Monday, March 27, 2017

March 27, 1939 -- William Bryce Mundie Dies


March 27, 1939 – William Bryce Mundie dies at the age of 75.  Mundie was born in Hamilton, Ontario and moved to Chicago in 1884 at the age of twenty-one and began working as a draftsman for William Le Baron Jenney.  By 1891 he was a full partner in Jenney’s firm and had married Jenney’s niece.  Mundie was therefore in on the development of the earliest metal-framed commercial buildings, and his expertise led to his being named the supervising architect for the Chicago Board of Education from 1898 to 1905.  He designed Wendell Phillips High School, along with Armour, Coonley, Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Plamondon, Darwin, Jungman and Sullivan elementary schools.  Mundie was a charter member of the Cliff Dwellers, a member of the Union League Club, the Chicago Yacht Club, and a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, for which he served as vice-president for many years.  Muncie's Wendell Phillips High School is pictured above.


March 27, 1935 -- Officials of the Electro-Motive Company, a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation, break ground for a new plant in McCook, at which diesel-electric locomotives will be produced. H. L. Hamilton, the president of the company, says, "This new industry created by the railroads' demand for high speeds is as strange to us as it is to Chicago . . . we are planning in such a way that we can add to the plant as we get experience in the new art of building locomotives with diesel-electric power plants." Just west of Chicago, McCook, with a population of under 400, makes a particularly attractive choice for the locomotive manufacturer. First, it is close to the Indiana Harbor Belt line tracks, so getting raw materials in and finished locomotives out will be fairly easy. Secondly, the area has a bed of Niagara limestone just below the surface, an excellent foundation for the heavy fabricating equipment of the new production facility. In 1938 the first road freight is tested on an 83,764 mile, 11-month run. The test shows that the new locomotive can do twice the work of a steam engine at half the cost. With Chicago's ever more stringent ordinances against smoke pollution (the first such legislation went back at least to 1909), the new plant in McCook was profitable from the beginning. It stopped producing locomotives in 1991 when operations were transferred to London, Ontario. Pictured above is demonstrator FT103, the innovation that changed an industry.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26, 1888 -- Cable Car Debuts on the North Side



March 26, 1888 – The formal opening of the North Chicago Street Railroad takes place with “speeches, music, enthusiasm, and a crowd, not to mention bunting, flags, and flowers.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 27, 1888] As early as 10:00 a.m. people begin to gather outside the power house at the corner of North Clark and Elm Streets.  At 11:15 a.m. company president Charles Tyson Yerkes appears with dignitaries that include Mayor John Roche, who makes a few brief remarks. The band plays America and there are other speeches and more music before Yerkes finally rises to say, “I find that there is nothing left for me to talk on.  The pervious speakers got hold of my notes and I am practically left out.  I thank the people of the North Side for their patience in waiting for the fulfillment of the promises which are made.  They now see the great work upon which we were so long engaged.  I thank the city officials for the aid they have given us.  I wish to thank the press for their uniform kindness.  They have always been on our side.” After the band plays The Beautiful Blue Danube at 12:05 two thousand people rush the tracks, trying to get on the first car.  At 1:05 p.m. the cars make it through the crowds and reach the entrance to the La Salle Street tunnel.  Teams of horses are used to pull the cars over the crossing of tracks at Clark and Wells, and a horse pulling Car Number 186 is spooked by the crowd and dashes into it, throwing several onlookers into the mud and slush.  The first car to return passes out of the tunnel at 1:22 p.m., having made the tour of La Salle, Monroe and Dearborn streets in 17 minutes.  The first serious problem occurs at 5:30 p.m. when an accident with the grip on one car at Wisconsin Street ties up the cars behind it for 45 minutes.


March 26, 1867 -- Dwight Heald Perkins is born in Memphis, Tennessee. If a Chicago architect -- if an architect anywhere -- has been more forgotten by history, it is this guy. So skilled that he was asked to serve as an instructor at M.I.T. after only two years as a student, he returned to Chicago in 1888 and went to work with Burnham & Root in February of 1889. After the conclusion of the 1893 fair Daniel Burnham was forced to downsize the office and regretfully part with Perkins. But he gave him the commission to design the Steinway Building, a gesture that says much about both men. It was in Perkins's offices in the Steinway building that Frank Lloyd Wright came to work after parting with Louis Sullivan as did a number of other architects who came to prominence in the following decades. The Chicagoland area would be a far different place today if it were not for Perkins. He co-wrote the 1905 Metropolitan Parks Report, a document that began a campaign for planned open space, set aside from development, a report that preceded the great Chicago Plan of 1909 by four years. It was also in 1905 that he was named Chief Architect for the Chicago Board of Education, a post he occupied for five years. In those five years he designed 40 school buildings. If in an entire career an architect could design one building as beautiful as Carl Schurz High School at Milwaukee and Addison, pictured above, he or she could end that career assured of having made an incalculable contribution.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 25, 1910 -- Wabash Avenue Fire Kills Twelve




March 25, 1910 – The work day has just begun at the L. Fish Furniture store at 1906-08 Wabash Avenue when the company’s auditor asks an assistant to go down to the fourth floor and fill three cigar lighters with benzene.  As he is filling the third lighter, the benzene bursts into flame, and he heads for the alley behind the building, telling no one of the mishap.  The fire makes rapid headway before it is discovered before the first alarm is turned in at 8:30 a.m.  Seventy-five people are at work in the building, and the employees on the first three floors are able to make it to safety.  Flames, however, cut off all escape on floors four through six.  Three serious impediments dim any hope of rescue.  First, there is a 4-11 fire in progress at Twenty-Fourth Street and Wallace that ties up half of the fire department’s equipment in the area.  Second, the first reports get the location of the fire wrong.  Finally, the raising of ladders is impeded by guy wires that support a large company sign on the front of the building as well as a large awning that covers the front entrance.  The fire is struck out in less than three hours, but during that time twelve people die in the inferno.  The coroner’s jury investigating the fire is blunt, saying, “We find the L. Fish Furniture Company censurable for negligence, carelessness and lack of foresight in not better providing for the safety of employees.”  [Hogan, John F. and Burkholder, Alex A.  Forgotten Fires of Chicago:  The lake Michigan Inferno and a Century of Flame.]


March 25, 1931 -- Golfers in Chicago get a new course to play as the new Lincoln Park golf course, begun the preceding April, opens for play. Beginning in 1929 the city trucked in tons of soil, dumping it in the lake to create 71 acres and a new nine-hole golf course. The original intent was to create an 18-hole course, but a lack of funding led to scaling back the project. Two million dollars later, Waveband Golf Course ran from Diversey Boulevard on the south to Montrose Harbor on the north. In 1991 it was renamed for a former commissioner of the the Park District Board, Sydney Marovitz. Note: Most sources list the official opening of the course as June 15, 1932. That was the date on which the English Gothic style clubhouse and clock tower, designed by Edwin H. Clark, pictured above, were dedicated.