Sunday, December 2, 2018

December 2, 1962 -- Wilmette's "No Man's Land" Headed for Change
December 2, 1962 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the J. S. James and Company has plans to build a $6 million, ten-story co-operative apartment building on the site of the Vista del Lago Bach Club. In razing the club in what came to be known as “No Man’s Land,” between Kenilworth and Wilmette, the end comes for a project that was “the north shore’s symbol for the soaring optimism of the 1920’s – and the crushing disillusionment of the depression years.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 2, 1962]  Vista del Lago was the brainchild of Commodore J. Stuart Blackton, who spent $1.5 million in 1926 to build “the envy of Lido and the despair of southern California and Florida.”  At $330 per year members would be able “to avail themselves of a clubhouse, patio, ballroom, terrace, theater, Turkish bath, dining room and grill.” [Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1986]  By 1930 the club, “painted in vivid reds and yellows,” had more than 500 members, but the Great Depression put an end to plans that had the club rising to ten stories, “the tallest building for several miles around and visible from nearly all points along the North Shore.”  The posh beginnings deteriorated to the point where a state legislator called the area “a slot machine and keno sin center where college students were being debauched with beer, hard liquor and fireworks.” []  Fire destroyed much of the building as the 1930’s came to an end.  In early January of 1942 Wilmette annexed “No Man’s Land.”   It took some time for the area to shake its tawdry reputation, but in the mid-1960’s development began, and Plaza del Lago was born, “a robust mix of on-trend and classic with its diverse mix of leading retailers, one-of-a-kind boutiques, distinctive restaurants, grocery and services.” []  In January of 2018 Retail Properties of America purchased the shopping center at Plaza del Lago for $48 million.  The top photo shows the area in 1965 just after development began.  The photo below that shows the same area as it appears today.

December 2, 1967 – The New York Central Railroad’s Twentieth Century Limited pulls out of the LaSalle Street station for the final time.  No ceremony is held to mark the occasion as the 250 passengers on board settle in for the overnight trip to New York City.  Dale Hoffman, a conductor on the train for 15 years, says, “There was no announcement made of the last run, and no ceremony is planned as far as I know.  The Limited is just making another run as far as the railroad is concerned.” [Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1967] The Limited made its first run 64 years earlier, carrying 27 passengers on atrip that took 20 hours. The train will be replaced with a slower train that makes more stops.  The romance will be gone from a train that inspired plays and movies … the new train will be known simply as Number 28.

December 2, 1945 – Before it falls to the wreckers, the mansion of Cyrus Hall McCormick at 675 North Rush Street is opened to Chicago Daily Tribune reporter Edward Barry for one last look.  Barry writes, “To a person entering the old house suddenly from the busy streets of the near north side the impression was strong that he had stepped into a more tranquil, a more spacious age.  Before him heavy walls of mellow walnut converged toward the fireplace set into the far wall . . . In an austere room to the right of the entrance hall were found the objects of art which the McCormicks brought back with them from their trips to Europe, and had sent to them from the ends of the earth.  China of every imaginable design huddled under dust cloths . . . The deserted rooms were empty and cold.  Where open fires formerly crackled and laughter resounded there was nothing to be heard but the hushed voice of the traffic outside.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 2, 1945]  The 35-room mansion, reportedly patterned after a wing of the Louvre, took five years to build and was finished in 1879.  After World War II ended, though, the old world order, at least as far as elaborate urban mansions for the rich were concerned, began to give way, and the McCormick mansion was finally demolished in 1955.

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