Monday, April 1, 2019

April 1, 1969 -- Chicago "Skid Row" Property Unloaded


April 1, 1969 – The Chicago Urban Renewal Board approves the sale of a six-block site for $21,202,214 in the near west side area, known as “Skid Row.”  Of the four bidders involved, the Madison-Canal Development Company, led by a team from Holiday Inns, is the successful bidder on the 16-acre site, bounded by Washington Boulevard, Clinton and Monroe Streets, and the Kennedy Expressway. If the plan works the way it is hoped, the city will recover all of its costs for acquisition and clearance of the area.  The Madison-Canal company plans to invest more than $350 million in a development scheme that will include buildings of 90 stories, 70 stories, and 24 stories.  The six-block area will be covered by a 24-foot high landscaped plaza, below which will be a shopping area and a two-level garage that will accommodate 3,000 cars.  Like many development plans, the scheme did not exactly develop as it was envisioned.. The fact that it existed in the first place illustrates a couple of points … (1) the deterioration of this section of property only blocks away from the heart of the Loop at the time; and, perhaps more importantly and probably as a result of the first point, (2) how cheaply the city was willing to give up the land just to reclaim the area near two huge train stations. The above aerial view shows what did eventually get built on the site, buildings that include the Presidential Towers complex, completed in 1986 and the 31-story 540 West Madison building.


April 1, 1963 – “Chicago suffers from a proliferation of negativism. Great cities are sparked by visions, and great visions are sparked by optimism.  Without the energy of optimism to unify its citizens, without a collective dream of what the city can become, Chicago’s greatness – its energy – will continue to slowly fade away.”  So begins an editorial that architect Bruce J. Graham writes for the Chicago Tribune on the first day of April in 1963.  It was not always so, Graham points out, using Daniel Burnham as a prime example.  “Burnham’s was an abstract plan that communicated a vision of the Beautiful City,” he writes, “one that would lift hearts and spirits … His vision was inclusive, as broad as all Chicago, and its logic persuasive.”  Graham laments that the city has strayed far from that vision.  “Physical Chicago is receding on all fronts,” Graham writes, “because Chicagoans think only in terms of lots, properties and zoning regulations.  We are focused on segments rather than on systems … Political debates do not address whether additions to our urban environment will benefit the city, but whether they will enhance the search for power.”  In perhaps his most damning statement, the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill partner states, “Our downtown is becoming irrational and thereby uglier, and our neighborhoods are a disaster … Opportunistic and misguided ideas pervade our community and have run amok simply because planning today is a defensive response to external forces.  We are afraid of physical visions.  We are afraid to climb that mountain that might show us what we should be.”  Graham ends with a final plea, “It is time that we searched for a vision, jointly.”


April 1, 2001 – In the wake of the city council’s approval of the “Spaceship-Landing-in-a-Stadium” plan for Soldier Field the previous week, Chicago Tribune columnist Dennis Byrne lets off some steam.  “Seems that no one is happy with the conversion of Soldier Field,” Byrne writes.  “… the biggest hoo-hah comes from the city’s preservation and lakefront protection forces … but here’s the real irony.  The truth is that the city came up with this spooky design, retaining the historic columns and outer walls, to try to satisfy preservationists and adaptive reuse champions … all that this fiddling with Soldier Field has gotten the city is a lot of headaches, and perhaps one of the silliest looking structures ever to hit town … Better that the city just said, the hell with it, there’s no satisfying these folks.  We’re going to tear the whole thing down and build a stadium from scratch – one that looks, feels and functions like a Twenty-First Century stadium.  Call it Soldier Field, and honor the veterans by making it better than the old, falling down one.  Make it something worthy of a Twenty-First Century city whose glory remains the same can-do, risk-taking spirit that made it such a great Twentieth Century city.  Anyone out there with the guts?”  [Chicago Tribune, April 1, 2001]


April 1, 1935 -- The cornerstone of the Loop Orthodox Synagogue at 16-18 North Clark Street is laid at noon, the ceremony led by the president of the congregation, Louis A. Wittenberg. The new house of worship will occupy three floors above a restaurant and will hold a two-story auditorium holding 325 worshippers. This will be the second of four homes for the congregation, the first being on the ninth floor of a building at 6 North Clark, the original home of the congregation in 1929.  The 1935 building was gutted on April 10, 1954 when the restaurant on the ground floor went up in flames as 5,000 people watched the 2-11 alarm fire. The congregation purchased that property on Clark Street in July of 1954, and construction began in March, 1955. During the building phase the sacred scrolls were moved up Clark Street in a solemn procession, and worship was held on the 21st floor of the Morrison Hotel, where today the Daley Center stands. The synagogue has undergone a fascinating transformation that mirrors the transformation of Chicago's downtown. Originally a "businessman's synagogue," with 1,000 members, drawing commuters who were already established members of their home synagogues, it today opens its doors to vacationers and out-of-town business people and provides a home congregation for all of the folks who have made downtown Chicago their home.  Its Scholar in Residence program allows Jews of all denominations to join in a weekend of Jewish learning, and there are daily mid-day Bible study classes and Saturday Torah study classes as well.

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