Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October 24, 2006 -- Wirt Dexter Building Burns

October 24, 2006 – An afternoon fire breaks out in the Wirt Dexter Building at 630 South Wabash Avenue, and before the sun comes up the following morning, the second Louis Sullivan building to be lost in the year lies in ruins.  Later it is revealed that scrap dealers cutting up a boiler in the basement with acetylene torches spark the fire that brings over 250 firefighters to the scene. The building was commissioned by Chicago lawyer Wirt Dexter and according to Chicago’s Landmark Commission, “The building's unornamented design is a precursor to the firm's work on the Auditorium Building and the use of a cast-iron structural system permits larger window openings than would have been possible through the use of masonry alone. The distinctive, perforated, cast-iron beams on the rear facade, for example, anticipate building design of nearly seven decades later.” As a result of the five-alarm fire all classes at Columbia College are cancelled at its nearby buildings, Loop elevated service is suspended, and Harrison Street and Balbo Avenue are closed, as are State Street and Wabash from Harrison to Balbo.  This wasn’t the last Louis Sullivan structure that fire would claim in 2006 … on November 4 the George Harvey house in Lakeview would be gutted by fire as well.  I, me, this writer was particularly saddened to see the Wirt Dexter building fall.  On its ground floor George Diamond’s Steakhouse opened in the 1950’s with “its flaming red carpet and velvet paintings in a dining room that seated 600.” [Chicago Tribune, October 26, 2006] It was somewhere in that cavern of a restaurant on Wabash, after the gigantic wedge of salad and the steak dinner, that 46 years ago I proposed to the woman who would become my wife.  The Wirt Dexter building is shown in the above photos, before and after.

October 24, 1943 – I would imagine the folks residing at 1006 North Sheridan Road in Highland Park are darned surprised when a six-foot long rocket streams out of the Sunday sky and buries itself four feet into the lawn of their home.  The mystery is solved a couple days later when Army officers at Fort Sheridan confirm what the family already knows – there is, indeed, a rocket in their yard.  After investigating, U.S. Army officials explain that the 30-pound device is used during anti-aircraft gunnery practice at neighboring Fort Sheridan.  The rocket had a bent fin, and as it screamed over the lake at speeds between 300 and 400 miles per hour, that defect threw it off course.  Police estimate that if the rocket had hit the house directly it would have penetrated the home from the roof to the basement.

1 comment:

Pete said...

A client of my bank owned both the Wirt Dexter building and the building next door, which was not significantly damaged. After the fire, the city-hired wrecking contractor arrived but had the wrong address written down, and tore down the good building. By the time they realized the error, it was too late, and so they had to level both buildings. (Only in Chicago.) The two lots sat empty for almost ten years but I believe there is now new student housing built on the site.