Friday, January 3, 2020

January 3, 1945 -- Illinois and Michigan Canal Expressway Planning Begins
January 3, 1945 – The first bill introduced in the new session of the Illinois House of Representatives passes, legislation that creates a special commission to facilitate action on turning the abandoned Illinois and Michigan Canal into a super-highway into Chicago.  A similar bill, introduced in the Illinois Senate by Minority Leader Richard J. Daley, advances to a second reading.  It stipulates that “The commission shall make a study of the Illinois and Michigan canal with particular reference to obtaining information as to what national and state legislation and other steps would be necessary to change the physical properties of the canal so that they would serve a more useful purpose.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 4, 1945]  The two bills differ in the make-up of the committee and in the amount of money that is allocated for it to carry out its mandate.  Such a highway was first proposed in the Chicago Plan of 1909, and when the main post office building was finished in the early 1930’s, it was purposely built with a large hole in its middle to allow a highway to run through it.  In 1949 construction began on the highway that would eventually be named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, and it would continue until 1961, a project that cost $183 million and displace an estimated 13,000 people while shuttering more than 400 businesses.  The above photo shows the right-of-way for the new highway taking shape as it approaches downtown in a view taken from the main post office.

January 3, 1890 –  Mayor Dewitt Clinton Cregier, members of the City Council’s Finance Committee, two newly-elected Drainage Board commissioners, and the Secretary of the State Board of Health take a trip down the South Branch of the river.  Starting at 11:00 a.m. at La Salle Street, they head for the South Fork where they find “water … so thick that the tug had hard work to push through it.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 3, 1890]  “From glue factories and slaughter houses filth was coming out in great streams [with] a stench that was revolting.”  The tug lands its passengers at the Bridgeport pumping works “… after the party had stood it as long as it could.”  At the pumping works an impromptu conference is held in which it is agreed that something must be done about the condition of the South Branch of the river – that “with the river in its present state every time it rains three inches in twenty-four hours you are going to have this mass of awful filth swept out into the lake to pollute your water supply.”  One solution to which the officials turn is pumping water directly from the West Fork of the South Branch into the DesPlaines River through the Ogden Ditch, which in some places is only two feet deep.  This plan would require extensive dredging.  Eagerness at finding a solution is tempered when an official from Joliet enters the conversation, saying, “The people of this valley have a grievance against Chicago.  At times the whole valley is filled with the stench of your sewage.  People cannot raise the window of their homes at night because of the smell.  Can Chicago afford to continue this affliction if a way can be found to avert it?”  The day ends back at La Salle Street with little agreement – “… no two had the same scheme in mind to meet the protest of the State Board of Health.”  Mayor Cregier did little to tip his hand.  “I haven’t anything to say.  I am here as a listener,” he said.

January 3, 1945 – The Chicago Daily Tribune, noting the renewed effort of Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly to save the Auditorium Theatre, editorializes in favor of the effort.  “Its proportions are noble,” the paper writes. “Its acoustics are incomparably good.  Its loss would mean the loss to Chicago and the world of an authentic masterpiece of architecture.  [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 3, 1945] Opened in 1889 as a combination hotel, office building and performance space, back taxes threatened the complex although it is believed that the sale of the hotel and office building could at least pay off the debt.  The theater itself has no hope of doing that.  The Tribune gets behind a plan to have a not-for-profit entity assume control over the theater, giving it “the same kind of tax exemption that goes to the Art Institute, and the various universities and museums.” In 1946 Roosevelt University stepped up and assumed responsibility for the building.  The theater would remain shuttered for nearly two decades, though, until in 1963 Mrs. Beatrice Spachner founded the Auditorium Theatre Council which raised three million dollars to renovate the structure. Under the renovation genius of architect Harry Weese, the gem on Congress opened on October 31, 1967 with the New York City Ballet’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  The above photo shows the Auditorium in 1945, with its front rows and stage converted into a bowling alley as part of a Servicemen’s Center that provided a welcoming place for over 2.2 million servicemen during the war years.

January 3, 1928 --  Samuel Insull comes closer to his dream of helping the city build a new home for the Chicago Civic Opera, completing a transaction that gives him control of an entire block of the Loop, bounded by Madison Street on the south, the river on the west, Wacker Drive (Market Street at the time) on the east and Washington Boulevard on the north.  On this date the purchase of the southeast corner of the property, the piece necessary to complete the plan, is filed with the recorder of deeds.  Plans are to create an opera house that has about the same amount of space as the 1889 Auditorium Theater’s performance space with a modern office tower rising above it.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “Plans for the building are being somewhat hampered … because of the difficulty of harmonizing the office building and the opera house into one beautiful building.  However, Architect Ernest R. Graham said he is confident of planning a structure at once sightly and with profitable renting space.”  Just 22 months later the new Civic Opera Building would open with Rosa Raisa playing the title role in Aida.  For more information on opening night, please follow this link.  The above photo shows the Civic Opera Building rising quickly in February of 1929.

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