Wednesday, February 12, 2020

February 12, 1953 -- C.T.A. Office Building with Long History Closes


February 12, 1953 – The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the 1890 powerhouse for the West Chicago Street Railway Company at 600 Washington Boulevard has reached the end of the line.  Although it had not been used to move cable or trolley cars since the first decade of the twentieth century, it held offices for the Chicago Transit Authority until that agency decided to consolidate operations by moving the building’s 150 claims department employees and 15 lawyers to the Merchandise Mart.  The three-story building had no floors when it was constructed because the wheel that operated the cable responsible for moving the cable cars on the Milwaukee Avenue Line stood three stories high.  Six boilers created steam that powered the huge wheel that powered cars.  The walls of the building were designed to be nearly three feet thick in order to withstand the tremendous vibration of the wheel and the cable that went up from the basement to the street at the corner of Jefferson and Washington.  Sometime around 1905 the cable car era came to an end, and the great wheel on Washington Street stopped turning.  It was eventually dismantled, and floors were built within the structure so that it could be used for office space.  After the C.T.A.’s claims department left the building, it served for a number of years as the headquarters for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134.  The union left the building sometime after 2016 upon purchasing the former Drake Elementary School on Dr. Maritn Luther King Boulevard.  S. C. Johnson, the Racine, Wisconsin manufacturer of household products, bought the building from the I.B.E.W. to provide space for the 175 jobs it planned to move to the city.

February 12, 1955 – Authorities begin an investigation into the fire that kills 29 men and injures over a dozen more at the Barton Hotel.  It is estimated that 245 men are asleep in the hotel, located on four floors above the Standard Store Fixture Company at 644-48 West Madison Street.  Many of the victims are down-and-out men who are trapped in “cagelike rooms” that they have rented for 60 to 85 cents a night.  [Chicago Tribune, February 13, 1955] The Tribune describes the sleeping accommodations as “cubicles four feet wide, six feet long, and seven feet high.  The bunks were separated by corrugated iron sheets and each was covered at the top by meshed chicken wire.  An aisle ran between each two rows of cubicles.”  The fire starts just after midnight on the second floor, and flames quickly spread to the upper floors, engulfing the building as men, blinded and choked by thick smoke, run, screaming, toward exits.  Firemen are hampered by temperatures close to zero, and three of them are injured in the desperate attempt to rescue victims.  The hotel maintenance man, Tony Dykes, says, “About 2 a.m. I heard someone in the back of the hotel holler: ‘Fire!’ … I heard the alarm go off in the hotel and then the lights went out.  I went back toward room 137 to see what I could do, but the smoke was so thick I had to give up.”

February 12, 1949 -- A spokesman for the North Central association charges that construction of a huge water filtration plant on 55 acres north of Navy Pier would cause property values on the near north side to plummet. Frederick M. Bowes, vice president of the association, says that if the city attempts to build the plant it would be in violation of a contract signed by the former Lincoln Park board when riparian rights were obtained for the construction of what is now the inner drive, and he promises that the association will fight in the courts to have the project stopped. Harry L. Wells, the business manager for Northwestern University, which controls a significant chunk of land in the area (and still does), says, "We'd like to see a fine territory developed around the university. When you start putting a filtration plant there it isn't going go be that kind of territory." The purification plant was tied up in court for years, but it finally opened in 1968 as the James W. Jardine Water Purification Plant in the exact spot on which it was originally proposed.

Chicago Daily Tribune
February 12, 1938 – Mayor Edward Kelly announces that he is considering a proposal to convert the Lake Street elevated line into a superhighway, using a $10,000,000 loan from the federal government. Kelly says, “Proponents point out that with a federal loan construction on this Lake street job might be started promptly … A toll of 10 cents per passenger car and perhaps 3 cents from each bus fare would probably be sufficient to make a federal loan self-liquidating.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 13, 1938]  In a November 22, 1937 report city engineers wrote that the Lake Street elevated structure could be converted into a four-lane elevated highway from the Chicago River to a point three-quarters of a mile from the western city limits for $6,750,000.  The price included entrance and exit ramps at the western end of the highway and a terminal at Wacker Drive and Washington Street.  Engineers also estimate that a six-lane elevated highway could be built on Randolph Street, connecting with Lake Street at Union Park just east of Ashland Avenue, for approximately $3,250,000.  A key feature of the plan is that, unlike the Congress Street highway plan, which requires an expenditure of over $17,000,000 for land and acquisition and the razing of buildings, a Lake Street toll road would require no additional land acquisition for its right of way.  It is probably a good thing this one didn't get done.

February 12, 1893 – The Chicago Daily Tribune runs a long feature article on sculptor Philip Martiny.  We don’t hear a whole lot about the guy today, but back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s he was quite the stone chiseling fellah.  At the time of the Tribune article Martiny was finishing up work on most of the sculptural work for the Agriculture Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition.  The majority of the sculptures at the Palace of Arts, today’s Museum of Science and Industry, was the product of Martiny’s workshop as well.  The carved spandrels that sit atop the arches on the Michigan Avenue side of the Art Institute of Chicago are also from Martiny’s design.  Martiny was born in Strasbourg, a city that teetered back and forth between French and German rule over the centuries.  When it once again became part of Germany, the sculptor, who was at the time designing furniture, came to the United States at the age of 20 to avoid being conscripted into the military.  A stroke of good fortune led him to study with the great sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens for five years at which point he opened his own studio.  Martiny only spent a year or so in Chicago as he worked on his groupings for the Columbian Exposition; most of his work was done in New York where he kept his studio.  It was a momentous year, though, and although his name has slipped into obscurity, the fact that he was chosen to work on enhancing the palaces of the Great White City shows how much his work was valued at the time.

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