Tuesday, September 24, 2019

September 24, 1966 -- Illinois Center Planning Begins in Earnest

September 24, 1966 – A top city planner, Louis Wetmore, says that the drafting of a master plan for the 16 blocks of air rights over the Illinois Central railroad property between Randolph Street and the Chicago River will be “the first major step before construction can be started.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1986]  Wetmore observes that much of the preliminary planning has been done as the result of the adjudication over the preceding eight years of the legality of the railroad’s claim to air rights ownership.  The legal challenge ended on the preceding day when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of the railroad.  Wetmore says that a master plan for the I. C. air rights between Randolph and the river would be just part of a larger plan that includes 77 acres owned by the Chicago Dock and Canal Company and bounded by St. Clair Street, Grand Avenue, and Streeter Drive, just to the east of Lake Shore Drive.  Preliminary plans for the 16 blocks south of the river specify “decking” the area with three levels.  The lower deck, which will rise at least 18 feet above the Illinois Central tracks will be for trucks.  The second deck will be for automobiles and underground pedestrian walkways, and the upper deck will be for plazas and pedestrian use.  The three development companies with options on the property look at a total expenditure of nearly $1 billion before the project is brought to completion in 20 years.  Bernard Weissbourd, the president of Metropolitan Structures, one of the developers, says, “We intend to give the city and the other developers our fullest cooperation, for we believe that this area promises to become one of the most magnificent places in the world.”  The top photo shows the area when planning for development first began before the Second World War.  The second photo shows the area as it appears today.  Times have changed.

September 24, 1907 – Title is filed for property on Wentworth Avenue between Thirty-Fourth and Thirty-Fifth Street, land that will be used to build an armory for the Seventh Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.  Architect W. Carbys Zimmerman will draw up the plans for the structure. The basement will contain a rifle range, bowwling alleys and a swimming pool.  There will be two large areas for assemblages, one that will hold 2,000 people and another on the lower level that will accommodate 1,000. When completed the armory will surpass these projections.  For $500,000 the city got a building capable of holding 15,000 people.  In 1908 it hosted the Republican National Convention and later that year Eugene V. Debs, the socialist candidate for President, also spoke to large crowds there.  You won’t find the armory there today.  The site is the north parking lot complex for Guaranteed Rate Field. The above photo is an interesting one … it shows spectators watching the White Sox play the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series from the rooftop of the armory just to the north.  Note the “7” on the tower from which viewers take in the game. 

September 24, 1966 – Shortly after the Illinois Supreme Court finds that the Illinois Central Railroad holds full rights of ownership to 186 acres east of Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street to the river, the Chicago Tribune runs an editorial, entitled “A Whole New City on Our Doorstep,” proclaiming that the opportunity with which Chicago has been presented, “comes rarely to a big city, and it should not be missed.” [Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1966] The editorial notes that the development “will require major street improvements. Lake Shore drive must be rebuilt to eliminate the two sharp turns. Wacker drive must be extended east from Michigan avenue in two levels.  A new bridge across the Chicago river will be needed. “Wise planning for the area should include connections with the projected downtown subways for rapid transit trains.”  Despite the work needed, the piece is forceful in the warning contained in its conclusion, “City officials should not delay their part of this program until the private developers become discouraged.”  The photo above captures the area of Illinois Center where the Hyatt Hotel stands today.   

September 24, 1954 – With the decision to move to the suburbs, the Butler Brothers Catalog Company announces the appointment of Hogan and Farwell, Inc., a Chicago realty firm, as the leasing agent to develop the Butler building on the northeast corner of Canal and Randolph Streets.  The building has close to one million square feet of floor space with the Prudential Insurance Company of America leasing the tenth and eleventh floors and the United States government holding short-term leases for the Social Security board and the Air Force.   George and Edward Butler founded their mail-order company in Boston in 1877, opening a Chicago warehouse two years later.  By 1910 over a thousand people worked in its Chicago operation.  The 1922 warehouse, originally designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, is today Randolph Place Condos with 340 loft apartments.  The photo above shows the complex in 1950.

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