Tuesday, February 18, 2020

February 18, 1934 -- Skokie Lagoons at the Beginning


February 18, 1934 – The Chicago Daily Tribune profiles the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps as 2,000 young men between the ages of 17 and 25 labor to create seven lagoons in 900 acres of wetlands belonging to the Cook County Forest Preserve about a mile east of Glenview between the intersection of Glenview and Harms Roads.  Under the supervision of U. S. Army Captain John P. Crehan, ten companies of 200 men each rise at 5:45 a.m., assembling 15 minutes later to hear the orders of the day and observe the raising of the flag.  At 6:15 a.m. breakfast is served in ten mess halls.  It costs about 33 cents a day for each man’s daily meals.  At 8:00 a.m. the men are all expected to be at their work assignments.  There is a 90-minute break at 11:30 a.m., and the work day ends at 4:00 p.m.   The camp began operations on December 4, 1933 with a night school opening on January 1, 1934.  Starting at 7:00 p.m. the school conducts two hours of classes four nights a week, covering 30 academic subjects, for an enrollment of 750 men.  The project on which the men are working will create seven lagoons with a depth of 18 feet with connecting channels that are at least six feet deep.  The lagoons will drain thousands of acres of land in the Skokie valley, helping with flood control and mosquito abatement.  The 115 buildings that make up the camp cost the government $200,000 (nearly $4,000,000 in today’s dollars) with payment to the 2,000 workers totaling another $75,000 ($1,500,000 today).  This would be the largest project of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the nation, in large part because of the influence of Winnetka resident Harold Ickes, the Secretary of Interior in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet.   About four million cubic yards of soil will be excavated, the vast majority of it by hand, and thousands of trees planted, many of which still cover the area today.  The above photo was taken in 1935 as the project moved into its second year.

February 18, 1945 -- It is announced that the Chicago Title and Trust company has finally, after a 54-year buying program, gained control of the largest single piece of privately owned property in the Loop since 1897. The firm originally intended to locate its offices in a new building on the site at the corner of Washington Street and Dearborn, but opted instead to purchase the Conway Building a block west and sell the large corner block next to the First United Methodist Church of Chicago for a development deemed "proper for such a big and strategic location." Ultimately, the Brunswick Corporation purchased the property, and in 1965 the SOM-designed headquarters for Brunswick was completed, at the time the tallest reinforced concrete structure in the world. The photo above shows the Brunswick Building (now offices for Cook County) under construction across the street from the Daley Center, completed in the same year.  The spire of the First United Methodist Church of Chicago separates government from the private sector.

February 18, 1964 – Lewis W. Hill, the city’s Deputy Urban Renewal Commissioner, presents a plan for “modernizing” [Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1964] a significant portion of Lincoln Park at a public meeting held at Waller High School.  This is the first in a series of neighborhood meetings at which the plan involving 266 acres with an estimated price tag in excess of $14 million in federal and city funds, will be shared with citizens.  The area in question is bounded by North Avenue on the south, Lincoln Park on the east, Webster Avenue on the north, and an “irregular boundary” made up of Halsted Street, Larrabee Street and Armitage Avenue on the west.  Under the plan Ogden Avenue would be closed from North Avenue to the intersection with Clark Street and Armitage.  The right-of-way between the Clark-Armitage intersection and Wisconsin Street would be turned into a 1.5 acre-public plaza.  The Ogden right-of-way between Wisconsin and North would yield 67 cleared acres to be “parceled out” for redevelopment.  Secondly, 644 structures would be cleared in 56.3 acres with redevelopment proposed for five areas: (1) a 15-acre tract proposed for a new community park bounded by Webster, Larrabee, and Dickens and Burling Streets (today's Oz Park); (2) both sides of Larrabee between Webster and North; (3) the north side of North avenue between Larrabee and La Salle Street; (4) both sides of Lincoln Avenue between Webster and Armitage, and (5) scattered locations along the route of Ogden Avenue. These five areas are indicated in the aerial view above with yellow numbers.  Provisions in the plan also encourage owners of 1,423 properties covering 209 acres “to carry out repair and modernization programs …”  Four small public housing projects are also proposed, two for senior citizens and two composed of small row houses.  It is interesting to note the fate of poor Ogden Avenue, which begins way out in Oswego.  Note the diagonal blue line in the top aerial view.  That section was closed in 1967 between North Avenue and Armitage.  According to Forgotten Chicago [forgottenchicago.com], another block was closed in 1983, south from North Avenue to Blackhawk Street.  By 1993 the street, opened in 1848 and named for the city’s first mayor, William B. Ogden, saw the demolition of the viaduct that carried it across Goose Island, cutting it back to just north of Chicago Avenue. Forgotten Chicago notes, "The street did not need to be closed, but was done so as a result of poor planning and deferred maintenance."  It is also interesting to compare the present configuration of streets and parks in the area with the look of the area on a map from the mid-twentieth century.  The two maps are also shown above. 

February 18, 1881 – The City Council Committee on Streets and Alleys for the South Division meets in the City Clerk’s office to take up the matter concerning the vacating of La Salle Street between Jackson and Van Buren.  A letter from the city’s law department makes it clear that “… there is no doubt that, by a three-fourths vote of all the Aldermen elected the City Council may vacate LaSalle Street” and that “Should such vacation be made, their [sic] would be no obligation on the part of the city to refund the money originally collected to pay the damages when the street was opened.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 19, 1881] The lawyers warn, though, that there could still be damages that a jury would be responsible for determining and “What damages a jury might award and what benefits a Commission might assess to pay the same, and what property would be selected to bear the burden it is manifestly impossible to say.  All that a mere lawyer could say would be that, unless all damages were absolutely released, it would lead to varied and interesting litigation.”  The chairman of the committee offered his opinion that it did not seem feasible for the City Council to vacate La Salle Street unless a release was obtained from all the property-owners who could bring damages against the city.  Although no decision is reached in this afternoon meeting, the general feeling among the members of the committee is that an agreement can eventually be reached by which Sherman Street and Pacific Avenue, streets that were the southern extensions of LaSalle Street in 1881, could be widened and if the north end of these streets was not used for Board of Trade purposes within a specific time, then these streets could be reopened.  It would be a year or more until the Illinois Supreme Court removed all obstacles to erect a new Board of Trade building on a plot of land provided by a vacated La Salle Street.  The above photo shows the Chicago Board of Trade, completed in 1885, and its position on a vacated La Salle Street.  This building would give way to a tower designed in the Art Deco style that would open in 1930.

February 18, 1862 – Withdrawal of United States troops from Camp Douglas begins and the Chicago Tribune reports that it will “speedily be cleared of soldiers.”  [Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1862] Word comes that the camp will “soon undergo a complete change of tenants” [Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1862] as Captain Potter of the United States Quartermaster’s Department reports that “as soon as the regiments now in Camp Douglas shall have departed, their place will be occupied by seven thousand confederate prisoners, captured by our forces at Fort Donelson …  All the rolling stock of the Illinois Central Road is now being collected at Cairo as expeditiously as possible for the transportation to this place of the prisoners alluded to, and it is now confidently expected that their arrival here will not be delayed beyond Saturday of the present week.”  Before the end of the Civil War nearly 26,000 Confederate prisoners-of-war would be incarcerated at the camp.  It is estimated that somewhere around 4,000 of those men died in the cramped and unsanitary conditions there.

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