Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 31, 1978 -- Art Institute Security Found Inadequate

December 31, 1978 – The Chicago Tribune reports that the Chicago Police Department and the F.B.I. have found security at the Art Institute of Chicago “to be inadequate, lax, and outmoded.” [Chicago Tribune, December 31, 1978], the tough assessment coming four days after three Cézanne oil paintings, valued at $3 million, are found missing from a storage room.  The stolen paintings include “Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair”, “Apples on a Tablecloth” and “House on the River.” After police find that there is no list of people to whom keys to the room had been distributed, Arthur M. Wood, the chairman of the museum’s board of directors, says that “all safekeeping and security practices are under intense review.”  Commander William Murphy, the Chicago Chief of Police, finds at least three deficiencies in the institution’s security system.  First, works of art have been kept in storage rooms with simple door locks and no reinforced doors.  Secondly, the system of checking out keys to such rooms has been “haphazard” with virtually no attention given to whom keys have been given.  No one has any idea, apparently, of how many keys even exist to the room where the theft occurred.   Murphy guesses that at least 400 employees have had access to the room in which 25 post-Impressionist paintings area are stored. Finally, a “nonchalant” attitude has taken over about enforcing security rules that had been in place for years.  An F.B.I. agent working the case says, “What you’ve got is essentially a broom closet.  It is far from the kind of vault you would expect the Art Institute to keep its valuables in.”  It didn’t take long to track down the paintings … stealing was easy for Art Institute worker Laud “Nick” Pace.  Unloading the loot was much more difficult.  Pace, who disguised the works as packages as he walked them out the door of the museum, was caught several months later and sent up the river for a decade.  "Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Armchair" is pictured above, safely back home.

December 31, 1943 – A year ends, one that began with President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill meeting in Casablanca and, midway through, marks the surrender of the German army in North Africa to the British and Americans.  Even in the darkest hours of the war Chicago begins to look toward to what will come afterward.  On this day the Chicago Daily Tribune makes that clear in an editorial, stating, “If Chicago wants to avoid being by-passed by the great air transport companies of the post-war age, it will have to see that they get the terminal facilities they need.”  The editorial board sees neither airport currently in existence as practical.  The place we know today as Midway is “nine miles from the heart of the city and accessible only thru the most densely populated sections.”  Douglas Field, today’s O”Hare, “would be 19 miles from the loop.”  What is the alternative?  The editorial favors something that has been talked about for a decade or more – an airport on the city’s lakefront.  “An airport built in this area on made ground,” the editorial states, “would be free of obstacles such as usually surround municipal airports, could be readily expanded to any size needed to accommodate great, new planes, and would be only a few minutes’ drive from the heart of the city.”  The editorial continues, “The present outer breakwater runs from the vicinity of South Water street almost continuously to the Shedd aquarium at the foot of Twelfth street.  Extending land outward from this breakwater would provide ample room for an airport and would give airplanes plenty of space to gain altitude, even in a westward takeoff, before reaching tall buildings.  It would in no way interfere with navigation, and would be less than a five minute ride to the loop over a short causeway.”  The editorial even makes reference to the fact that the Wolverine and the Sable, Navy aircraft carriers steaming along the lakefront, have taken meteorological surveys of the area north of Thirty-First Street and have found that it is “usually free of smoke and has wind velocity and ceiling suitable for a large airport.”  Imagine what the city’s lakefront would look like today if the clamor for this kind of new airport had gained a large enough audience to see it actually built.  Above, the early 1940's photo of Northerly Island -- later Meigs Field and now Northerly Island again -- gives some idea of what an airport facility much larger than this would have done to the lakefront.

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