Saturday, May 25, 2019

May 25, 1946 -- Chicago Plan Commission Looks Ahead to a 1965 Chicago
May 25, 1946 – The Chicago Plan Commission, after seven years of study, reveals a projection of what Chicago is expected to look like in 1965.  The plan “envisions a city of 514 neighborhoods surrounded by a framework of thorofares, edges of industrial areas, and public lands.  The neighborhoods, in turn, will be incorporated into 59 communities, each a small city of 50,000 to 80,000 residents.  Each will contain a high school, a large park and athletic play field, and a major shopping center.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 26, 1946]. Each community area would be separated from the others by industrial belts, railroads, waterways, expressways, or other barriers, providing a locally controlled population for the high school. In addition, each community would maintain a distinct central business district.  H. Evert Kincaid, the executive director of the plan commission says, “This mapping of the preliminary comprehensive city plan is a guide that should be of aid in all constructive efforts directed toward the physical development and redevelopment of the city … Property owners can proceed with capital improvements with a greater degree of security.  Tenants can be assured of a more attractive living environment, and public officials can proceed with increased confidence to provide the essential public works needed in the realization of the greater Chicago charted by the plan.”  In building the plan the commission used data collected by the federal Works Progress Administration, detailing more than 1,000,000 residential units, along with over 50,000 commercial units, and 10,000 industrial enterprises.  According to the Newberry Library, the plan “presented copious maps to show widespread ‘blight’ dominating the central area of the city.  It concluded that nine square miles – including most areas occupied by African Americans – needed to be cleared and rebuilt in the near term.”[]. The Newberry summary goes on to state, “… the Plan Commission proposed pursuing two incompatible goals: the high-speed mobility and residential sprawl of the automobile-suburb era as well as the dense, urban life of the streetcar-neighborhood era.  In the decades to follow, the incompatibility would become increasingly evident as Metropolitan Chicago grew and sprawled, while the city proper’s municipal population peaked and began to decline for the first time.” 

May 25, 1966 –Half of the Chicago Fire Department turns out to fight a fire that destroys an abandoned nine-story grain elevator at Thirty-Second near Throop Street on the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River. Six firefighters are injured as more than 500 firefighters and a hundred pieces of equipment guard against the flames as they threaten a nearby residential area and adjacent commercial buildings.  Despite the efforts, the flames, which at their height reach 300 feet, still ignite the roof of the Denver-Chicago Trucking terminal across the river on the west bank.  Fire boats are able to quench those flames before they do serious damage.  Flames also attack an eight-story industrial building a half-block down the east bank of the river, but hook and ladder crews douse those flames as well.  Ten railroad box cars on nearby tracks cannot be saved from the flames that are so intense that onlookers wear protective clothing to watch the inferno.  The first alarm at the former Continental Grain Company elevator comes in at 7:10 p.m. and within 20 minutes five more regular and four special alarms are called.  

May 25, 1950 – A normal run on the newest of Chicago streetcars, the “Green Hornet,” turns into tragedy at the intersection of State Street and Sixty-Third Street when the streetcar slams into a gasoline tank truck, causing an explosion and fireball that kills 34 people and injures another 50.  Proceeding south on its State Street route, the streetcar with driver Paull Manning at the wheel is whizzing along at about 35 miles per hour, approaching the intersection of Sixty-Third Street.  Throughout the day, though, streetcars have been routed east onto Sixty-Third Street because of a flooded viaduct a block ahead on State Street.  At Sixty-Second Street a flagman frantically signals Manning to slow down for the open switch, but the driver either does not see him or ignores the signal.  Then the unthinkable happens.  A gasoline truck pulling two tanks is travelling north on State Street and enters the intersection just as the speeding streetcar lurches violently through the open switch, throwing passengers to the floor as it hits the cab of the truck, rupturing its gas tank.  The streetcar spins around in a half-circle, and as the truck’s gas tank erupts, the cab jackknifes, slicing open the first tanker of gas.  Four thousand gallons of gasoline flow from the tank, spilling over the curb and engulfing seven buildings on State Street.  Everything is a mass of flame.  Somehow, 30 people manage to escape the packed streetcar, but 34 people, including the driver of the streetcar and the driver of the truck, die in the inferno.  A coroner’s inquest shows among other things, that the doors of this model of streetcar would not open in either direction if just one person was applying pressure to them.  That afternoon yielded a scene that was as horrendous as a mass transit accident could ever be.  If you have ever wondered why you never see a gasoline tank truck in the city during the day, you can look back on the tragedy of this Thursday afternoon in May of 1950 and understand why.

May 25, 1930 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the design for the $10,000,000 outer drive “link bridge” will be the city’s first use of “modern architecture . . . expressive of its function.” [Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1930] President Warren Wright of the Lincoln Park park commission says of the design, “The approved design is a restrained modern treatment, simple, dignified and massive. It is not only in keeping with the present day trends but it is thoroughly practical. Flat stone weathers better, looks better and needs less attention and repair than ornamented surfaces. Incidentally, the design gives ample room for the operators’ houses and excellent visibility from them, while its bold and concentrated ornamentation eliminates the need for much overall treatment.” When completed in 1937 the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, one of the most important Depression projects of the Works Progress Administration, is the longest, widest, heaviest bridge in the world. Each of the bridge's 6,240 ton leaves is heavier than any bascule in existence. Today it is a massive example of industrial Art Deco design.


Friday, May 24, 2019

May 24, 1919 -- Street Car Carries 40 on Wild Ride toward River

May 24, 1919 --  West bound Harrison street car No. 1818 leaves the rails of a temporary bridge at Harrison Street just west of the river and slides down a 25-foot embankment as 40 passengers experience a terrifying plunge toward the river.  The hero of the day is a city fireman, Cornelius E. Burke, who stands at the front of the car, straining to hold the hand grips, breaking the fall of passengers tumbling toward the front of the car.  Burke is battered and bruised and faints while helping passengers through the front doors and windows of the streetcar.  Motorman Richard Pierce says, “As the car lunged most of the passengers believed we were falling into the river.  They all tried for the back of the car, but couldn’t make it.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 25, 1919]. The car comes to rest at a 45-degree angle as fire wagons, ambulances and boats converge on the scene.  Everyone gives fireman Burke credit for his actions, saying that his shouting “that there was no cause for fear seemed to still the fears of the passengers.”  One passenger, Edward Leppl, sums up the ordeal, saying, “It was more like a football scrimmage.  After the first panic every one tried to find his hat.”  Fireman Burke is inset in the Tribune's photo of the wreck.

May 24, 1927 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that “A bridge at the mouth of the river and a new stretch of Wacker drive along the bank are suggested in the Chicago Plan commission’s recommendations for linking the outer drive in Grant park with Lake Shore drive.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 24, 1927] The commission recommends that “the bridge and its boulevard approaches should follow the classic architecture of the boulevard link and Wacker drive.”  The proposed route would have the approach to the bridge start at Randolph Street, where “a raised avenue, at least 140 feet wide, would be built over the Illinois Central railroad yard in a direct line to the river. There the drive would curve to the right and extend along the river to is mouth, becoming an extension of Wacker Drive.”  James Simpson, the chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission, says, “The early construction of the remaining portion of the Wacker Drive extension will enable the outer drive to function to even greater traffic advantage because it will permit vehicles bound to and from the west side to use the wide streets that form the quadrangle, thereby avoiding congested loop streets.”  Contrast the two pictures above and you can see that the original plan, which was built, has changed dramatically since.

May 24, 1954 – The Illinois Supreme Court rules that Chicago may proceed with construction of its 96 million-dollar water filtration plant just north of Navy Pier. Near north side property owners are huddling to determine whether to ask for a rehearing or take the case against the city directly to the United States Supreme Court. In his opinion Judge Harry B. Hershey finds that the 85-acre filtration plant will not be an “unreasonable interference” to navigation and will not violate an 1891 series of contracts in which lake front property owners gave up their rights to submerged lands with the understanding that the park district would use the property for park purposes. The court finds that the property in question is beyond the 250 feet over which the park district has control. “. . . the reclamation of this submerged land and the construction of a filtration plant thereon can constitute no violation by the park district of its covenant with the property owners,” the court’s opinion states. [Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1954] In the above photo to the right of the long Municipal Pier, today's Navy Pier, extending out into the lake is the location of the site of the proposed water purification plant. It took nearly a half-dozen years of court battles to get the project finally prepared for take-off.  Thins have changed a bit since 1954 as the above two photos clearly show.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

May 23, 1897 -- Mayor Harrison Leads 6,000 Cyclists through City
May 23, 1897 --  Mayor Carter Harrison leads over 6,000 city cyclists, 3,200 of them representing 34 riding clubs, over the streets of the city.  Before him, clearing the way, are “a dozen husky policemen, who felt the awful responsibility that rested upon them riding with the eye of the Executive upon them.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 24, 1897].  The grand tour starts at Thirty-Fifth Street and Grand Boulevard, finally rolling to a stop at the Thistle Cycling Club House at Washington and Paulina Streets.  The only glitch comes when the keeper of the Rush Street Bridge turns the bridge just as the Delaware Club comes to the river … “So the Delawares stopped and said things to the bridge man, and spent their money for pink pop and other things, until they finally found their way across, and went pounding over to the West Side like a suburban fire company responding to a four-eleven.”  The mayor wears a suit of “somber brown,” with a Red Cross emblem on his arm as he rides with the Red Cross corps attired “in blue suits and wearing the red emblem,” attracting “the eyes of every one that had not been hypnotized by the fierce glances of the fat policemen in front.”  The tour starts at 11 minutes before 11:00, and the procession proceeds down Michigan Avenue “at a lively clip,” touring the North Side before heading back south with contingents still heading north passing riders heading south at Ohio and Rush Streets.  In an hour and 45 minutes it is over and at Union Park “several thousand people were going in several thousand directions, and everybody apparently trying to beat the best record, whatever it is, of a hungry man riding to a dinner.”   In 1896 the Chicago Daily Tribune observed, “Chicago is the bicycle center of the United States.” [Chicago Tribune, May 3, 2014]  In the half-dozen years from the early 1890's Chicago’s bicycle manufacturing had grown from four companies to 25.  The average cost of a bicycle was $75 (That would be $2,000 today}.  The manufacturers in the city were cranking out 250,000 bicycles a year.  Mayor Harrison even had a campaign picture taken on a bicycle in 1897, observing that in a city with 50 cycling clubs with 10,000 members the photograph “would carry weight with the vast army of Chicago Wheelmen.” Whether the photo helped or not, this would be the first of his five mayoral wins.  The above photo shows the Lakeview Cycling Club in the 1890’s in front of their clubhouse on Orchard Street.

May 23, 1913 – In another of a series of articles dealing with the “new slogan” for the city [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 23, 1913], “Where ‘We Will’ There’s a Way,” the Chicago Daily Tribune discusses the impact that the railroads have had upon the city.  Leading with a description of the business district, an area circumscribed by Chicago Avenue on the north, Sixteenth Street on the south, Halsted Street on the west, and the lake, the paper states, “Of this 2,140 acres the railroads own approximately 50 per cent, one-half of all downtown Chicago.  Something like 1,000 acres in the heart of the city are given up to railroad terminals and rights of way.” Taking one portion of that area, the paper veers toward the unimaginable, the development of the huge railroad freight yards south of the river, east of Michigan Avenue, and north of Randolph Street.  “By way of violent and impossible supposition,” the article states, “imagine that the eighty acres now occupied by the freight yards and houses could be thrown open to office and business buildings.  There would be plenty of sites out there on the lake shore which would offer almost unequaled opportunities for fresh air, sunlight, ventilation, and unobstructed views.” Of course, that development eventually did occur – over 60 years later in what is now Illinois Center and Lakeshore East.  The article also traces the impact the railroads have had on getting from place to place within the city.  Because of the blockade of railroad tracks, the article asserts, there are only four streets left, running form the center of the city to the west side, “on which any sort of retail business can be expected to develop as it overflows from the east side of the river.”  It is even worse on the south side of the city … “Running to the south from the business center there are only three streets possible for retail business and one of these, Michigan avenue, is already almost solidly filled with the salesrooms of a single line of trade [the automobile].”  The top photo shows the extent to which the rail yards dominated the South Loop in 1929 when the river's course was changed in a massive construction project.  The photo below that shows how dramatically things have changed, a change that continues with the development of land east of the river south of Van Buren Street and all the way to Roosevelt Road today.

May 23, 1959 – With a royal visit from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth coming on July 6, city officials are working feverishly to tidy up the city for Her Majesty.  This day brings news that an area one thousand feet south of the Chicago River and just east of Lake Shore Drive which has for more than 30 years been used to load thousands of tons of garbage onto railroad cars will be cleaned up.  “When the wind is right,” the Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “odors are wafted over Lake Shore drive and into Grant park, where the queen will enter Chicago” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 23, 1959] The shut-down of the operation on the lakefront is made possible by the completion of a new incineration plant at One-Hundred Third and Doty Avenue and a new system in which large trailer trucks are used to haul refuse to Lake Calumet.  The area shown in the photograph isn't far away from where Studio Gang's Vista Tower is being constructed today.

May 23, 1969 – Brink’s armed guards move all of the money and securities in the First National Bank of Chicago through a temporary underground tunnel and into the hands of waiting tellers in the bank’s new building on Monroe Street, between Dearborn and Clark. The whole operation takes less than 30 minutes. At the close of business on this Friday tellers are told to move to their spaces in the new building just to the east, where they find workers still installing bullet proof windows at their counters. The following Monday the new bank will open, and the process of tearing down the old one will begin.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

May 22, 1960 -- McCormick Court at Art Institute Dedicated
May 22, 1960 – Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicates the new Stanley McCormick Court at the Art Institute of Chicago on the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Drive. Mrs. Stanley McCormick, the donor, sits “quietly in the front row and declined to step into the spotlight of attention to accept the plaudits of the 125 governing life members, trustees, staff members, and other guests who attended the dedication.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 23, 1960].  McCormick dedicates the new garden and courtyard in honor of her late husband, the son of Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the mechanical reaper.  The court is a 42,000 square foot garden with an 80-foot by 30-foot pool and fountain. William McCormick Blair, president of the Art Institute’s Board of Trustees, calls the court “a significant addition to the landmarks of the city.”  McCormick Court today holds three significant sculptures:  "Large Interior Form" by Henry Moore; "Cubi VIII" by David Smith; and "Flying Dragon" by Alexander Calder.

May 22, 1963 – James H. Gately, Chicago Park District president, announces the details of a $60,000 dairy barn planned for the zoo in Lincoln Park.  Donated by a Chicago affiliate of the National Dairy Council, it will be the second of six buildings projected for the area south of the present zoo that will demonstrate the working of a midwestern farm.  Gately says that visitors will be able to watch cows being milked on a raised platform behind glass walls.  The first building in the project, the main barn, was underwritten by Walter Erman, the chairman of the Luria Steel and Trading Company, and his wife, Ida.

May 22, 1934 – Disaster occurs at the Oakley building, 143 West Austin Avenue, when a 40,000 gallon water tank on the top of the building falls through the roof and smashes through the core of the building to the first floor. Five workers inside the building are killed and another half-dozen seriously injured. One of the injured, Clyde Otto, who was hurt in the stampede for the fire escapes describes the event: “The walls began to shake all of a sudden and we heard a series of crashes – I guess it was the tank hitting the various floors. The girls began to scream and every one rushed for the fire escape.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, June 2, 1934] The last inspector to examine the tank was Daniel Hartford, who had approved it in January. Appearing before an inquest on June 1, he was asked how much he knew about the work he was doing. Hartford answered, “I didn’t know anything about it . . . I’m just the same as you or anybody else who might inspect it.” A few days later the city’s building commissioner says that of the 3,000 water tanks on city roofs the building department only has records for two-thirds of them. At least a thousand such tanks were built before 1919 when the state required that blueprints of the tanks be filed with the building department.

May 22, 1956 – Mayor Richard J. Daley says it might be a fine idea to have gondolas, “operated by experts from Venice,” [Chicago Daily Tribune May 23, 1956] on the Chicago River.  He added further that it would be great to see boys and girls fishing from the river banks.  Behind the message lies a motive – the mayor adds that for such pastimes to occur the federal government would need to permit an increased diversion of Lake Michigan water into the river, something that cities and states on the Great Lakes have fought for over four decades.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

May 21, 1895 -- Rush Street Stand-Off

May 21, 1895 – For more than an hour the Rush Street Bridge is out of commission, tying up river traffic so that “the whistles of steamers caught in the blockade were being continually sounded, and a pandemonium was kept up during the time.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 22, 1895].  Around 7:00 p.m. two ships, the Seneca and the Arthur Orr, each being maneuvered by a tug boat, enter the river at almost the same time. The captain on each ship apparently knows the destination of his counterpart – the Burlington docks at Sixteenth Street.  It is clear from the time the two ships enter the mouth of the river that the vessel that reaches the dock first will have the chance to tie up, leaving the other vessel to figure out a way to lay up for the night.  The vessels whistle for the Rush Street bridge to be rotated and the bridgetender on duty refuses to swing the bridge.  The ships cannot be stopped, and the Arthur Orr strikes the bridge in the south draw while the Seneca strikes the bridge in the north draw, the effect being that the bridge is prevented from turning until the boats can be backed out.  The captain of the Arthur Orr, in violation of marine laws that inbound vessels must take the north draw, refuses to back his ship from its position.  The captain of the Seneca, claiming the right-of-way, also refuses to reverse his vessel.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “A war of words resulted between the seamen and bridgtender, and there was considerable bad language used.”  To make matters worse, several heavy horse-drawn wagons and “many pedestrians” are on the bridge and are thrown one way as the Arthur Orr swings the bridge three feet out of position, then thrown in the opposite direction as the Seneca slams into the bridge, moving it back to its original position. The police show up to find Rush Street on both sides of the bridge blocked with vehicles and a dozen boats sounding their shrill steam whistles for the bridge to open.  The boats begin to pile up, one of them colliding with the Arthur Orr, which once again sends the ship into the bridge, once again moving it several feet.  The William H. Woolf and the Mable Bradshaw, approaching from the west come close to the opposite side of the bridge before they can be stopped, in effect blockading the bridge from the west.  The city’s Harbormaster is unable to convince the original two ships to move and even the deckhands start going after one another … “They called each other names and threats were made.”  Finally, at 8:20 p.m. the Seneca give ways and backs away from the bridge, and the chaos begins to lighten.  Fortunately, the bridge is not seriously damaged.  Just another day, a very noisy day, on a river that sees over 25,000 ships a year sailing in and out of its docks.  As the above photo, taken five years later, shows ... the bridge at Rush Street was an obstacle to be conquered.  Michigan Avenue, by the way is the street on the left of the photo.  

May 21 1863 – Item right after “Disgraceful” (“men and boys, by scores, violate not only the laws of decency and the ordinance of the city, but desecrate the Sabbath, by collecting in large numbers, and bathing in the Lake, on the Sabbath, all along the shore from the Light House to Huron street, thus making an indecent exposure of their persons to residents in the vicinity …”) [Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1863] and “A Ferocious Dog” (Yesterday morning, a demented lad, named James Small, aged about fourteen, was attacked by a large and savage dog, belonging to a butcher named John Lownzre, on Madison street at the foot of Franklin street”) … there it is: “Theatre—J. Wilkes Booth”.  The Tribune provides a glowing appraisal of the young actor’s skills, noting the improvement he has made since his Chicago debut a year earlier.  “In every part he plays,” the review states, “the auditor will perceive the marks of the student, and this being so, errors of judgment must be eradicated with time and experience.  Since his advent in Chicago, some eighteen months ago, no one who has attended his performances, can fail to see an improvement, and we predict ere he has attained his thirtieth year ... no one will ever regret having witnessed him in any of his characters.”  The first McVicker’s Theatre, on Madison Street between Dearborn and State, where John Wilkes Booth appeared, is pictured above.

May 21, 1919 – Jewish workers throughout the city, some 25,000 people in all, “in response to the notice carried throughout the Jewish resident and factory districts by word and handbill” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1919] gather at Twelfth and Robey Streets to form a column of marchers that will demonstrate against the treatment of Jews in Europe.  A speaker at the event, Clarence Darrow, says, “There should be more freedom over the world for the Jews.  The question of persecution of the Jews is an old one … We are forming a number of new nations; it should be written into their constitutions that they will enforce equal rights for all people.”  The protests focus especially on Poland, a country that the United States sees as a counterbalance to the influence of Russia in the period after World War I. In June of 1919 President Theodore Roosevelt will send a delegation to Poland headed by Henry Morgenthau, Sr. to investigate the reports of atrocities.  The report of the delegation comes in October of 1919 and provides details of eight major incidents in 1918 and 1919 in which violence occurs against Polish Jews.

May 21, 1973 -- The Chicago Tribune prints a report on the full plan to revitalize the central area of the city, a plan for which the Chicago Central Area Committee paid Skidmore, Owings and Merrill nearly $400,000 to draft. Today it is interesting to note what parts of the plan “made it” and what recommendations did not. The stakes were high. As the Tribune observes, “If it bombs, downtown Chicago may bomb, too.” The report puts into words what “white leaders don’t know how to talk about . . . without sounding like bigots.” Whites running from the city to the suburbs, which are becoming increasingly independent of the city. A “growing schizophrenia [skyscrapers and stores bustling by day, with little action at night] . . . changing the Loop. Blacks “still crowded into housing projects like Cabrini-Green” and the potential of a “tipping point where whites start staying away” from the city.
The 1973 SOM plan suggests "gradual modification" for projects such as Cabrini Green.

The above photo shows Cabrini Green as it sprawled across the northwest side of the city. 

Here are some of the recommendations that we can look on 43 years later and admire the prescience of the planners of the early 1970’s:

  Meigs Airport will be scrapped and Northerly Island, on which it stands converted to park, beach and picnic use.

  Navy Pier will be transformed into a lively recreational facility with restaurants, an auditorium, and exhibits.

  No further private construction will be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive. 

  A miniature supercity for 120,000 would be concentrated on 650 acres of largely unused railroad land, south of the Loop.

  Means would be found to encourage major development of the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust property along the north side of the river between St. Clair Street and the lakefront.

  Rehabilitation and stabilization – not clearance, or relocation – are stressed for the Pilsen and East Humboldt Park neighborhoods.

And here are a few that didn’t get done:

  A giant sports arena will be built south of the Loop within easy distance of the lakefront if not actually on it.

  Lake Shore Drive, where it runs along Grant Park, will be narrowed and left turns would be prohibited, forcing motorists heading for the central business district to park in new public lots on the Loop’s fringes and ride on a new subway or another form of public transportation.

  The Loop elevated will be torn down and replaced with a subway.   Once free of the elevated’s shadow, the east side of Wabash Avenue will be converted to a pedestrian-oriented shopping street.

  A personalized, automated rapid transit system might connect the “super blocks” of the South Loop to the center of the city over Illinois Central Gulf Railroad air rights.  A passenger would enter a small car, push a button on a map showing his destination, and zip away automatically.

And . . . a few that sort of got done:

  Traffic on State Street will be narrowed to four lanes for buses and taxis only. Autos will be banned.   Widened sidewalks with tr

ees and shrubs will form pleasant promenades.  (This one happened in an experiment that didn’t work and was reversed.)

  Gradual modification of Cabrini Green is proposed.  (It got modified down to bare ground.)

Monday, May 20, 2019

May 20, 1925 -- Lake Calumet Development Approved
May 20, 1925 – The Chicago City Council passes ordinances authorizing the Nickel Plate Railroad to begin construction of the first part of a $6,000,000 industrial harbor in Lake Calumet. The ordinance allows the railroad to build a belt line around the harbor, providing additional land for terminal purposes.  In return, the Nickel Plate is obligated to spend at least $600,000 to dredge a channel 200 feet wide with two turning basins in Lake Calumet.  The material dredged from this part of the operation will be used to build up additional land, which will then be leased or sold to industries seeking space near the harbor.  It is anticipated that the revenue that results will “provide the city with ample funds to complete other phases of the project.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1925]. The council session is prolonged by two controversies.  One involves the number of votes needed to pass the ordinances. Those in favor of the plans maintain that only a two-thirds majority, or 33 votes, is required.  Opponents maintain that State statutes governing the sale or lease of public property must be approved by a three-fourths vote, or 37 votes.  The bill passes 36-9.  The second issue involves several amendments offered to the bill by Thirty-Seventh Ward Alderman Wiley W. Mills.  The first amendment would delete from the ordinance provisions that exempted the railroad from special assessments for the construction of a 100-foot street around the harbor.  The second amendment calls for the railroad to bear the cost of carrying One Hundred Third Street over the railroad's main line.  The original bill stipulated that the city would pay half the cost.  The third amendment eliminates language which entitles the Nickel Plate reimbursement of its entire investment if it fails to complete the work according to contract terms and the city steps in to complete the project.  Mills says, “Something is being put over here that makes other things in recent years pale into insignificance.”  As can be seen in the above aerial view, the railroad maintains a presence in the area. Although the Nickel Plate is long gone, the Norfolk Southern Railroad uses its Calumet Yard as a classification facility with some intermodal business as well.  The bridge running across the top of the photo is that One Hundred Third Street Bridge Alderman Mills was referencing.  Neat to see the city’s skyline way back there on the horizon.

May 20, 1895 – The City Council takes another step in an effort to establish a lakefront park with the following order: “Whereas. The Second Regiment Armory and Battery D, located on the Lake-Front, between Madison and Washington streets, are being used for the benefit of private parties; and Whereas, It is important that these buildings be removed without delay; therefore, be it Ordered. That the Commissioner of Public Works is hereby directed to see that such buildings are removed at once.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1895] In debate over the resolution Alderman Madden observes that “the buildings were only used for dances, prize fights, dog shows, and bicycle races.” Alderman Coughlin counters that the city is using one of the buildings as a police station and a fire engine house and that “It was all very well to talk in time of peace, but when soldiers were wanted the Council gladly would accommodate the regiments controlling the armories.”  The bill passes by a vote of 51 to 10.  The armory can be seen in the above rendering on the far side of the massive Industrial Exposition Building, which was torn down to make way for the Art Institute of Chicago.

May 20, 1914 – The board of the South Park Commissioners authorizes its superintendent, J. F. Foster, to begin “at once” the first phase of Grant Park improvement by beautifying a strip of land west of the Illinois Central tracks between Jackson Boulevard and Randolph Street.  Foster says, “These plans will be worked out by our landscape architects and gardeners from the original complete Grant park plan submitted by Olmstead brothers of Boston.  The park will be beautified in units.  The second portion to be improved will be that west of the Illinois Central tracks and running south from Jackson boulevard to the proposed new Illinois Central terminal to be built south of Twelfth Street extended.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1914] The above photo, taken in July of 1914, shows Monroe Street as it crosses the Illinois Central tracks.  The Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago sits on the right side of the street today on the lake side of the railroad tracks.

May 20, 1965 – The Plaza of the Americas on the north side of the Wrigley building is opened, extending from the lot line on Michigan Avenue almost to Rush Street. This is the first of two great public spaces on Michigan avenue to be developed by private interests. Pioneer Court, jointly developed by the Tribune Company and the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, will open on the east side of the avenue in the upcoming month. The Plaza of the Americas is a joint undertaking of the Wrigley company and Apollo Savings and Loan Association of Chicago, which occupies the building just to the north of the Wrigley Building. That building is now the Realtor Building at 430 North Michigan Avenue. On this day in 1965 at 11:45 the flags of Chicago and the United States are raised, followed by the flags representing the nations of the Organization of American States. There is to be a pole set aside for the Cuban flag, but no flag will be raised. “It was decided that until Cuba becomes free, its flag would not be flown,” Edward P. Kelly, the chairman of Apollo Savings, says. [Chicago Tribune, May 16, 1965]

Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 1934 -- Stockyard Fire Burns Eight City Blocks
May 19, 1934 – A ferocious fire burns for more than four hours at the Union Stockyards on the city’s South Side.  Before it is brought under control it destroys eight city blocks – approximately 80 acres – and 1,200 people are injured.  Hundreds more lose their homes.  Nearly all of the buildings in an area bounded by Halsted, Emerald, Forty-First, and Forty-Second Street are destroyed, along with about a quarter of the pens and barns in the stockyards.  Over 2,200 firemen battle the flames in a fire that Mayor Edward Kelly says is “the worst fire Chicago has known since the great one of 1871.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1934].  Although firemen manage to save the great packing concern of Armour and Co., many landmarks in the stockyards are destroyed, including the International Amphitheater, the Stockyards Inn, the Saddle and Sirloin Club, Drovers National Bank, and the Livestock National Bank.  Six fire department pumpers are destroyed as they sit attached to hydrants.  It is believed that a carelessly tossed match or cigarette began the blaze, which quickly burned out of control due to winds of up to 60 miles-per-hour and a lack of rain during the spring.

May 19, 1862 –The first regular meeting of the newly elected Common Council is held, and the alderman get off to a big start.  Alderman Hoyt presents an ordinance regulating cows … “providing that no person should drive cows in herds to pasture, who lives east of Clark street on any street west of Clark street, and vice versa.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1862] From the looks of it this burg is becoming civilized, and Clark Street seems to be turning into a pretty big deal. 

May 19, 1893 -- The battle for the city’s lakefront, which continues to this day, commences as a judge issues a restraining order that prevents the city from leasing any part of the Lake-Front Park “to a circus or to any party or parties for any purpose except as a public park.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1893] Although the judge says that he will allow the circus to continue in the park until the end of its run on June 5, he orders that all other parties leasing space in the park must get the heck out. Elbridge Haney, attorney for Montgomery Ward and Co., says, “The city authorities have rented the property at ridiculously low figures to circuses and other shows. This year they have rented it for two weeks for $5,000. Then the city has for years maintained a yard for storing paving blocks, tar wagons, stones, old lumber, and all sorts of rubbish, and lately it proposes to add another objectionable building for stabling sixty garbage horses and wagons. Last Monday it commenced the erection of such a building, and I compelled the city to quit work as soon as I discovered it.” The battle over the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, pictured above, a plan that has now been abandoned, is just one more episode in a 125-year narrative about how best to use the city's lakefront.

May 19, 1908 – A plaster of paris model goes on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, showing landscape architect Frderick Law Olmsted’s vision for Grant Park. The Chicago Daily Tribune reports rapturously, “From the sooty network of railroad tracks and the malodorous wastes of mud and garbage, there will rise, according to the model, a magnificent plaza, beautiful buildings, broad meadows, great trees, swimming pools, boat houses, brilliant flower gardens, impressive boulevards and winding drives.  Above all, Chicago will regain its heritage, the lake, which will be bordered by high wooded banks, surmounted by promenades and drives.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1908] The focal point of the plan will be the Field Columbian museum, situated in the center of the park on Michigan Avenue, dwarfing the Art Institute’s building just to the north.  The plan locates the Crerar library to the south of the Field Museum, balancing the Art Institute to the north.  Other amenities include a gymnasium, natatorium, “a monster playground,” boat houses, restaurants, rest houses and “airy piazzas.”  The chairman of the South Park Commissioners, Henry G. Foreman, says of the plan, “Chicago has become so used to a front yard filled with smoke, and cinders, and railroad tracks, and ugly freight cars, and mud, and refuse, that any plan to change it seems to many people a mere dream.  It is hard to wake people up to the fact that we not only have great opportunities, but that we are making the most of them, and soon will have adjoining the loop a great and beautiful park.”