Thursday, April 4, 2019

April 4, 1895 -- Trolley Car Rivalry Leads to Violence on the South Side

Proquest Historical Newspapers:  Chicago Tribune
April 4, 1895 – Big trouble on the Twenty-Second Street bridge as nearly a thousand men watch one of the cars of the Chicago General Street Railway Company yanked from the tracks and “battered into fragments by the direction of Supt. Rowen of the Chicago City railway company.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, April 5, 1895]  The violence occurs after an announcement on the previous day that Lawrence E. McGann, the head of the General Street Railway Company, indicates his intention to run cars over tracks of the Chicago City Railway Company and pay whatever rental the courts decide.  McGann’s plan was to take on a number of city officials at the Lexington Hotel at Twenty-Second Street and Wabash Avenue in order to show off “the first train in the world supplied with electric brakes”.  The car never gets across the river to pick up the invited guests, though, as it meets “all the resources of obstruction and destruction the South Side company possessed and it never made the trip, neither will it ever make any trips hereafter.” After the mob smashes the car into pieces, McGann says, “I will keep up this fight until the City of Chicago is declared the owner of every foot of street car track that lays in the streets … They did not wait for our car to get off our own tracks before they destroyed it. When things have come to such a pass there is only one remedy for the people, and that is municipal ownership. We are ready to have our tracks appraised now.”  Bowen responds, “I learned through the newspapers a few days ago that an attempt was to be made to run a car over our tracks.  I made up my mind that it should not be done … I had no opinion from a lawyer.  I simply knew that what I considered an act of trespass was to be committed, and I acted within what I thought and still think were my rights. I ordered the men whom I needed to come along; in number they were 400 or 500.”     The demonstration of the new electric braking device, an invention of Elmer E. Sperry, did not occur as the invited guests were warned “to keep off Twenty-second street if they valued their lives.”

April 4, 1979 – The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad has entered into an agreement to unload a 37.18-acre plot of vacant land on the city’s Near South Side.  Park Development Associates of Northfield, the proposed purchaser, has tentatively agreed to buy the property for $24.2 million.  The sale is contingent upon approval by the Illinois Commerce Commission and the city.  Edward J. Young, a partner in Park Development, says that the plans for the property are “not that far along … An industrial mart is just one of the ideas we are kicking around.  We had to give the railroad some idea of our ideas, but there is nothing in writing, no contracts.” [Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1979] The northern portion of the plot runs between Eleventh and Fourteenth Streets with Indiana Avenue on the west and the I. C. tracks and Lake Shore Drive to the east.  The negotiated price is $18.00 a square foot for a total of $13.2 million.  Park Development also has an option to buy the land between Fourteenth and Sixteenth Streets with the same east and west boundaries as the northern segment.  The purchase price for that section is $12.50 a square foot for a total of $11 million.  Back in the late 1970’s virtually no breathing soul in the city could imagine anyone living in this area.  The map above shows the property highlighted in red and tells the story of an amazing transformation from an industrial no-man’s land to one of the newest and most popular residential areas of the city.

April 4, 1974 – At a meeting of civic and business leaders in the Bismarck Hotel a proposal is made to create a corporation that will make the New Town development project in the South Loop a reality.   The agreement would see Chicago 21 Corporation selling $30 million in stock to fund the initial development of the area bounded by Congress Street on the north, Cermak Road on the south, State Street on the east, and the South Branch of the river on the west.  Some 40,000 families, it is anticipated, will one day settle in this area of unused railroad land.  Negotiations with the 19 railroads involved in the project are seen as comprising the biggest hurdle for the plan. With two principal goals at the heart of the development, backers are optimistic.  Reports the Chicago Tribune, “It is considered by its backers to be the answer to flight to the suburbs by whites, and the prime means of beefing up the simultaneously booming and decaying central area. [Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1974] In reviewing these goals, Philip M. Klutznick, chairman of the executive committee of Urban Investment and Development states, “I firmly believe that the time is long gone when [suburbanites] can leave the Loop at 5 o’clock and simply leave the problems of the city behind them.” [Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1974]  Construction of the first phase of what would come to be known as Dearborn Park began in November of 1977.  Although it was an ambitious project, it was far smaller in scale than the New Town plan announced back in 1974.  The above photo shows what the area south of the old station looks like today as development continues.  Development has increased dramatically with  the continued building along the east side of the river north and south of Roosevelt Road.

April 4, 1969 -- Although National Guard troops are withdrawn from the streets of Chicago, police patrols are increased in an attempt to prevent more violence after two days of fighting, rock throwing, gunfire, and looting that leave 96 injured and 271 under arrest. A 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in effect for those under the age of 21 and a ban exists on the sale of gasoline in cans or portable containers, guns, ammunition and liquor in troubled areas throughout the city. The disturbances begin at various schools across the city as ceremonies are held to mark the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King a year after he was felled by an assassin's bullet on April 4, 1968.

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