September 11, 1937 – The world champion backstroke swimmer from the Lake Shore Athletic Club, Adolph Kiefer, wins the twenty-third Illinois Athletic Club’s Chicago River marathon swim. He covers the 2.75-mile course in 47 minutes and 51 seconds, finishing 35 yards ahead of a swimmer from Buffalo, New York. Kiefer enters the race less than 30 minutes before it is due to begin and holds the lead for the entire swim, from its start in the lake just off Van Buren Street to its finish at the Wells Street bridge. In 1935 Kiefer became the first person to break a minute in the 100-yard backstroke when he was just a 16-year-old Illinois high schooler. The time he posted in the Illinois High School Championships in 1936 lasted for another 24 years. In that same year he represented the United Sates in the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, setting a record in the 100-meter backstroke in the preliminary heat, the second-round heat, and the final. That record stood for another 20 years. In the over 2000 races of his career, Kiefer lost only twice. He joined the United States Navy in late 1943 and in short order was put in charge of training over 13,000 Navy swim instructors in a program that ultimately trained two million recruits. After he left the service, he established Adolph Kiefer and Associates in Chicago which specialized in starting blocks, lane lines, lifeguard safety equipment and apparel. It was Kiefer’s company that marketed the first nylon competition swimming suit in 1948. He paid the city back for his success, working with Mayor Richard J. Daley to build swimming pools in the inner city, giving thousands of young people the chance to learn to swim.
September 11, 1981 – Under the heading, “Chicago’s river worse than it looks,” the Chicago Tribune’s lead reports, “The Chicago River is so heavily polluted with chemical poisons in some places that the river bottom is classified as ‘hazardous waste.’” [Chicago Tribune, September 11, 1981] The article goes on to report that the United States Army Corps of Engineers, while sampling the river bottom preparatory to dredging the river, has discovered that “the mud and muck are tainted with chemicals that are just waiting to be stirred up, like a venomous snake coiled to strike.” As a result, the Corps has delayed the dredging operation. The problem is the worst on the North Branch of the river where concentrations of PCB were found as high as 110 parts per million. Any concentration over 50 parts per million is considered hazardous waste. Rick Watson, an environmental engineer with the Corps, says, “We can’t dredge because we don’t have a disposal area that is environmentally acceptable … River quality depends on river use. If it is used by heavy industry and boat traffic, you will get only a certain quality. It is unreasonable to expect it to return to its natural state. That’s the price of civilization.”
September 11, 1963 – The city council “after more than three hours of heated debate” [Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1963] passes an open housing ordinance by a vote of 30 to 16. The ordinance bans discrimination by real estate agents, prohibiting them “from discriminating in the sale, rental, or leasing of property of race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry.” A “block busting” section of the ordinance makes it unlawful to “solicit for sale, lease or listing any property on the contention that loss of property value may result because of entry into the area of persons of another race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry.” The Chicago Real Estate board goes on record as saying it will take the issue to the courts. The board’s president, Percy Wagner, says, “We’re going to proceed legally but firmly. The time has come when we shall have to take a position of political action. This does not mean we will take political sides, but we will do all we can to protect property rights.” Shortly before the vote Third Ward alderman Ralph Metcalfe says before the council, “This ordinance … means that people who have the means and good will can move where they want to. This is a first step. It is not the ultimate. The world will not come to an end. But Chicago today is at the crossroads, and we must support something that is morally right or go backward.” Outside City Hall thousands of people march against the ordinance. “The throng,” reports the Tribune, “composed mostly of housewives, formed close lines four and six abreast and encircled the building in a moving, chanting surge. They waved their placards bearing such slogans as ‘What has happened to our constitutional rights?’ and “We are opposed to open occupancy.’” Alderman Metcalfe, the winner of four Olympic gold medals and the fastest man on earth in 1934 and 1935, is pictured above.
September 11, 1954 – Three years after the two 26-floor residential buildings at 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive are completed, the developers, Herbert S. Greenwald and Samuel N. Katzin, reveal that they have acquired the block just north of those towers, a lot bordered by Lake Shore Drive, Walton Street, DeWitt Place, and Delaware Place. The Chicago Tribune reports that the next project will be similar to the twin towers just to the south although “the new structures will be more conservative in use of wall materials than the ‘860’ towers.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, September 12, 1954]