Posts Tagged 'Loop'

Return of That Great Street (11-15-1996)

This was one of those rare days.  Our rulers admitted they’d been wrong.  State Street was re-opened to traffic.

In the 1970s the center of Chicago was dying.  The crowds had gone.  A few more years of this, and it might be too late to turn things around.  Urban experts were called in.  They said that the problem was the automobile.

Look at Europe.  The great cities there had flourished for centuries without cars!  Yes, those places were pedestrian friendly.  We in America could learn something from the greater wisdom of those more civilized cultures.

State Street Mall under construction

It seemed to make sense.  Besides, with OPEC boosting the price of oil every six months, the automobile was on the way out.  Desperate to bring people back downtown, many American cities began converting their main streets into pedestrian malls.

In 1979 Chicago joined the movement.  Mayor Jane Byrne oversaw the closing of State Street between Wacker and Congress.  The Loop’s main thoroughfare became a lovely, linear park.

Well, sort of.

The mall wasn’t continuous—it was broken every block by the east-west cross streets.  CTA busses still rumbled and belched down the middle of everything—plans to return electric streetcars were dropped as too expensive.  To top it all off, the landscaping and street furniture were sterile.

This was the State Street Mall.  It was a hundred-foot-wide hybrid of highway and plaza, which combined the worst features of each.

October 29, 1979–State Street Mall Dedication

When the project was finished, most of the public had doubts about the new State Street.  But the Powerful People backed the project.  Therefore, the mall was going to stay—we’d have to get used to it.  Though Chicago went through some pretty contentious politics in the 1980s, the State Street Mall never became an issue.

During the 1990s, a new demographic emerged.  People were coming back to the center of Chicago.  They were working, shopping, being entertained, and even settling down in apartments and condos.  The streets were coming alive again.

It was clear that making State Street a mall had nothing to do with this trend.  And with auto traffic getting heavy, closing off a major street didn’t make sense.

Early in 1996, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that State Street would be restored to its original state (pun intended).  The work was completed on November 15, just in time for the Christmas shopping season.  The public applauded.  And the mall was now just a bad memory.

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Then and Now, Adams-Dearborn

1950–Adams Street @ Dearborn Street, view east

2017–the same location

In 1950 Loop streets still had two-way traffic and still had streetcar tracks.  Henry Ives Cobb’s monumental Federal Building is just visible to the right in the older photo.  Across Dearborn is the Peter Pan Restaurant, part of a city-wide chain of moderately-priced establishments.  The large ad above the restaurant is for Mogen David Wine, “the home-sweet-home wine like Grandma used to make.”  Down the block on Adams is the Berghoff.

In our time the Adams in a one-way street and the streetcar tracks have been covered over.  The old Federal Building has been replaced by the high-rise Kluczynski Federal Building and a single-story post office on an open plaza.  The Dirksen Federal Building occupies the site of the Peter Pan.  But the Berghoff is still in business, and you can still buy Mogen David Wine.

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Parking Prices On the Rise (8-13-1970)

On this date Chicagoans were concerned about the high cost of living.  Downtown parking was getting expensive.

“Drive to the Loop to save money?  Forget it!”  the Tribune said.  And it did seem like the CTA offered a cheaper alternative.  The basic bus or ‘L’ fare was 45 cents.  Even if a 10-cent transfer were added both ways, that worked out to $1.10 for a daily round trip.

That cost compared to a minimum of $1.50 for all-day parking at the least expensive Loop garages.  Luckily for the car-driving public, gas prices were holding steady at 40 cents a gallon.
The problem was supply-and-demand.  There were about 53,000 parking spaces in the central part of the city.  But new construction on the edge of downtown was taking over land occupied by parking lots.  At the same time, that new construction was bringing more auto commuters into the area.

Parking rates varied by geography.  Garages near State and Madison were most expensive—the typical charge was $4 for eight hours, with some places edging up to $6.  As you moved outward, prices dropped.  North and west of the river, you could expect to pay $1 or $2 for the same eight hours.

Like any wise shopper, you could save money by doing comparison shopping.  One Lake Street garage charged $1.50 for the first hour, and $3.50 for an eight-hour stay.  A half-block down the street, the prices were $1.15 for the first hour, and a flat $3 for anything up to 24 hours.

8-13--garage.jpg

The best rates were offered by the Grant Park Garage.  Since it was owned and operated by a government agency, the garage was treated as a public convenience.  More than 3,500 cars could be stored in the underground lot, with the maximum eight-hour price set at $1.70.

So now you are in the year 2017, and you read this story, and you see the cheap parking prices of forty-seven years ago.  You feel a little envy.  But remember, all things are relative.  Back in 1970, the newspaper that reported the story cost only 10 cents.

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The Hotel Sherman

The state may soon be putting the Thompson Center up for sale.  It’s an impressive looking building, but it’s supposed to be hell to work in.  The upkeep is expensive, too.  What will happen to this Helmut Jahn masterwork is anyone’s guess.  Maybe someone will repurpose it as a new Hotel Sherman.  That’s what Jahn’s building replaced on the northwest corner of Clark and Randolph Streets.

In 1844 a man named Francis Sherman bought Chicago’s pioneer City Hotel and renamed it the Sherman House.  Over the next decades, the Sherman name was kept alive in a succession of downtown hotels.  The last of them went up in 1911, with 757 rooms.  A 23-story tower was added to this structure in 1925.  Boasting over 1600 rooms, the revamped Hotel Sherman was said to be the largest American hotel outside New York City.

A year after the expansion,  the hotel hosted a peace conference—of Chicago gangsters.  The result was the Hotel Sherman Treaty of October 21, 1926, which established a Madison Street boundary line separating the North Side Moran outfit and the South Side Capone mob, as well as settling other issues of concern.  The peace lasted a little over two months.

Besides catering to gangsters, the Hotel Sherman’s location across from City Hall made it a favorite gathering spot for local politicians.  The College Inn became a well-regarded restaurant.  But eventually, occupancy declined.  The Hotel Sherman closed its doors early in 1973.  The building stood vacant for several years, until it was torn down to make way for that new State of Illinois office center in 1980.

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The Big St. Patrick’s Day Parade (3-17-1956)

Richard J. Daley became Mayor of Chicago in April 1955. The very next year, the city’s newspapers announced he was planning “a parade” for March 17—St. Patrick’s Day.

Other American cities had a history of grand St. Patrick’s Day parades. Chicago’s Irish had staged a few parades on-and-off since the 1840s, and there was a long-running event on 79th Street. But holding a major, city-wide parade for the  feast day was not a Chicago tradition.

South Side Irish Parade, 1953

South Side Irish Parade, 1953

March 17 fell on a Saturday in 1956. Led by the mayor, the City of Chicago’s first official St. Patrick’s Day parade stepped off from State and Kinzie at noon. The route went south on State to Adams, then continued west on Adams to Des Plaines Street and Old St. Patrick Church.

About 10,000 Irish and honorary-Irish marched. “There were Irish pipe-and-drum units, and floats bearing Irish colleens, Irish dancers, and Gaelic football players,” the Tribune reported. “Marchers [were] carrying blackthorn sticks and shillelaghs and wearings hats festooned with shamrocks.” They marched for over an hour.

The weather was cold, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and a brisk wind blowing down from the north. Yet over a quarter-million spectators lined the parade route. An untold number more watched the proceedings over WGN-TV.

Richard J. Daley's parade, 1967

Richard J. Daley’s parade, 1967

Many politicians marched down State. Some of them joined Daley on the reviewing stand near Madison Street. The newspapers listed them by name, for a good reason.

During each year’s May Day Parade in Moscow, the Russian public would scan the reviewing stand atop Lenin’s Tomb, and be able to figure out who ranked where in their government. Now Chicago began a similar exercise. On St. Patrick’s Day you’d check out who the mayor had invited to stand with him, and determine who had the most clout.

The day’s festivities concluded with a special Mass at Old St. Pat’s. Cardinal Stritch gave the homily. He predicted that Chicago would become the leading city of the world, with a population of 7 million. He urged his listeners to seek spiritual wealth as well as material wealth.

"How Green Was My River"

“How Green Was My River”

By the way, the city did not dye the river green for this first parade. That custom began in 1961.

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The Chicken Thieves (10-25-1908)

There had been a series of chicken thefts at the South Water Market, so when the night watchman heard the excited clucking coming from a basement, he flashed his light down the steps toward the noise. What he saw was two large brown bears, calmly eating chicken.

The watchman called the fire department. The firemen came, took a look down the stairs, and said they only fought fires.

South Water Market---now Wacker Drive

South Water Market, 1908—now Wacker Drive

Now police were summoned. After surveying the situation, the cops suggested that the owner of the bears should be contacted. The owner arrived, went down into the basement, and kicked the larger bear in the rump. The bear galloped up the stairs and into his cage, followed quickly by his smaller buddy.

Thus the story was reported in the next day’s Tribune, but no mention was made of what two bears were doing in the middle of a large city in the first place. Perhaps they were a common household pet in 1908.

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Then and Now, Wacker-Jackson

1937--Market Street (Wacker Drive) @ Jackson, view north

1937–Market Street (Wacker Drive) @ Jackson Boulevard, view north

2015--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1937 the first downtown street east of the Chicago River was still Market Street, a narrow thoroughfare of no particular interest.  The only tall building along Market was the Civic Opera House, visible in the distance at Madison Street.

Market Street was widened and double-decked in the early 1950s, becoming the north-south portion of Wacker Drive.  The Civic Opera House is now only one of several tall buildings along Wacker, including the onetime tallest-in-the-world, the onetime Sears Tower.

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