Friday, February 7, 2020

February 7, 1926 -- Chicago Stadium Project Introduced

Vintage Tribune
February 7, 1926 – The Chicago Daily Tribune carries a sketch of the new $8,000,000 ($115,000,000 in today’s dollars) Harmon Stadium, a dozen stories high, two blocks long and a block in width, that will rise on Madison Street between Lincoln and Wood Streets.  With a seating capacity of 39,000, the project is the brainchild of Paddy Harmon, who was born near Division and Halsted Streets to parents who had immigrated from Ireland.  At the age of nine he and his brother obtained a contract to snuff out 900 gaslights every morning in his neighborhood for sixty bucks a month.  []  By the time he was 14 he had secured the right to sell newspapers at one of the busiest corners in the city.  Two years later he brokered his first event as a promoter when he rented a hall for $40 and ended up collecting $83 for the dance that he booked into the venue.  By the time he was in his early 40’s he owned two of the city’s most popular ballrooms and had received a contract to operate the ballroom at the end of the Municipal Pier, today’s Navy Pier.  All of this led to 1926 when he began seeking investors to build the largest indoor stadium in the country on Madison Street.  Although the seating capacity did not come close to the 39,000 people that the Tribune proclaimed, when Harmon Stadium opened 15,000 people showed up for a ten-round boxing match In what the paper called “… an auspicious inaugural of what Mr. Harmon and his millionaire backers believe is a new and enlarged era of sport events in Chicago.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, March 29, 1929]  Harmon’s story does not end well. The stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent financial chaos severely impacted the stadium’s earning power, and Harmon was forced out as director in 1930.  He died in a car crash shortly thereafter.  Arthur Wirtz gained control of the stadium in 1934, and the rest is history.  And so is Harmon’s big dream as the big arena on Madison was torn down in 1995 to make way for the United Center.  In the above photo workers put the finishing touches on the building before its March 28, 1929 debut.
February 7, 1974 –The Chicago Tribune reports that the city’s Planning Department has “turned thumbs down” [Chicago Tribune, February 7, 1974] on providing landmark status for the Manhattan Building at 431 South Dearborn Street and the Old Colony Building just to the north at 407 South Dearborn Street. This action comes despite the fact that the Chicago Commission on Historical and Architectural Landmarks is considering the buildings for landmark status.  Lewis W. Hill, the city’s planning and development commissioner, says that “possibilities for redevelopment on the block outweigh the historical and architectural significance of the two buildings.”  Hill said, however, that he does lean toward landmark status for the Fisher Building at 343 South Dearborn Street.  Said to be the world’s first 16-story office building, the Manhattan Building was completed in 1891 and designed by William Le Baron Jenney.  The Old Colony Building was completed in 1894 and designed by the firm of Holabird and Roche. The Fisher Building was completed two years later according to plans drawn by Burnham and Root with Charles Atwood as the lead designer.  Happily, all three buildings are still with us today.  On July 7, 1978 the Manhattan, the Old Colony and the Fisher buildings were all designated City Landmarks.  The Old Colony building is shown in the above photo in 1895 when it was brand new.

February 7, 1968 – Nine people are killed when a fire and explosion completely wrecks the offices of Mickelberry’s Food Products Company at 301 West Forty-Ninth Place.  The conflagration apparently begins when a Harrigan Oil Company gasoline truck moving through the alley behind the plant scrapes a steel garbage container, knocking the shut-off valve from the truck’s discharge pipe and sending gasoline into the basement of the plant where the boiler ignites it.  Fire fighters on the roof of the building are in the process of removing 15 to 20 employees of the plant from that location when a tremendous explosion rips the building, toppling ladders and fire fighters and sending those on the roof through the air.  More than 30 of the 79 people who are injured are neighborhood kids who hear the sirens and come running to see the excitement.  The 9-11 alarm fire brings to the scene 26 engines, five hook and ladder trucks, three snorkels, five rescue squads, ten ambulances, and seven hazardous chemical units.  Tragically, four firefighters from Truck 18 are killed – Firemen Edward Keifker, Chales Bottger, Thomas Collins, and Captain John J. Fisher, Sr.

February 7, 1956 – Morton Salt Company announces its intention to build a new four-story office building in the block bounded by Wacker Drive, Washington and Randolph Streets and the Chicago River.  The company expects to use the first floor and a portion of the second and lease the rest of the building. This will provide 55,000 square feet of office space, compared to the 37,000 square feet the company now occupies at two separate locations, 120 South La Salle Street and the Merchandise Mart.  The design will come from Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, Inc. and will consist of reinforced concrete construction with the main entrance and lobby of the building in the middle of the block on Wacker Drive.  Morton Salt was founded in Chicago in 1848 and had its first offices at Clark and Washington Streets.  In 1896 the company erected its first real office building, a replica of the old Boston statehouse, that sat on the south side of the Chicago River just west of today’s Lake Shore Drive.  The new headquarters building on the river would be finished in 1958, but it is no longer there.  It was demolished in 2018 to make room for the glassy Bank of America building designed by Goettsch Partners that will include a 45-foot wide Riverwalk passing beneath its western face.  The building is shown above.

February 7, 1943 -- The sky falls when Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna misses his first Sunday afternoon pre-election meeting of the First Ward Democratic Club in 46 years. The 5' 1" Kenna, who, along with "Bathhouse" John Coughlin, ran the most notoriously wicked, graft-driven ward in the city, controlled "The Levee" for another three years until his death at 89 in October of 1946. John Budinger, who had been chosen to replace Kenna on the City Council said of the "empty chair" at the meeting, "When our leader called me in and told me I had the privilege of being his candidate for alderman, it was the grandest thrill that ever happened to me." Chief Bailiff Albert J. Horan assured Budinger that he would have no trouble winning the seat, one way or another. He said, "We are not afraid of cries of investigation, for we are as open as babes in their mother's arms."

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