May 12, 1860 – The convention of the Republican Party begins with the dedication of the Great Wigwam, at the corner of Lake and Market [what is now Wacker Drive] Streets. The building, the largest convention hall in the United States, was begun just a month earlier. Built entirely of wood, the building could hold close to 11,000 people with a stage that could seat between 600 and 700 people. The two-story structure had a gallery on three sides “the pitch [of which] is such that from every part a perfect view of the speaker’s stand can be gained.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 14, 1860] The cost of the Wigwam was between $5,000 and $6,000 [somewhere between $155,000 and $185,000 in today’s dollars]. The interior was “rough and unplaned” … the wall in back of the raised stage was the brick wall of the adjoining store. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are on hand for the dedication, finding that the hall “presents a feature most satisfactory in its acoustic qualities.’ A Tribune reporter finds that even in the remotest areas of the gallery he “could hear distinctly the fuller tones of the speaker’s voice.” The Wigwam was meant to be a temporary structure and was demolished before the 1871 fire, but it played host to one of the biggest events in the city’s, perhaps even the country’s, history when on May 18, 1860 Abraham Lincoln won the presidential nomination of the Republican Party on the third ballot. Today, 191 North Wacker Drive stands at this location, one of three buildings in a row designed by New York architecture firm Kohn, Pedersen and Fox. The original Wigwam and 191 North Wacker are shown in the photos above.
May 12, 2011 – The Chicago Tribune reports that the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Chicago to improve its sewage treatment system so that the river will be clean enough for “recreation in and on the water.” [Chicago Tribune, May 13, 2011] The new order goes far beyond those of a state panel that a year earlier had issued guidelines that would make the river clean enough for canoers and paddlers who “briefly fell into the water”. The ruling will necessitate the overhaul of two out of three of the city’s massive sewage treatment plants. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District estimates the cost will be close to $1 billion while the EPA puts the estimate at something less than $250 million. “We’ve got a chance for our generation to do something big for this important river,” says Senator Dick Durbin.
May 12, 1947 –A doleful editorial in the Chicago Daily Tribune begins, ‘Chicago is in a civic slump, however much it may be thriving industrially. Dozens of improvement projects are languishing in this, the very city that once was a pioneer in every kind of municipal enterprise.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1983] “We have many things to be proud of,” the editorial continues, “but most of them were achieved long ago. Now we cannot even get rid of smoke, to say nothing of obsolete railroad terminals.” As a result, Chicago, the paper observes, is losing ground to other cities, “New York is building bridges, tunnels, and roads to overcome the handicaps of its site. Los Angeles has vastly extended its boundaries and is getting water from sources hundreds of miles away. San Francisco has solved its problems of expansion by building bridges that are unequaled in all the world.” In the meantime, “Chicago, the erstwhile city of ‘I Will,’ the city that once was a national symbol of energy and originality, lives on her past.” As the Tribune nears its one-hundredth anniversary, the column concludes, “Those who should be pulling Chicago out of its slump may expect to hear form The Tribune frequently and not admiringly as this newspaper enters its second century.” Contrasting the 1947 photo taken looking east from where today's River Point tower stands with the site as it appears today shows that, fortunately, the lack of vision that the paper lamented did not last forever.
May 12, 1941 – A two-car elevated train slams into a bumper on the dead-end tracks of the Market stub at the Madison Street-Wacker Drive station, runs over a platform, and finally comes to a stop with its front end dangling over the street 50 feet below. Fortunately, there are no passengers on board the train. The train’s motorman says that the brakes did not hold as he tried to stop at the station. When this portion of the elevated opened in 1893, Market Street, like much of the West Loop was primarily made up of light industry, warehouses, and small businesses, and it was in this area that the Lake Street elevated ended its run before the Loop elevated system was completed. As early as 1897, when the Loop began operation, the stub was slated for demolition. Yet, it kept operating, primarily as an overflow route, when the Loop reached capacity, until the late 1940’s when it was demolished, making way for today’s double-decked Wacker Drive. A photo of the Market Street stub appears above, along with a photo of the accident in 1941.
May 12, 1880 – A Criminal Courts judge upholds the right of the city to transfer the control of Michigan Avenue and Thirty-Fifth Street to the South Park Commissioners, upholding the Boulevard Act of 1879. The judge states that on February 21, 1869 the charter of the Board of South Park Commissioners gave that body the responsibility for existing highways and “to lay out new ones within the defined limits of the South Parks, and to manage and control them, free to all persons, but subject to such necessary rules and regulations as shall from time to time be adopted by said Commissioners for the well ordering and government of the same.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 13, 1880] Subsequent legislation added to the charter but did not impair it. The Boulevard Act of 1879 went even farther as the judge observed in his opinion, “It is an act to enable the Park Commissioners ‘to take, regulate, control, and improve public streets leading to public parks, and to levy and collect special taxes or assessments to pay for the improvement itself.’ It authorizes the Park Commissioners to ‘connect’ the present park system, including existing boulevards and driveways, with any point within the city by the use of ‘connecting street or streets, or parts thereof,’ and it authorizes the city, town or village ‘to invest any such Park Boards with the right to control, improve and maintain any of the streets of such city’ … ‘for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this act.’” The commissioners, in other words, had the legal authority to connect any road leading to or abutting a park to city streets that would make a connection to a park, and they had the right, with permission of the city, to levy taxes to build and maintain such connections. The judge upholds the right of the South Park Commissioners to assume responsibility for Michigan Avenue south of the river since it is an important connection to the roads and boulevards leading to city parks. The above photo shows Michigan Avenue in 1885 at its intersection with Van Buren Street.