Monday, January 13, 2020

January 13, 1922 -- Wacker Drive, Still Unnamed, Gets Approval
January 13, 1922 – A four-man delegation calls on Mayor William Hale Thompson, and by the end of the meeting it has secured the go-ahead to begin the widening and double-decking of South Water Street, a project estimated to cost $20,000,000 (over $300,000,000 in today’s dollars).  The decision to move forward with the project has been continually delayed since November of 1917 when the Chicago Plan Commission approved the project.  The delegation includes Charles H. Wacker, the chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission; James Simpson, vice-president of Marshall Field and Company; Frank I. Bennett, the former Commissioner of Public Works; and former City Controller Walter Wilson.  The project will create an east-west boulevard, 110 feet in width, running along the river and connecting Michigan Boulevard with Washington Boulevard.   The road will have a lower level that is 135 feet wide, connecting the Illinois Central freight yards between Michigan Avenue and the lake with the west side of the Loop.  Building the road will bring about the end of the old South Water Street market, a wholesale produce market that is almost as old as the city itself, a space which brings in $350,000,000 annually (over $5 billion in today’s dollars).  It will also require the razing of all the buildings between that market and the river.  Shedding no tears over the loss of South Water Street’s vendors, Wacker says, “South Water street is a burdensome charge on the people of Chicago.  It is an economic waste, a drawback to progress, and obstruction to the city’s development, insanitary, a cause of congestion, and a constant conflagration danger to the loop.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 14, 1922]  The project is shy of its financial goal by about $17,000,000.  A $3,000,000 bond issue was passed in 1919, and it is expected that a $7,000,000 bond issue will be taken to voters within two years.  It is proposed that the rest of the construction cost be raised through special assessments.  It appears that “… property owners of much downtown realty … are convinced that the improvement must come, and that the longer it is delayed the greater will be the cost.”   The proposed boulevard is today's Wacker Drive, named after the man who led the delegation to the mayor's office.  In the above photo the project moves forward.
January 13, 1913 – A “syndicate of State Street merchants” [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 14, 1913] pays $1,300,000 (about $19,000,000 in today's dollars) for the Montgomery Ward headquarters building at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, ending Ward’s presence on Michigan Avenue and his role as the “watchdog of the lake front.”  William C. Thorne, the company’s vice-president, says, “It was company property, not the property of Mr. Ward individually.  The sale should hardly be a surprise so far as it marks the passing of Mr. Ward as the ‘lake front watchdog,’ for he is in advancing years and is withdrawing from active affairs rapidly.”  The sale of the tower is the last of three property transfers by the company since August, covering property along Michigan Avenue from Madison to Washington.  In August property at 12-22 North Michigan Avenue was sold for $1,295,000. A month later a group headed up by architect Jarvis Hunt purchased property at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street for $1,100,000.  Designed by the architectural firm of Schmidt, Garden and Martin, the latest sale is of a tower that was the tallest building in the city when it opened in 1899. The 12-story building originally had a ten-story tower topped by a three-story pyramidal roof, a temple and a 22.5-foot statute, The Spirit of Progress, but the top section of the building was demolished in 1947.  Today it sits toward the north end of the city’s Historic Michigan Boulevard District and has been converted into a residential building.  The original tower at 6 North Michigan Avenue is shown in the black and white photo.  A truncated version of the tower is shown in the present-day condominium building below that.

January 13, 1961 – Chief Judge William J. Campbell of the Federal District Court and John W. Chapman, Jr., the head of the Chicago offices of the General Services Administration, pry a brick from the wall of the Great Northern Theater at 26 West Jackson Boulevard, signaling the beginning of demolition work that will clear the site for a new 30-story federal building.  The 30-story courthouse, with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the lead designer, directing a team of Chicago architecture firms that included Schmidt, Garden and Erickson, A. Epstein and Sons, and C. F. Murphy Associates, will be finished in 1964. It will be the first of three federal buildings to sit on a two-block site east and west of Dearborn Street and between Jackson Boulevard and Adams Street on the north and south. The Great Northern Theater is shown in the black and white photo above.  The Great Northern Hotel on the left side of the photo was designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root and opened in 1892.  It was demolished in 1940.  The office building and theater on the right were designed after John Root's death.  While they stood, the two buildings enclosed the largest interior court in the city.  The Dirksen Federal Courthouse, which stands on the site today, is shown in the second photo.

January 13, 1890 -- The Chicago Daily Tribune continues its crusade against the conditions on the Chicago River, especially the area we know today as Bubbly Creek.  The paper reports, “There is no perceptible current in it, and for fifteen years, it is claimed, the refuse from the packing houses has been accumulating in it.   In summertime silver coin in the pockets of tugmen turns black as the tugs plow through the mass of decaying matter…a novice who takes a tug ride to the South Fork for the fun of the thing never takes another.  If he recovers from the first trip in a week and can smell clean again he is extremely lucky.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 13, 1890]   Some aldermen propose doing nothing, saying that the area around the South Fork is mostly occupied by glue factories, rendering plants, and slaughterhouses.  Says one alderman, “Why not let the South Fork, with its awful filth, alone?  No one scarcely, except the people who are responsible for the filth, is near the South Fork.”  The problem, though, is that under the right conditions – a heavy rainstorm or rapid snow melt – the whole mess overflows into the river and is carried to the lake.  In July of the preceding summer, after a particularly violent storm, a steamship captain reported that he could trace the mess from the South Fork to the breakwater and from there to a half-mile beyond the intake crib that provided the city with fresh, clean water.  What to do?  One plan is to allow the packers to continue dumping their stinking brew into the South Fork if they agree to pay for pumping works to send the mess away from the city and into the I and M Canal.  The paper takes the simplicity of the plan to task for two reasons: (1) that this solution would mean “that the people of the Illinois River Valley must endure what Chicago gets rid of”; and (2) “if the packers are allowed to use the canal for this refuse the city will be crowded out from sending its legitimate sewage that way, and would be compelled to go to an extremely heavy expense in straightening out the Desplaines River and dredging the Ogden Ditch.”  Without parsing the difference between “legitimate sewage” and “illegitimate sewage”, it will be ten years before one of the great engineering projects in United States history sees the river reversed and sent westward away from the lake and the city’s drinking water. Not even that great project, though, will make a difference to the terrible toxic soup that was the South Fork.

January 13, 1941 -- In a meeting of 100 civic and industrial leaders at the Chicago Club, the inauguration of a $3 million development program by the Illinois Institute of Technology is announced. With an enrollment of 7,000 students, the largest engineering school in the country had been formed just six months earlier with the merger of Lewis Institute of Arts and Sciences with the Armour Institute. At the gathering Wilfred Sykes of Inland Steel makes it clear that the city's continuing development depends on its having a great engineering school, saying, "Over 20,000 engineers are employed in the Chicago industrial area. The increase in the rate of employment of engineers in Chicago exceeds that of any other city in the United States, and the number of engineers in Chicago in comparison to the total number of industrial workers exceeds that of any other city."

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