Tuesday, June 23, 2020

June 23, 1950 -- Addison Street to See Major Housing Project ... Not

June 23, 1950 – I have said this before … sometimes it is as interesting to look at the projects that DID NOT get built as it is to look at the ones that did.  On this date in 1950 announcement was made that Chicago’s largest privately financed rental apartment development would be built on a 57-acre tract on the city’s northwest side, the former home of the Mid-City Golf Course.  With Addison Street on the south and Irving Park Road on the north and the Chicago River directly to the west, the project, to be called Irving Park Gardens, would consist of eight 14-story buildings. housing 1,056 families.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that construction was to begin in September of that year with the project’s completion expected within 18 months.  It would be funded by a New York City firm, John W. Harris Associates, Inc.  The plans were in place, and one of the most prestigious architecture firms in the country was responsible for them, Shaw, Metz and Dolio.  Alfred Shaw had designed the Merchandise Mart, the Civic Opera House, and the interior of the Museum of Science and Industry.  A version of the firm would go on to design the Morton Wing on the south end of the Art Institute of Chicago and 1 East Wacker Drive.  With everything in place and a construction start just two months away … the project just simply vaporized.  Given the political climate in the city in 1951 and 1952, especially as it concerned large scale housing projects, it would not be difficult to figure out what happened.  The site was directly across Addison Street form Lane Tech High School, and the huge rental complex, financed with a $7,792,500 F.H.A. insured mortgage with a three-bedroom apartment projected to rent for $140. was probably not the best fit for this area at this time.  In August of 1952 the Bodine Electric Company, a family-owned company founded in 1905, purchased the property with plans to expand a plant already located in the southwest corner of the property.  Today the largest property in the area originally designed to house the Irving Park Gardens apartments is occupied by the headquarters of W.G.N. television.  The above diagram shows the area originally designated for the apartments.

June 23, 1965 –The Midwest headquarters of the Equitable Life Assurance Society at 401 North Michigan Avenue is opened in dedication ceremonies.  Also opening will be Pioneer Court, developed jointly by Equitable and its neighbor to the north, the Chicago Tribune.  An editorial in the paper observes, “By memorializing 25 distinguished Chicagoans, chosen by the Chicago Historical society, and carving their names in the rim of the fountain in Pioneer Court, the Equitable Life Assurance society and The Tribune consciously affirm awareness of their part in the historic succession of which our generation is a part, with the opportunity and obligation to add to our heritage from the pioneers who preceded us … As have all those who went before us, we both are contributing to the future.” [Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1965] As can be seen in the above photo the fountain in Pioneer Court was a popular place to sit in the sun, watch people go by, or eat a summer lunch.  It lasted for 25 years. There still is a small water feature on the north end of the plaza, but planters have largely replaced the 50-foot diameter marble fountain and the water jets that provided an alternative to the roar of the traffic passing by on Michigan Avenue.  With the conversion of Tribune Tower to private residences, who knows what will be left on the south side of the building.

June 23, 1955:  The Chicago City Council, by a vote of 35 to 11, directs John C. Melaniphy, the acting corporation counsel, to intervene in a suit in which the Art Institute of Chicago is proposing to use income from the Ferguson fund to build an addition on the north side of the museum. Established in 1905 by lumber baron Benjamin F. Ferguson, the intent of the fund was to build monuments and statues throughout the city.  Thomas Cullerton, Thirty-Eighth Ward alderman and Thomas Keane, alderman from the Thirty-First Ward, assert that using the fund for a building addition would “concentrate the investment in one place, to the detriment of the rest of the city.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1955] Alderman Leon Depres of the Fifth Ward disagrees, saying, “A dead hand should not control a trust, particularly one that is in the public interest.”  The B. F. Ferguson wing of the museum opened in 1958.  It is pictured above.

June 23, 1927 – The Material Services Corporation buys two parcels of property along the North Branch of the Chicago River, just north of Chicago Avenue and west of Halsted Street, a deal costing $200,000.  The east property is purchased from the widow of Charles M. Hewitt, who, before he died, was the president of a railroad supply company.  The western section of the property is purchased from the Parker-Washington Company of St. Louis.  Together the two tracts hold 670 feet of frontage on the river and 790 feet along the Chicago and North Western railroad right-of-way.  The property is today the location of Prairie Services Yard #32. Chicagoan Henry Crown began Material Services in 1919 with a borrowed $10,000.  By 1959 the company had a controlling interest in General Dynamics and was worth 100 million dollars.  He was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and was always a well-prepared businessman.  “When the Colonel gets into a deal,” one real estate executive said of him, “he knows the size of your underwear.”  [New York Times, August 16, 1990]


June 23, 1885 -- Representatives of the packing houses and rendering establishments are summoned to the office of Mayor Carter Harrison for a discussion with city authorities on how to best clean the South Fork of the Chicago River, the stream today known as Bubbly Creek The Mayor opens the meeting by observing that “he understood the South Fork could be cleaned out at present with a pitchfork, and he wanted to hear what those present had to say about it.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1885].  The president of the Union Stock Yards, John H. Sherman, gets defensive, saying that the stream was dirty before the packers got there and has remained dirty.  Mayor Harrison isn’t about to let that go, responding, “The fork is now intensely dirty.  It is an eternal nasty stink, but I don’t believe it is unhealthy.  If something is not done the result will be a movement hostile to the Stock-Yards.  The people will rise in their might and say ‘Clear out.’  There is not the slightest doubt but the Stock-Yards cause the nasty condition of the fork, and it as a friend of yours that I have asked you here.”  Sherman says that nothing but water is entering the South Fork from the stockyards; rather it is the city’s sewage that is the problem.  The city’s Health Commissioner, Oscar Coleman DeWolf, is adamant in saying that no city sewage enters the South Fork.  After the tussle, plans begin to emerge for improving the situation.  The Consulting Engineer for the Town of Lake, Benezette Williams, presents a proposal to construct “a brick conduit from the west arm of the slip, corner of California and Archer avenues, near Fortieth street, running underneath California avenue, or parallel with it, direct to the Illinois and Michigan Canal.”  Williams estimates that the plan could be executed for about $100,000 with an additional amount needed to construct an intercepting sewer system.  The meeting ends with, of course, the decision to appoint a committee to consult with the city engineer.  

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