January 21, 1993 – A short item appears on this date in the Chicago Tribune, reporting that a Denver-based firm has completed plans to lease “a 27-acre site in an often-forgotten area and transform it into a nine-hole golf course, a driving range, a park and a jogging track.” [Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1993] The area to be transformed, “a huge lot covered only by weeds, trees and rubble”, lies west of Lake Shore Drive and south of the Chicago River. The Chicago Plan Commission approves the plan on this date, a plan which a city analysis describes as providing “an immediate, economically viable and attractive use of this vacant and unattractive land area on Chicago’s lakefront.” This is intended to be a temporary “fix,” something to wring capital out of a section of the Illinois Center development that has been stalled during a national recessionary period. A spokesman for Metropolitan Structures, the owner of the property, says, that ultimately “there won’t be a golf course here and there won’t be a driving range here,” adding that the leasing of the property “is a recognition of the difficulty that the real estate industry finds itself in and, to some extent, the economy in general.” A Pete Dye-designed nine-hole golf course opens on the site in 1994, Metro Golf, and lasts for seven years. Although it beckoned drivers passing on Lake Shore Drive, a golfer really, really would have wanted to play a Par-3 course to negotiate the tangled underground synapses of the road system in the three-level area south of the river. The course closed down in 2001. That year the new developer, Magellan Development Group, LLC, commissioned Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to complete a master plan for the site. According to SOM’s website, “Rather than focusing outward, SOM’s plan places a six-acre park in the center of the development and surrounds it with mixed-use buildings, including high-rises that will house 15,000 residents. This configuration results in walkable urban blocks while also establishing connections between the district’s open space and nearby public amenities such as the Chicago Riverwalk and lakefront parks. Moreover, changes in grade enable the creation of a grand staircase and terraces with panoramic views.” [som.com/projects] The top photo shows the golf course, built on a former Illinois Central Railroad freight yard. The second photo depicts the area when it is built out in the next few years.
January 21, 1992 – In an attempt to “put the best possible face on the specter of open land in what was once one of America’s most thriving commercial and retail strips” [Chicago Tribune, January 22, 1992] Mayor Richard M. Daley officially opens a 75-foot by 125-foot ice rink on the site known as Block 37. The rink will charge no admission and will be open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. while weather permits. At the opening ceremony 1948 Olympic gold medalist Barbara Ann Scott invites spectators “to skip lunch and spend an hour skating instead.” The mayor forgoes a run around the ice, saying, “… can you imagine the mayor going out there and falling down?” Three years earlier the city leveled a square block of buildings on the site with the exception of a Commonwealth Edison substation and then sold the title to developers for $12.5 million. The development plan, which consisted of two towers and a large retail mall similar to Water Tower Place on North Michigan Avenue, crashed and burned in the huge real estate downturn of the early 1990’s. Finally, in 2005 the development of the site began, leading to the present mixed-use block of retail, residential and office space. The two pictures are an interesting before and after look at the site. The black and white photo looks east from Dearborn Street. The second photo looks west from State Street.
January 21, 1992 – The first details of a $150 million effort to create a new recreation center at Navy Pier are unveiled, showcasing “a glass-walled indoor park of palm trees, gazebos and fountains, dubbed the Crystal Gardens, and a three-story pavilion which will become the permanent home of the Chicago Children’s Museum.” [Chicago Tribune, January 22, 1992] Officials are particularly excited about the Children’s Museum. The chairman of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority board, John Schmidt, says, “The Children’s Museum is very important because it’s an anchor. It really sets a tone for the pier. It’s a core of people and activities.” Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is at the pier when the plans are announced, says that Navy Pier will become “a major center for family and recreational activity.” As the photo above shows, before summer was over the long freight sheds between the pier's head house and Grand Ballroom on the east end would be gone and work on the new incarnation of the pier was beginning.
January 21, 1963 -- Both the inbound and outbound Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee trains are delayed as they begin their last runs. Engineer William Livings, with 50 people onboard, operates the final train into Roosevelt Station on the electric line that began as a Milwaukee street railroad in 1891. 170 people ride on the six cars of the last train north, the majority of them sailors returning to the Great Lakes Naval base. The line has operated at a deficit for over half of its existence, but the combination of new superhighways and the increase in commuting by car spell the end for the little electric line. For more on the railroad visit http://www.connectingthewindycity.com/…/chicago-look-back-a…
January 21, 1900 – With the impending demolition of the Rock Island railroad station at Van Buren Street and Pacific Avenue, the Chicago Daily Tribune provides a look at the oldest train station in the city, a place that pre-dates the Chicago fire of 1871. The Rock Island was the second railroad to enter the city, following the Chicago and Galena closely, and its first station was an “old whitewashed barn” in the same location as the station scheduled for destruction. On October 7, 1871 as the great fire began to consume the city, the president of the Rock Island, stayed at the station until the end, locking all of the railroad’s papers in the station’s big vault. Although the building was gutted, the papers survived intact. The Rock Island’s Superintendent of Telegraph, who had been with the railroad since 1849, reminisces in the article about the old days of railroading in the city, “When we first ran in here we used an old barn for a depot … across the street, where the Rialto and Board of Trade Buildings now are, was vacant ground. Our company had a track run across Van Buren street, and we switched our cars half-way down to Jackson boulevard … at that time the Stock-Yards were located at Michigan avenue and Twenty-second street, and all our stock trains were switched over there.” Times changed, though, and it was no longer practical, from a logistical or a financial point of view, to keep a station in the heart of the Loop. The article concludes with this thought, “Chicago is so big now, they say, that there is nothing particular to be gained by having terminals in the congested down-town districts. In fact, many of the old-time railroad agents are of the opinion that union stations farther out would now be better for the city and good for the public.”