Sunday, December 9, 2018

December 9, 1942 -- Chicago River Taxis Get the Green Light

Bob and Holly Agra (
December 9, 1942 –The City Council refers two ordinances to the Committee on Harbors, Wharves and Bridges for recommendation, those ordinances authorizing two different companies to operate boat passenger traffic on the Chicago River.  The Rodi Boat Service at 2454 South Ashland Avenue will be allowed to operate between the Michigan Avenue bridge and the Union and Chicago and North Western Railroad stations if approval is forthcoming.  With the provision of a bond of $25,000 the company will be allowed to run the service for five years.  The second company will run its service under the same terms.  Its licensee is identified as Arthur Agra. At the time Rodi was a Chris-Craft dealer with locations in Chicago, the Chain of Lakes, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale. Rodi seems to have gone away … the Ashland Avenue address is now occupied by Chicago Yacht Works.  But the second company is still very much a part of the Chicago scene, as it today is the company run by Agra’s son, Bob, and his wife, Holly, as Chicago’s First Lady cruises, operators of the premier Chicago Architecture tour in cooperation with the Chicago Architecture Center.

December 9, 1889 – The Auditorium Theater opens in a ceremony so grand that both the President and the Vice-President of the United States are in attendance, joining in the “universal praise of the Chicago Enterprise that Carried to Success an Undertaking of Such Vast Magnitude.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, December 10, 1889] Mayor DeWitt Cregier kicks off the proceedings, but “his intonation sadly recalls a preacher in a country church.”  Then Frederick Grant Gleason reads a poem written by Harriet Monroe.  Both are young, “but who save the young should sing the achievements of our young city.”  The baton comes down, and the “petite plaything of two continents, the warbling [Adelina] Patti … gives comedy to the seriousness of the occasion by lending it the coquetry of her sex.”  Patti chooses “Home, Sweet Home” for the evening and “She didn’t sing it the way your mother used to.  She sang it better.”  In a temporary box to the right of the stage United States President Benjamin Harrison is seated with Ferdinand Peck, “the man who planned and carried out the Auditorium.”  U. S. Vice-President Levi P. Morton also is seated in the box. The real star, though, is the magnificent auditorium.  The paper reports, “How solemnly and sternly rises its strong tower … a reminder of duty and of a people’s destiny.  It looks toward the West – toward the future. It is almost prophetic.”  Perhaps the speech of the night comes from the man most responsible for seeing the magnificent Auditorium to completion.  Ferdinand Peck gets his chance in the speech he gives while introducing the President.  The speech is as modest as the man himself, but it says much about the attitude of the city just 18 years after it faced near destruction in the Great Fire of 1871.  “It is impossible for me to express my feelings tonight,” Peck begins. “this recognition of our work forms a proud moment in my life’s history … This has been done out of a desire to educate and entertain the masses.  This has been done out of the rich man’s largeness and the poor man’s mite, for the benefit of all.  This achievement is the result of a cohesion among public-spirited men, who have stood together for a common cause in a manner that has no parallel in history. Where else on earth could it have been done?  In what other city but Chicago would it have been possible?”  The above photo shows the great Auditorium under construction in 1888.

December 9, 1961 – With plans for the new Equitable Insurance tower in place, the Chicago Tribune provides a full summary of the real estate holdings of the Chicago Tribune Building Corporation and the history of its acquisitions.  The Tribune bought its original piece of property in 1919 when it acquired a full block of real estate east of Michigan Avenue and north of the river.  Immediate construction began on a six-story plant for the editorial and production departments of the paper.  Six years later Tribune Tower was completed, the fourth headquarters building that the paper occupied in its history.  The tower was the culmination of a competition in which 263 architects from 23 countries submitted plans.  In 1934 the W.G.N. studio building was completed just to the north of Tribune Tower, followed by an 11-story building just to the east.  In 1958 the Tribune acquired 40,548 square feet of property directly to the east of Tribune Tower, and a year later the company acquired from the City of Chicago property to the south and east of the tower.  As part of that transaction Hubbard Street between Michigan Avenue and St. Clair was given to the Tribune.  In exchange the firm deeded land to the city necessary to widen East North Water Street to 65 feet and paid for the paving of the new street.  St. Clair Street, between Hubbard and Illinois, was vacated, and in exchange, the Tribune provided land for a new St. Clair Street to the east and paid for the surfacing of the new street, a plan designed to improve traffic in the area.

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