proposed.