Saturday, February 17, 2018

February 17, 1889 -- Owings Building Shakes but Does Not Fall

February 17, 1889 – At 8:30 a.m. a tremendous crash occurs within the Owings building on the southeast corner of Dearborn and Adams Streets, a sound so deafening that people in the area make “a panic-stricken dash for the opposite sidewalks” and “a horse attached to a milk-cart [runs] off and dumps the milk cans.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 18, 1889] Nine sub-floors between the main staircase of the building and the elevator shaft ha pancake and fall all the way to the basement where three building workers huddle together, amazed that they have survived.  A day earlier 125 workmen had been in the building, and a group of them had raised an 1,800-pound piece of equipment that was to sit on the roof as high as the tenth floor, where it was left secured, five floors short of its destination.  It is those ten floors of fire-proofing tile that collapse on this Sunday morning; the five floors above are left undamaged.  Subsequent investigation reveals little about the origin of the accident.  One theory is that the one-ton piece of equipment got stuck on a girder beneath the tenth floor, and as workmen tried to free it with crowbars, they damaged to loosen the tenth floor which fell to the floor below, causing the lower floors to cascade into the basement.  Another theory is that the equipment actually made it to the top of the building from where it fell, dislodging a beam on the tenth floor.  However it happened, everyone agreed it was fortunate that the accident occurred on a Sunday.  One of the building’s architects, Charles Summer Frost (the same guy who designed the older buildings at Navy Pier) uses the event to play up the strength of his tall building.  Says Frost, “Not a hair’s breadth of disturbance has taken place in the walls.  The plastering isn’t cracked in a single spot.  The tile partitions of the interior are in perfect plumb.  A splendid proof of the absolute solidity of the building – that’s what the accident amounts to.”  The Owings Building, which had offices primarily used by financial and coal companies, along with professional men, cost $475,000 to construct and is shown in the above photo.

February 17, 1928 -- “A great crowd” [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 18, 1928] streams through the gates of the Dearborn Street station to greet the Santa Fe Chief as it stops on its way to New York, bearing the body of comedian Eddie Foy to his final resting place in New Rochelle.  Six of his children greet the train, along with his manager, Harold Munnis, his latest partner, Monica Skelly, and his wife, who is “so grief-stricken that she had to be carried from the train.”  It was Foy who was performing in a Wednesday matinee performance of “Mr. Blue Beard” at the five-week-old Iroquois Theater in December of 1903 when fire broke out after a spotlight short-circuited.  The day after the fire claimed 500 lives the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote of Foy’s bravery, “The coolness of Foy, of the orchestra leaders and of other players, who begged the audience to hold itself in check, however, probably saved many lives on the parquet floor … Those in greatest danger through proximity to the stage did not throw their weight against the mass ahead.  Not any died on the first floor, proof of the contention that some restraint existed in this section of the audience.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 22, 1903]  Chicagoans did not forget Foy’s heroic actions even after a quarter-century had elapsed.  The photos above show Mr. Foy as well as the character he played in Mr. Blue Beard, Sister Anne.

February 17, 1885 -- Item from The Chicago Daily Tribune: "Mr. John Root, of the firm of Burnham & Root, delivered the third lecture of a course before the Art Institute last evening. His thoughts on architecture were expressed in rather technical language. He explained the necessity of simplicity, repose, and proportion in buildings; also how poorly-constructed chimneys accumulated soot. He illustrated his remarks with diagrams and pictures. About 150 people were present." What must it have been like to have been one of those 150 fortunate souls? Root's remarks would have been made at the second home of the Art Institute, pictured above, on the southwest corner of Van Buren and Michigan Avenue, a building designed by Burnham & Root and which is now occupied by the Chicago Club.

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