Wednesday, January 2, 2019

January 2, 1873 -- Chicago Water Tower (the First One)
January 2, 1873 –The Water Tower on Michigan Avenue, completed in 1869, is today an enduring symbol of the “I Will” spirit of Chicago.  Before this facility was built, though, another water tower stood on what would become LaSalle Street “in the centre of a long block, stretching from Clark to Wells street …” [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 2, 1873]  Clark Street at the time was “a street of quiet and cosy homes, with neatly-kept front yards, and all the village aspects.” Phillip F. W. Peck, a man who had moved to the rural hamlet of Chicago from Rhode Island in the 1830’s, owned the entire block that is today circumscribed by LaSalle, Adams, Clark and Jackson Streets.  The city’s engineer, C. J. McAlpine, brought plans to Peck for a water tower to stand on part of his property, a piece of engineering that “was to be a marvel of construction … the local editors of the day went into ecstacies over its merits.” Peck sold the property to the city, and “Mr. McAlpine was as busy as a bee in a bonnet, for public structures of such a class were a novelty in our city.”  And then came the day for the dedication.  The Mayor was there and the Aldermen … “Adams street was a mass of people … the square surrounding the tower was a sea of human heads.”  The pumps were turned on, and the great tank, built to hold a million gallons of water, more or less, began to fill.  Then someone noticed water erupting from the cornice of the tower and “The spurt increased to a stream.  The cornice parted.  The brick work eroded, and the dismal flow began.  Then there was a rush … A shabby man in a sad hat, who had evidently been abstaining from water that morning, in order that there might be enough to fill the tank, proffered this advice to the crestfallen McAlpine: “Turn the durned thing over; put yer building onto the tank … Then she’ll stand, bet yor a dollar.” The life of the new water tower ended before it began.  Property in the vicinity fell by $1.50 a front-foot as workers went about bricking up the tower’s walls and bracing it so that it could hold less than half of the load it was built to carry.  When La Salle Street was opened up to Van Buren in order to meet the Michigan Southern Railroad, the neighborhood surrounding the tower came to hold “The coarsest life of a growing city … the haunt of the low and the vile, the shame-lost woman and the shameless vagabond, and among these the enforced homes of the poor … filling each block from street to street.”  When the fire came on October 8, 1871 the mass of wooden buildings exploded in flame.  But the water tower “stood on its shabby pedestal of brick on the morning after the Fire, as if avenged for all the snares put upon it …”  Today one of the great early skyscrapers of the city, the Rookery, stands where the old, ill-fated, water tower once stood.  The Rookery is pictured above.

January 2, 1927 – As smoke continues to drift from the  hundreds of chimneys all across the city, and the steam engines continue to work their way up and down the lakefront, the Chicago Daily Tribune reports on the problems that smoke causes for the city’s premier cultural attraction, the Art Institute of Chicago.  During 1926, the paper reports, thirteen tons of soot and cinders were removed from the roofs of the institution.  Unfortunately, the problem didn’t stop at the roofline, and “Some of the year’s accumulation could not be removed from the roofs because it had seeped into the galleries to the defacing of priceless fabrics, paintings, and statues.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 2, 1927] The director of the Art Institute, Robert Harshe, says, “We ... are the dirtiest museum in the world.”  The photo above shows a fairly smoky city just about the time the Art Institute was sweeping its roof in 1927.

January 2, 1932 – The work on the long-awaited bridge across the Chicago River on the lakefront drive is off once again.  Edward J. Kelly, president of the South Park board, calls a meeting with the heads of the South Park and LincolnPark boards, along with members of the Chicago Plan Commission and the contractors involved in the link bridge project. It is decided that until the park boards receive the necessary revenue, the work is off.  Mr. Kelly says, “We must conserve our cash in the present tangled financial situation.  All construction programs … excluding only the island for the world’s fair, must be dropped if we are to live within revenue and meet obligations.”  Work on the approaches to the bridge had begun in 1929, and work on the bridge itself was started on June 6 of 1932.  The city has cried out for this connection between north and south, a project that was proposed as early as 1909. The bridge would finally be dedicated in October of 1937.  The photo above shows where the project stood at the time.

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