Friday, July 31, 2020

July 31,1985 -- Arlington Park Race Track Destroyed by Fire


July 31, 1985 – More than 150 firefighters from 25 communities fail to save the clubhouse, grandstand, and exposition center at Arlington Park race track.  The fire begins at approximately 1:30 a.m. with the first alarm turned in about 45 minutes later.  The loss is devastating, coming just a little more than three weeks before the “Arlington Million” is due to be run on August 25.  The State of Illinois takes in about seven percent of the $1.5 million that is bet each day of the racing season at the track, and the final 55 days at Arlington are out the window as the complex is a total loss.  Estimates are that 1,000 people will be left without jobs.  Because the 1929 Post and Paddock Club, where the fire began, had been remodeled a number of times over the previous half-century, the number of false ceilings and concealed spaces between floors allowed the fire to spread in ways that could not be detected.  The sprinkler systems were ineffective because of the concealed nature of the flames, which eventually spread from the club to the grandstand.  At one point demolition experts were even brought in from Ft. Sheridan to see if part of the grandstand could be blown up in order to stop the flames from advancing.  By noon, though, it was clear that nothing more could be done, and the fire burned itself out at about 5:00 p.m.  None of the 1,900 animals at the track was endangered.  It would be four years before the track would reopen.



July 31, 1930 – Announcement is made that Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed and Mrs. Charles Schweppe, the daughters of the late John G. Shedd, have given the Chicago Latin School at 1531 North Dearborn Parkway a nine-acre athletic field on the west bank of the North Branch of the Chicago River.  The new field stretches from Addison to Grace Street bordered on the west by California Avenue.  George Morton Northrop, the Head Master of the school, says, “It may be that eventually it will seem wise to move the upper school to this new location.  In time a boathouse, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and five courts could be added.  Eventually it might be well to have a dormitory for housing a number of boarding pupils and some of the younger, unmarried masters.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1, 1930] The new athletic campus was purchased from the Commonwealth Edison Company and the estate of Sophie Beyer for approximately $125,000.  The campus served the Latin School until 1959 when it was sold to Gordon Technical High School, now DePaul College Prep.  Funds from the sale were used to complete the upper school at North Avenue and Clark Street and the roof gymnasium, which was completed in 1992.  The parcel originally given to the Latin School is outlined above.



July 31, 1922:  The city is thrown into turmoil as a storage tank of the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company collapses and explodes at West Twenty-Fifth and Throop Streets, injuring a hundred people, severely burning the majority of them.  Since the location sits on the bank of the Chicago River with a neighborhood close by, most of the injured are teamsters, pedestrians, or children playing in the area.  The tank, which was 180 feet high and 180 feet in diameter, contained 4,000,000 cubic feet of illuminating gas.  The tank collapses at about 12:30 in the afternoon with the Chicago Daily Tribune describing the scene in this way, “Wild scenes followed immediately.  Men, women, and children attacked by the weird flames ran screaming.  Some threw themselves flat on the ground.  Others flung their clothing over their faces and hands in frantic efforts to escape the fire.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1, 1922]  The chief engineer for the company, J. H. Eustace, says that there was no explosion, adding, “In fifty years of experience in gas manufacturing I have never heard of anything like this . . . In some way the crown of the tank was ruptured, and gas, escaping in great quantities, ignited.  What caused the rupture is a mystery; and what would ignite escaping gas from the top of a holder high in the air is equally a mystery.”

schoarlycommonslaw.northwestern.edu
July 31, 1919 – Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson signs the Illinois Central Electrification and Lake Front ordinance at noon after representatives of the South Park Board of Trustees and the railroad accept the city’s proposal.  The act calls for an expenditure of $110,000,000 for the electrification of the Illinois Central tracks along the lakefront, the construction of a new railroad station at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue, the completion of a huge park along the lakefront as well as a new harbor south of Grant Park.  Charles H. Wacker, the chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission, is present at the ceremony, along with representatives of the Association of Commerce, the Chicago Real Estate Board and other civic organizations. The mayor says, “As far as jokers are concerned, I have read the ordinance carefully, and am convinced that it is a good one.  [Illinois Central attorney] Schuyler, whom I have known since we were boys together, has given me his word of honor that there is no joker in this ordinance.  In addition to that I have every confidence in Mr. Wacker of the commission.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1, 1919]  The above photo shows the lakefront in 1913 with a maze of railroad tracks and smoking steam engines running between Michigan Avenue and the lake in the area that would one day become Grant Park.

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