Life Span: 1892-1951
Location: 3360 S. State Street
Architect: Edbrooke & Burnham
Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1891
Work will be commenced this morning on the largest apartment house ever planned in Chicago. This immense structure will be known as the “Mecca” and will occupy the south end of the block bounded by Thirty-third, Thirty-fourth, State, and Dearborn streets.
The building will have a frontage of 266 feet on Thirty-fourth street and 234 feet on both State and Dearborn streets. It will be four stories in height and will cost, finished and equipped, $600,000. The structure will contain ninety-eight flats and twelve stores. Its outside appearance will be quite striking. The facing of the building will be of Roman pressed brick with stone and terra cotta trimmings. The bays will be of brick and terra cotta trimmings. The bays will be of brick and terra cotta, and no galvanized iron or similar material will be used in the construction. The arrangement for the building to provide for the number of flats given above is unique. The building will in fact be almost a double structure.
It is in the form of two wings, separated by a central court sixty-six feet wide and 152 feet deep. This court will open out to Thirty-fourth street through a handsome arched carriage entrance. A driveway around this court will inclose a miniature park. The State street wing will include twelve stores, opening on the street, as well as four and seven room suites fronting on the street and the interior court. In the center of each of the wings will be a covered light court, 33×170 feet, surrounded by balconies at each story, connected by four main stairways. The arrangement will resemble that of the Chamber of Commerce rotunda. From these rotundas will be entrances to every apartment in the block. There will be five entrances, two on Dearborn, two on State, and one on Thirty-fourth street. The servants’ entrances will be from the alley and from the street entrances.
An elegant interior arrangement has been planned by the projectors of the building. The basement will contain heating, lighting, power, and artificial cooling plants. The parlor of each flat will have a bay window, and hardwood sideboards will be placed in every dining-room. The kitchens will be furnished with gas ranges and refrigerators.
Some idea of size of the building can be obtained from the following figures:
Each floor of the entire building will contain one a half acres of floor space. The four floors will represent six acres of space. Ninety-eight flats, with five occupants to each flat, would represent a population of nearly 500. This would be sufficient for a fair-sized village. Ninety-eight cottages would cover each lot in two five-acre blocks, and with twelve stores would outrank many a rising suburb.
The history of the chain of transactions which led up to the present enterprise is interesting. The land was transferred by George W. Henry to H. C. Hullinger. Dennis Netling & Co. sold the fee if this property to J. P. Song and Frank Ray for $200,000; H. C. Hullinger took back a 99-year lease at a 6 per cent rental based on the above valuation. George F. Montgomery organized the “Mecca” company and purchased this leasehold. Plans for the building were drawn by Edbrooke & Burnham and the contracts for the erection of the block have been let to Shields & Cook.
Second Atlas of the City of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, October 19, 1892
Busy Times at the Hotels.
The big Mecca Hotel, with 700 rooms, will be open tonight for the reception of guests. Nearly everything has been engaged there and it is doubtful if any hotel ever had such an opoening in the matter of rush and crush as the Mecca will have tonight.
The Mecca Hotel
The Inter Ocean February 19, 1893
Plans have been drawn for an addition of one-story to be made to the Mecca Hitel at the corner of State and Thirty-fourth streets. It will be chiefly of glass and cost about $40,000. The addition to the Dearborn street wing will be used as a dining-room and kitchen, while the addition to the State street wing will be used as a roof garden. The National Editorial Association will establish headquarters at the Mecca next May. The Mecca management has contracted with a band of seventy-five musicians from Guadeloupe, who will furnish music in the grand court of the hotel every afternoon.1
The Inter Ocean, May 17, 1893
The hundreds of newspaper men from all over the country who are quartered at the Mecca Hotel, at State and Thirty-fourth streets, devoted the earlier hours of yesterday to enjoyment and sight-seeing, with a view of unlimbering themselves after the fatigues of travel. They are a jolly sociable crowd and took readily and with zest to the many programmes of entertainment designed to make their stay in Chicago pleasant.
All through yesterday the rotunda of the hotel did duty as a big reception parlor and Secretary Joseph M. Page and his associates of the executive committee had a busy time making the visitors acquainted with one another and dividing them up into the little excursion parties which had been arranged for the purpose of affording the editors and their friends opportunities for visiting the World’s Fair.
The arrangements made for the comfort of the visitors could not have been better. The entire hotel is at the disposal of the Editorial Association. Every new arrival was met at the door with a cordial hand shake and invited to make himself at home, which, with the instinct of a true newspaper man, he proceeded to do instanter and without superfluous pressing.
Interior Atrium in the Mecca which served as the Ladies’ Parlor during the Columbian Exposition.
Delegations Make Calls.
The several suites of the hotel were apportioned on geographical lines between the delegations of the different States. Large placards, displayed in the hall, proclaimed the whereabouts of the State headquarters. Ths arrangement greatly facilitated the offices of good fellowship. Formal calls could be made collectively or individually—Ohio knew where to find Florida without any unnecessary trouble, Rhode Island had non difficulty when she wanted to look in on Kansas or one of the Dakotas, and so on., As the formula, “Not at home,” had no place in the social canons of the editors, the result was as happy as could be desired, and the rooms of the different delegations were the scenes of uninterrupted merry-making.
There was always a particularly happy crowd to be found in the temporary home of hospitable California. The men from the Bear State had brought with them a generous cargo of the products of the favored Pacific slope. Scipio Craig, of the Redlands Citograph; J. A. Filcher, of the Auburn Herald, and other genial Westerners dispensed the hospitalities, and there were oranges, pears, figs, dates, and the choicest of native wines and cigars galore for all comers.
The shrewd Californians utilized the occasion for publishing to all whom it may concern what their beautiful State can produce. Their room was artistically decorated in pampas grass, wild oats, and barley and beautiful polished panels of native woods. They exhibited phenomenal limes, peaches, and potatoes, some of the latter being seven and eight pounds in weight and as large as the average baby in size.
All Praise Chicago.
As the evening advanced the rotunda of the hotel wore an animated appearance. The groups returning from the exposition were telling one another and those who remained at home of the wonderful things to be seen at Jackson park. All spoke in terms of unstinted praise of Chicago and The Fair. By degrees the groups of delighted conversationalists became smaller and in a short time the talking was left to the ladies. The gentlemen had retired to their temporary sanctums, and by 6 o’clock 1,000 editorial pencils were writing 1,000 editorial letters to as many papers scattered north, south, east, and west throughout the United States, all booming the big show in the great White City by Lake Michigan.
The day was a pleasant one for the visitors, but it was only an earnest of the many days of enjoyment awaiting them. Today at 2 o’clock the delegates and their friends will visit the Turkish village and enjoy the drama as it is interpreted in Moslem theatres. Buffalo Bill has sent a cordial invitation extending the hospitality of the Wild West show and of his Indian tepee. The Specatorium company has asked the editors to view the model of their big show. Thus evening the editors will be tendered a reception at the Auditorium by the Illinois Women’s Press Association. To-morrow, as the guests of the citizens’ committee, the editorial association will be taken over the South Side “L” road to Jackson park, and thence in a whaleback boat on a lake excursion to Lincoln park. The boat en route will be anchored for a short time near where the Yattaw hostelry used to float, when the editors will be afforded the opportunity of enjoying a good view of Chicago and a capital luncheon simultaneously. To-morrow night “America,” at the Auditorium, will be shown to visitors. On Friday night there will be another boat excursion, when the delegates will see the World’s Fair illuminated.
These are only some of the attractions designed to delight the editors. Arrangements have been made by many friends to make the two weeks’ stay of the delegates a pleasant one. The editors themselves have prepared an elaborate programmed for their convention, from which it may be opined that their stay will also be one of profit.
Mecca Hotel in 1909
3360 S. State Street
Mecca Flat Blues
(James Blythe and Alexander Robinson)
In August 1924, Mecca Flat Blues was recorded in Chicago, on the Paramount record label, with Priscilla Stewart as vocals and Jimmy Blythe on piano.
Talk about blues but I’ve got the meanest kind
Blue and disgusted, dissatisfied in mind
My Mecca flat man, he really don’t understand
Mecca flat woman must be a jazzin’ houn’
Mecca flat woman must be a jazzin’ houn’
Keep foolin’ with me and I’ll cut your jazzer down
Mecca flat woman stings like a stingaree
Mecca flat woman stings like a stingaree
Mecca flat woman take your teeth out of me
I’m going to find my Mecca flat man today
I’m going to find my Mecca flat man today
Got the Mecca flat blues and somebody’s goin’ to pay
Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1950
Mecca Flats—once a model of the finest apartment living, but now a prime example of the worst slum tenements—was doomed yesterday to becoming just another page in the history of Chicago’s famous old buildings.
The death sentence was pronounced by the present owner, the Illinois Institute of Technology, which began proceedings preparatory to razing the structure in the school’s expansion program for its south side campus.
1,500 to Be Evicted.
Dr. Henry T. Heald, Illinois Tech president, announced that the Chicago area rent office has been asked to certify the eviction of the building’s 1,500 Negro occupants. The tenants, he added, will be informed today that eviction notices would be served about July 1.
“Both the building and fire department have agreed that the building should come down even tho there is a serious housing shortage,” explained Dr. Heald. “It’s a case of where the school can no longer be responsible for leaving people in a place where their lives are constantly in danger.”
Besides a fire trap, the structure was described by the school head as a health menace and a meeting place of gangs of juvenile hoodlums. Nightly shootings in hallways have become commonplace, one person having been killed six months ago.
Halted from Razing It.
Mecca Flats is a large brick building of four stories which stretches along the north side of 34th st. from State st. to Dearborn st. Illinois Tech became the reluctant landlord nine years ago when it acquired the building, but was deterred from tearing it down.
The principal reason was the housing shortage. Wartime conditions, civic organizations, the courts and the office of price control (then the rent control agency) at first collaborated to bar its demolition. In 1943 six Negro members of the legislature pushed thru a state law against its destruction, but this was vetoed by the government as unconstitutional.
Squatters Move In.
As normal vacancies occurred, Illinois Tech adopted a policy of not rerenting, but squatters moved in. There now are quarters rented by the school for only 175 families, but the overcrowded conditions are accounted for by the subleasing at rent four times more than the school’s charge of $22.50 per month.
Illinois Tech, Dr. Heald said, will do its utmost in helping find new quarters for the Mecca Flat tenants.
Mecca Flats was constructed during the two years preceding the Columbian Exposition, Chicago’s first world fair in 1893. The city’s largest apartment building at the time, the four story structure, was awe inspiring with two covered courtyards ringed by balconies of fancy wrought iron. It was one of the first, apartment structures to be equipped with a central “steam heating system.
Its deterioration started about the time of the first world war. In the early ’20s when nearby 35th and State sts. was the center of south side Negro jazz, a downbeat artist created a number called “Mecca Flat Blues,” a folksong celebrating the “trials, tribulations, and tragedies” of the tenement’s dwellers.
LIFE Magazine, November 19, 1951
For 10 years the Mecca, Chicago’s most celebrated slum building, has been gasping out its last breaths—but refusing ti give up. Its end will now come at last when the huge apartment house is torn down for the expanding campus of its neighbor, the Illinois Institute of Technology. Built on the South Side in 1891, the Mecca boasted four-story inside courts, tile-paneled halls, hardwood floors throughout. It was a mecca for Chicago’s rising rich until the South Side became less stylish. By 1912 the first Negro tenants had moved in. The building’s noisy jazz activities gave a name to the Mecca Flat Blues and the apartment steadily trumpeted its way downhill. I.I.T. bought it in 1941 but could not wreck it until 700 occupants could find homes in Chicago’s crowded Negro area. Since September I.I.T. has collected no rent from the 51 remaining tenants and hopes to have them all moved out be year’s end.
Balconies of The Mecca, 1951.
LEFT: The Mecca, Dearborn Street Entrance, 1951.
RIGHT: Demolition of The Mecca, January, 1952
Exterior Views of The Mecca
1 This addition was never built.