Friday, October 19, 2018

October 19, 1857 -- South Water Street Fire; Twenty-Three Die
October 19, 1857 – A fire breaks out in a brick store on South Water Street at 4:00 a.m., which spreads and becomes “ … the most disastrous in both loss of life and property which our city has ever experienced.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 20, 1857]The flames moved rapidly in every direction and “before they were subdued a number of the finest and most costly business edifices in the city were a heap of smoldering ruins while the large and valuable stock they contained are almost entirely destroyed.”  The fire destroyed ten square blocks of the city from the river to South Water Street and from what today would be Michigan Avenue to Clark Street. The cause of the conflagration was attributed to a woman working in the world’s oldest profession on the second floor of a warehouse at 109 South Water Street (the site of today’s 35 East Wacker) who allegedly kicked over a lantern accidentally.  [] Twenty-three people die in the flames, some of whom are firemen.  Damage is estimated at near $800,000 ($20,918,491 today).  One benefit that came from the fire was the establishment on November 19, 1857 of the Citizens Fire Brigade of Chicago, the duties of which were to take valuable goods from threatened buildings and protect them from water from the fire hoses and from looting. The above photo shows Fire Insurance patrol No. 6 at 332 South Hoyne Avenue.

October 19, 1971 -- The final attempt to save the old Chicago Stock Exchange building fails as Judge Edward J. Egan of the Circuit Court rules against a petition to force City Council action on the recommendation of the Chicago Landmarks Commission that the building be designated a landmark.  When the decision is announced, the president of the Landmarks Preservation Council, Richard Miller, says, “if we do not have any encouragement from the mayor’s office, we will not appeal.” [Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1971] The building, located at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Monroe Street, was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. It will be gone by the end of 1972 although its entrance arch and trading room are preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Preservationist and photo-journalist Richard Nickel took this photo of the Stock Exchange trading room, now preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago.  After he is reported missing while chronicling the death throes of the building, it would be 22 days before his body would be found in the rubble.

October 19, 1890 – In an editorial the Chicago Daily Tribune takes on the Illinois Central Railroad over its use of lakefront property.  As the city prepares for “its grand building which is to house art treasures” [Chicago Daily Tribune, October 19, 1890] the battle over lakefront property, long occupied by the railroad, becomes more and more heated.  The paper declares, “When the time comes for filling the submerged lands out to the dock line and making a park for the benefit of the city and State the Illinois Central should be required to do the work and foot the bill, and it need not cost Chicago a cent.”  At this time the Illinois Central operated on a trestle built above the lake, running parallel to Michigan Avenue.  The paper’s argument is to let the railroad fill in the space between the trestle and dry land, create new land east of the trestle, and fill in the space between the existing tracks and the land to the west.  It says of the arrangement, “If a fair arrangement were made between the road and the city the latter would get much-needed room for new tracks, depots, warehouses, and elevators.  Its receipts from leases and from its regular business would be increased.  The State would be a gainer, for its 7 per cent on the gross income of the road would be larger.  Chicago would be a gainer, for it would have on the front of the city a fine park two miles long.  The Art Building would look all the handsomer for the broad open space to the east of it.  By raising the surface of the park a little above street grade and depressing the tracks on the new right of way a few feet only the tops of the cars and engines could be seen from Michigan avenue and the esthetes would rejoice.”  The trick is to get the railroad to find the $5,000,000 and the civic generosity to agree to the plan.  The above illustration shows the Illinois Central lakefront trestle at the right and the lagoon to the west, somewhat north of where today's Art Institute stands.

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