Thursday, October 24, 2019

October 24, 1929 -- Lakefront Amendments Determine Illinois Central Development

October 24, 1929 – The Chicago City Council passes a set of amendments to the 1919 Lake Front Ordinance that will allow the development of air rights over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks east of Michigan Avenue and north of Randilph Street while allowing the construction of a system of elevated streets that will lead to the proposed outer drive bridge across the river.  Passage of the amendments, which have been circulating among council members since May, allows the start-up of construction on a new Randolph Street suburban station for the railroad along with a 128-foot wide viaduct that will extend Randolph Street to the east.  Also anticipated is the extension of Wacker Drive east along the south bank of the river, and the elevated extension of Lake Street and South Water Street to a point beyond where Columbus Drive runs today.  The above photo illustrates what the area looked like in the early 1920's.  

October 24, 1961 – Three teams of city inspectors, a total of 15 men, begin investigating conditions in tenement buildings along North Clark Street.  In the first five buildings the inspectors cite close to 500 building and fire violations. The crackdown is a result of a Chicago Tribune investigation of the area as well as a call from the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association to clean up the street.  One building, at 727-31 North Clark Street, houses 60 people in 40 units and is cited for 192 violations in wiring, plumbing, and fire safety requirements. John Jung, the assistant chief of inspections for the building department, says his inspectors “found numerous violations that could turn any of the buildings into blazing coffins for their occupants.” [Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1961] The top photo shows the building at 519-521 North Clark Street at the time the inspections were taking place.  The photo below that shows the corner as it appears today.

October 24, 2006 – An afternoon fire breaks out in the Wirt Dexter Building at 630 South Wabash Avenue, and before the sun comes up the following morning, the second Louis Sullivan building to be lost in the year lies in ruins.  Later it is revealed that scrap dealers cutting up a boiler in the basement spark the fire that brings over 250 firefighters to the scene. The building was commissioned by Chicago lawyer Wirt Dexter and according to Chicago’s Landmark Commission, “The building's unornamented design is a precursor to the firm's work on the Auditorium Building and the use of a cast-iron structural system permits larger window openings than would have been possible through the use of masonry alone. The distinctive, perforated, cast-iron beams on the rear facade, for example, anticipate building design of nearly seven decades later.” As a result of the five-alarm fire all classes at Columbia College are cancelled at its nearby buildings, Loop elevated service is suspended, and Harrison Street and Balbo Avenue are closed, as are State Street and Wabash from Harrison to Balbo.  This wasn’t the last Louis Sullivan structure that fire would claim in 2006 … on November 4 the George Harvey house in Lakeview would be gutted by fire as well.  I, me, this writer was particularly saddened to see the Wirt Dexter building fall.  On its ground floor George Diamond’s Steakhouse opened in the 1950’s with “its flaming red carpet and velvet paintings in a dining room that seated 600.” [Chicago Tribune, October 26, 2006] It was somewhere in that cavern of a restaurant on Wabash, after the gigantic wedge of salad and the steak dinner, that 47 years ago I proposed to the woman who would become my wife.  The Wirt Dexter building is shown in the above photos, before and after.

October 24, 1943 – I would imagine the folks residing at 1006 North Sheridan Road in Highland Park are darned surprised when a six-foot long rocket streams out of the Sunday sky and buries itself four feet into the lawn of their home.  The mystery is solved a couple days later when Army officers at Fort Sheridan confirm what the family already knows – there is, indeed, a rocket in their yard.  After investigating, U.S. Army officials explain that the 30-pound device is used during anti-aircraft gunnery practice at neighboring Fort Sheridan.  The rocket had a bent fin, and as it screamed over the lake at speeds between 300 and 400 miles per hour, that defect threw it off course.  Police estimate that if the rocket had hit the house directly it would have penetrated the home from the roof to the basement.

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