Thursday, May 21, 2020

May 21, 1964 -- Michigan Avenue Breakwater from Early Days of Chicago Unearthed

Chicago Tribune Photo

May 21, 1964 – As construction continues on the Grant Park South garage, an interesting discovery is made when a 110-year-old breakwater is unearthed just east of Michigan Avenue, indicating that in the early years of the city the waters of Lake Michigan pushed waves right up to the street.  Officials surmise that the breakwater once stretched from Randolph Street to Roosevelt Road and was located about 30 feet east of Michigan Avenue.  The breakwater lay about ten feet below street grade and was about 25 feet high.  It is believed that it was built sometime between 1849 and 1851 and was covered in 1871 when the city allowed the Illinois Central Railroad to use debris from the Chicago fire to fill in a lagoon that separated Michigan Avenue from an I. C. trestle than ran on the other side of the lagoon from Roosevelt Road to Randolph Street.  Although of poor quality, the above image of the century-old breakwater gives a good idea of how close the waters of Lake Michigan came to  Michigan Avenue in the city's early days.

May 21, 1973 -- The Chicago Tribune prints a report on the full plan to revitalize the central area of the city, a plan for which the Chicago Central Area Committee paid Skidmore, Owings and Merrill nearly $400,000 to draft. Today it is interesting to note what parts of the plan “made it” and what recommendations did not. The stakes were high. As the Tribune observes, “If it bombs, downtown Chicago may bomb, too.” The report puts into words what “white leaders don’t know how to talk about . . . without sounding like bigots.” Whites running from the city to the suburbs, which are becoming increasingly independent of the city. A “growing schizophrenia [skyscrapers and stores bustling by day, with little action at night] . . . changing the Loop. Blacks “still crowded into housing projects like Cabrini-Green” and the potential of a “tipping point where whites start staying away” from the city.

The 1973 SOM plan suggests "gradual modification" for projects such as Cabrini Green.
The above photo shows Cabrini Green as it sprawled across the northwest side of the city. 

Here are some of the recommendations that we can look on 43 years later and admire the prescience of the planners of the early 1970’s:

  Meigs Airport will be scrapped and Northerly Island, on which it stands converted to park, beach and picnic use.

  Navy Pier will be transformed into a lively recreational facility with restaurants, an auditorium, and exhibits.

  No further private construction will be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive. 

  A miniature supercity for 120,000 would be concentrated on 650 acres of largely unused railroad land, south of the Loop.

  Means would be found to encourage major development of the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust property along the north side of the river between St. Clair Street and the lakefront.

  Rehabilitation and stabilization – not clearance, or relocation – are stressed for the Pilsen and East Humboldt Park neighborhoods.

And here are a few that didn’t get done:

  A giant sports arena will be built south of the Loop within easy distance of the lakefront if not actually on it.

  Lake Shore Drive, where it runs along Grant Park, will be narrowed and left turns would be prohibited, forcing motorists heading for the central business district to park in new public lots on the Loop’s fringes and ride on a new subway or another form of public transportation.

  The Loop elevated will be torn down and replaced with a subway.   Once free of the elevated’s shadow, the east side of Wabash Avenue will be converted to a pedestrian-oriented shopping street.

  A personalized, automated rapid transit system might connect the “super blocks” of the South Loop to the center of the city over Illinois Central Gulf Railroad air rights.  A passenger would enter a small car, push a button on a map showing his destination, and zip away automatically.

And . . . a few that sort of got done:

  Traffic on State Street will be narrowed to four lanes for buses and taxis only. Autos will be banned.   Widened sidewalks with trees and shrubs will form pleasant promenades.  (This one happened in an experiment that didn’t work and was reversed.)

  Gradual modification of Cabrini Green is proposed.  (It got modified down to bare ground.)

May 21, 1919 – Jewish workers throughout the city, some 25,000 people in all, “in response to the notice carried throughout the Jewish resident and factory districts by word and handbill” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1919] gather at Twelfth and Robey Streets to form a column of marchers that will demonstrate against the treatment of Jews in Europe.  A speaker at the event, Clarence Darrow, says, “There should be more freedom over the world for the Jews.  The question of persecution of the Jews is an old one … We are forming a number of new nations; it should be written into their constitutions that they will enforce equal rights for all people.”  The protests focus especially on Poland, a country that the United States sees as a counterbalance to the influence of Russia in the period after World War I. In June of 1919 President Theodore Roosevelt will send a delegation to Poland headed by Henry Morgenthau, Sr. to investigate the reports of atrocities.  The report of the delegation comes in October of 1919 and provides details of eight major incidents in 1918 and 1919 in which violence occurs against Polish Jews.

May 21, 1895 – For more than an hour the Rush Street Bridge is out of commission, tying up river traffic so that “the whistles of steamers caught in the blockade were being continually sounded, and a pandemonium was kept up during the time.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 22, 1895].  Around 7:00 p.m. two ships, the Seneca and the Arthur Orr, each being maneuvered by a tug boat, enter the river at almost the same time. The captain on each ship apparently knows the destination of his counterpart – the Burlington docks at Sixteenth Street.  It is clear from the time the two ships enter the mouth of the river that the vessel that reaches the dock first will have the chance to tie up, leaving the other vessel to figure out a way to lay up for the night.  The vessels whistle for the Rush Street bridge to be rotated and the bridgetender on duty refuses to swing the bridge.  The ships cannot be stopped, and the Arthur Orr strikes the bridge in the south draw while the Seneca strikes the bridge in the north draw, the effect being that the bridge is prevented from turning until the boats can be backed out.  The captain of the Arthur Orr, in violation of marine laws that inbound vessels must take the north draw, refuses to back his ship from its position.  The captain of the Seneca, claiming the right-of-way, also refuses to reverse his vessel.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “A war of words resulted between the seamen and bridgtender, and there was considerable bad language used.”  To make matters worse, several heavy horse-drawn wagons and “many pedestrians” are on the bridge and are thrown one way as the Arthur Orr swings the bridge three feet out of position, then thrown in the opposite direction as the Seneca slams into the bridge, moving it back to its original position. The police show up to find Rush Street on both sides of the bridge blocked with vehicles and a dozen boats sounding their shrill steam whistles for the bridge to open.  The boats begin to pile up, one of them colliding with the Arthur Orr, which once again sends the ship into the bridge, once again moving it several feet.  The William H. Woolf and the Mable Bradshaw, approaching from the west come close to the opposite side of the bridge before they can be stopped, in effect blockading the bridge from the west.  The city’s Harbormaster is unable to convince the original two ships to move and even the deckhands start going after one another … “They called each other names and threats were made.”  Finally, at 8:20 p.m. the Seneca gives way and backs away from the bridge, and the chaos begins to lighten.  Fortunately, the bridge is not seriously damaged.  Just another day, a very noisy day, on a river that sees over 25,000 ships a year sailing in and out of its docks.  As the above photo, taken five years later, shows ... the bridge at Rush Street was an obstacle to be conquered.  Michigan Avenue, by the way, is the street on the left of the photo.  

May 21 1863 – Item right after “Disgraceful” (“men and boys, by scores, violate not only the laws of decency and the ordinance of the city, but desecrate the Sabbath, by collecting in large numbers, and bathing in the Lake, on the Sabbath, all along the shore from the Light House to Huron street, thus making an indecent exposure of their persons to residents in the vicinity …”) [Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1863] and “A Ferocious Dog” (Yesterday morning, a demented lad, named James Small, aged about fourteen, was attacked by a large and savage dog, belonging to a butcher named John Lownzre, on Madison street at the foot of Franklin street”) … there it is: “Theatre—J. Wilkes Booth”.  The Tribune provides a glowing appraisal of the young actor’s skills, noting the improvement he has made since his Chicago debut a year earlier.  “In every part he plays,” the review states, “the auditor will perceive the marks of the student, and this being so, errors of judgment must be eradicated with time and experience.  Since his advent in Chicago, some eighteen months ago, no one who has attended his performances, can fail to see an improvement, and we predict ere he has attained his thirtieth year ... no one will ever regret having witnessed him in any of his characters.”  The first McVicker’s Theatre, on Madison Street between Dearborn and State, where John Wilkes Booth appeared, is pictured above.

No comments:

Post a Comment