Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 31, 1902 -- Field Museum Deserves a Site

October 31, 1902 – Harlow N. Higinbotham, the president of the board of trustees of the Field Columbian museum, holds forth about the museum’s future, saying, “All that stands in the way of a magnificent $10,000,000 building for the Field museum is a site downtown just across the Illinois Central tracks at Congress street, and that site the city of Chicago ought to provide.  The people of Chicago should have easy access to the museum.  At present persons visiting the city who have only limited time at their disposal cannot visit it.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 1, 1902] Higinbotham’s comments come as he hosts 30 of the  “highest authorities in the world on American anthropology … men from Germany, England, Sweden, Holland, France, Mexico and the South American countries.”  The scientists tour the home of the Field Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park, the building that served as the Palace of Fine Arts during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a museum that “even in its present quarters … the visitors thought … compared favorably with the museums of Europe and with those in the eastern states.”  The visitors spend the morning at the museum, take lunch at the Del Prado, then go for a drive through the parks and boulevards of the south side before spending the evening as guests of University of Chicago President William Rainey Harper at his residence.  The above photo shows the Field Columbian Museum, the former Palace of Fine Arts at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition -- and today's Museum of Science and Industry -- as it appeared at the time of Higinbotham's plea.

October 31, 1935 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the eight bridges between Michigan Avenue and Franklin Street have opened more times in a nine-month period than they have opened in most twelve-month years.  According to Harbormaster William J. Lynch in the first nine months of 1935 the bridges opened 9,320 times between January 1 and September 30 with the average time a bridge stood open a bit less than four minutes.  It is hard to imagine a situation today in which traffic in the center of the city is completely stopped over two dozen times a day as bridges are raised and lowered.  According to Lynch these eight bridges blocked traffic a total of 546 hours – more than 68 eight-hour days – in the first nine months of the year.  If one looks at all sixteen bridges that cross the river on the north and west side of the Loop, the number of openings came to 15,088 with motorists and pedestrians spending a total of 866 hours waiting for the bridges to do their work.  At the south end of the North Branch of the river the little Kinzie Street bridge was opened 2,424 times in the first nine months of the year.  Alderman William A. Rowan, the chairman of the council committee on harbors, wharves and bridges, reacts to the figures, saying, “The question involved is the convenience of millions of individuals as opposed to the convenience of a relatively few owners of vessels.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1935]  He estimated that over 70 per cent of the openings of the eight bridges on the main stem of the river occurred to accommodate noncommercial vessels.  The above photo shows the main stem of the river in 1930, looking west from State Street, with the four-year-old Wacker Drive on its south side.

Monday, October 30, 2017

October 30, 1931 -- Lawson Y.M.C.A. Opens

October 30, 1931 – The largest Y. M. C. A. in the world is officially opened at dedication ceremonies on this date in 1931.  The new Lawson Y. M. C. A. on the northeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Dearborn Streets rises 24 stories and is built at a cost of $2,754,000.  The new building is named after Victor F. Lawson, the late publisher of the Chicago Daily News, who left $1,500,000 to start the project. There will be 650 residential rooms with 700 telephones, and each room in the building will have a radio speaker that allow a choice of five programs.  As described by the Chicago Daily Tribune, facilities include “a small chapel for private meditation and group worship; a completely equipped ‘log cabin,’ with an artificial woodland view out the window; a room of 1950, done in an ultra-modernistic style; the Lawson Memorial library; a boxing room with permanent ring; two large gymnasiums; volleyball and handball rooms; locker rooms with accommodations for 2,500 men; a rifle range; 10 studios for hobbies, handicraft, and music; mechanical exercise room; a swimming pool, 62 x 25 feet, with a 12 foot depth in the middle for diving; restaurants, grills and cafeterias, and fountain rooms.  There is also a roof garden on the 19th floor” [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 25, 1931] In May of 2017 developer Peter Holsten, who paid one dollar for the building with the caveat that it provide affordable housing for at least 50 years, announced a $100 million plan to convert 583 units into 400 larger units with private bathrooms and kitchens.  The plan also will replace exterior fire escapes with two enclosed stair towers and install a new bank of modern elevators.

October 30, 1907 – Wouldn’t it have been interesting to be serving the coffee on this day as Mayor Fred Busse, First Ward aldermen Michael Kenna and John Coughlin and a committee from the Commercial Club meet in architect Daniel Burnham’s office atop the Railway Exchange Building on Michigan Avenue.  Two days earlier the city council had passed an ordinance directing the commissioner of public works to gather plans for connecting Beaubein Court on the south side of the river with Pine Street on the north.  The meeting in Burnham’s office is one more step in a process of trying to unite the north and south side boulevard systems that has been dragging on for over 15 years.  After the meeting Clyde M. Carr, chairman of the Commercial Club committee, says, “We have acted and will continue to act as a clearing house for ideas on this subject.  We have not given our support to any one plan, but are anxious to push the first worthy plan that the authorities may decide upon as feasible.  What we are striving to keep in mind is the future – something that will give glory to Chicago for a hundred years to come.  We do not want a makeshift or a compromise.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1907] It will be another 13 years before the lawsuits are settled, the property acquired, and the great bridge leading Michigan Avenue across the river completed.  Daniel Burnham is pictured above in his office atop the Railway Exchange Building.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

October 29, 1913 -- Subway Needed As Soon As Possible, City Learns

October 29, 1913 – The city’s Board of Supervising Engineers releases a report that predicts doom for the city unless something is done to solve its transportation problem.  Representing the board, Blon J. Arnold proposes the construction of an extensive system of subways that would cost as much as $18,000,000.  One tube should run under Clark Street from North Avenue to Twenty-Second Street.  The second bore would be a “loop” entering the downtown section through a tunnel beneath the river at Washington Street, heading east to Michigan Avenue and heading west by way of a tunnel under the river at Van Buren Street.  Three other subways are proposed as part of the plan, serving the north, south and west sides of the city.  Arnold notes that the average speed of streetcars passing through the downtown district is about five miles an hour.  He says, “This low schedule speed is caused by surface traffic congestion – car, vehicular, and pedestrian – and conditions are steadily becoming worse.  This average schedule speed should be increased to equal or exceed the present average speed in outlying districts or free running territory, and the only method of securing this increased speed, as well as increased capacity is by the construction and operation of subways through the congested district.”  The engineers’ report represents another example of how slowly the wheels of government can turn.  The first subway in Chicago would not open for another 30 years.  The photo above shows South Water Street in 1910.

October 29, 1902 -- The members of the Drainage Board approve the issuance of $1,000,000 worth of bonds with the money from the sale to be used for the construction of bascule bridges  and for the widening of the river.  The bonds will be payable over a 20 year period and will pay four percent interest.  Board members also approve the purchase of the plant and property of the Norton Milling Company at the Madison Street Bridge for $225,000.  The property will be cleared and used to widen the river at this point.  The original asking price is $400,000, but when the sanitary district threatens to acquire it by condemnation the offer is lowered by $175,000.  With this move the city finally begins to deal with the problems that its antiquated center-pier bridges cause, problems that go back years but which gain special emphasis in January of 1901 when the city engineer refuses to take any further responsibility for nine fragile bridges.  The swing bridge at Madison Street, completed in 1893, is pictured above.  Note the narrowness of the draw on either side of the turntable.  Imagine piloting a boat headed toward the bridge in a strong west wind, and you get some idea of how little margin for error there was in navigating the river in the days before the bascule bridges.