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La Salle Street Tunnel
Designer: William Bryson
The LaSalle Street Tunnel was Chicago’s second tunnel under the Chicago River. It was started November 3, 1869, and completed July 4, 1871. It was designed by William Bryson who was the resident engineer for the Washington Street Tunnel. It was 1,890 feet (576m) long, from Randolf Street north to Hubbard (then Michigan) Street, and cost $566,000.This tunnel, along with the Washington Tunnel, were valuable escape routes during the fire of 1871, which quickly consumed the wooden bridges.
Originally built for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic, on March 23, 1888 the North Chicago Street Railroad leased the tunnel, and it was used for cable car service until October 21, 1906.
The reversing of the Chicago River exposed the tunnel in 1900 and a wider, deeper replacement was built in a drydock on Goose Island from steel plate. When the tunnel closed to cable cars in 1906 the replacement was lowered into a trench in the riverbed. It opened to electric streetcar service in July 21, 1912.
The LaSalle Street tunnel was in use until November 27, 1939, when it was closed during the construction of the Milwaukee-Lake-Dearborn-Congress subway, the Lake & LaSalle (now Clark & Lake) station of which intersected the tunnel’s south ramp under Lake Street. By 1950 the south approach had been covered, the tunnel and the north approach were filled and covered by 1953.
Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1869
LA SALLE STREET TUNNEL
The success of the river tunnel at Washington street has been considered sufficient to justify the Common Council in proposing to construct a tunnel under the main river, and two sites have been suggested—one at LaSalle street, and the other at State street. The committee of the Common Council, have we believe, favored the selection of LaSalle street, but as there has been no final action on the subject, the members of the Board of Aldermen, before acting, should personally examine the locality, and for themselves, see the irreparable injury that will be inflicted, without any possible public benefit which may not be equally secured by locating the tunnel at State street..
The tunnel, if constructed at LaSalle street, must have its open entrance for vehicles at the north line of Randolph street, and this open entrance must extend to Lake street, where it will be arched. This entrance, or approach, in the case of the Washington street tunnel, is 22 feet between the walls, and that width is the least that can be adopted for safety. The walls have a coping two and a half feet wide, and are surmounted by a railing. This makes the total width of the street occupied by the approach to the tunnel 27 feet.
The width of the carriage-way on LaSalle street is 48 feet, if 27 feet be deducted for the tunnel, will leave a roadway on each side of but ten and a half feet. This, of course, will be insufficient, and will necessitate the use of much of the space now occupied by the sidewalks as a carriage-way. The sidewalks at present are 16 feet wide. It will be necessary to take eight or ten feet from each of these sidewalks and add them to the carriage-way in order to enable the latter to be passable for vehicles. This will leave the sidewalks on each side of LaSalle street, between Randolph and Washington streets, about six feet from the building line to the curbstone. Let the Aldermen visit that street, which, during business hours, is crowded to excess, and judge for themselves the effect of allowing a sidewalk of but six feet wide. Large and substantial buildings have been erected on that street, and the most of them built with the lower story in the nature of a basement, having an area, used as an approach, of descending steps, three to four feet from the building line. To secure sidewalks six feet wide will involve the necessity of closing up all these basement stores and offices; or, if they are not closed, the space left available for sidewalks will be reduced to from two to three feet; and we are sure that every Alderman will, upon inspecting the locality, admit that such a proceeding will destroy the value of the whole property, and deprive the public of the convenience of the street itself.
Now compare this condition of affairs with State street, if the tunnel be placed there. State street has a total width of 120 feet, of which 88 feet are given to the carriage-way, and 16 feet to each of the sidewalks. To build the approach in the centre of the street, will leave a carriage-way on each side of over 30 feet, and in no way interfere or diminish the width of the sidewalks. The construction of the tunnel at State street will not interfere with the convenient use of the street by the general public, nor will it incommode the business of any store or dealer on State street. The roadways will be wide enough for vehicles to receive and discharge their loads without obstructing the regular use of the street. The sidewalks will remain undiminished; and State street, instead of being destroyed, as will be the case of LaSalle street, by the tunnel, will be ornamented, and have an addition made to its already great attractions.
If Aldermen, voting on this subject, will examine both localities, we are sure they will not perpetuate the injustice of putting the tunnel at LaSalle street, while State street is at their service for that purpose.
Chicago. A Hand Book for Strangers & Tourists to the City of Chicago, 1869
The experiment of a tunnel under the river having proved to be a success in the case of the Washington street tunnel, it is now proposed to construct one at Adams street and another one at LaSalle street. From a communication addressed to the City Council by Mr. E. S. Chesborough, the distinguished city engineer, we gather the following interesting items :
The plan proposed for LaSalle street is in the main features very similar to the one already constructed at Washington street. Its total length, including approaches from Randolph street on the south and Michigan street on the north will be 1,930 feet. The net estimate for the work is $457,342.32, but in view of the possibility of occurrences difficult now to foresee, an appropriation of $500,000 is asked for.
LaSalle Street Tunnel
Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1870
LA SALLE STREET TUNNEL
How the Work Goes on—Satisfactory Progress
The most expensive work in which the city has been engaged during the past year is the La Salle Street Tunnel. Ground was broken on November 3, 1869, and since then, the work has been almost continuously in progress. The experience gained in building the Washington street tunnel has been of great service and value in the present case. The character of the soil will be so well known in future, and the difficulties to be overcome can be so accurately calculated, that little more will be thought of constructing a tunnel than of building a house.
The north half of the passage way was completed in the summer, and now the southern half is being pushed forward with great rapidity. The archway has been built 175 feet south from the center of the river, so that now extends beyond where the deck wall is to be. South Water street, at the foot of La Salle, is excavated, and soon the picks and shovels will make a trench in La Salle nearly as far south as Randolph. The roadway entrance will begin 40 feet north of the south line of Randolph, ands be open as far as Lake, the distance from there to the river being covered.
Since the coffer dam was made tight, no trouble has been met with in the tunnel proper, and the best kind of luck has attended the work. It was found necessary to take down the upper stories of Steele’s Building, which stand on the edge of the river, and whose foundations were in danger from the excavation. The wisdom of relieving the foundation of the superincumbent weight, is shown by the crack that is visible in the lower part of the wall. Had not precaution been taken, very likely the building would have come down by the run, and without warning.
As soon as the dock wall is built, and the archway tested, the dam will be removed. There will be no necessity for removing it until spring, when navigation will be resumed, although it could be removed much sooner if required. The contract calls for the tunnel to be finished on July 1, 1871. If no accident happens, it will be done before that date.
The original estimate of the cost of the work is $427,000, but when damages, and all contingent expenses are paid, it will reach nearly, if not quite, $500,000. The contractors have received to date $196,467, so that they have a good round sum to earn yet.
Mr. William Bryerson is the engineer in charge on the part of the Board of Public Works, Mr. Chesborough, of course, being the chief. Both of these gentlemen are doing all they can to have the work done in the best manner, and so indeed are the contractors, Messrs. Moes, Chambers & McBean.
LaSalle Street Tunnel
Robinson Fire Map, 1886
LaSalle Street Tunnel Cross Section
LaSalle Street Tunnel Entrance
Engraving by Charles Graham
Harper’s Weekly, Saturday, 24 May 1890
LaSalle Street Tunnel
Engraving by Charles Graham
Harper’s Weekly, Saturday, 24 May 1890
LaSalle Street Tunnel
Left: Footpath Walkway
Right: Vehicle Passage
In the winter of 1872-1873, during a period of high unemployment, workers, who gathered to protest for poor relief and food, were forced into the LaSalle Street tunnel and beaten by police. This was known as the Bread Riot of 1872.
From Harper’s Weekly, the caption reads, “The frustrated raid of communists upon the Relief and Aid Society in Chicago.—From photographs by Copeland & Son and sketched by Joseph E. Beal.”
La Salle Street Tunnel with Cable Cars
Industrial World and Iron Worker
July 29, 1886
La Salle Street Tunnel Tubes
January 29, 1911
Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1939
The council finance committee yesterday approved an agreement between the city and the Chicago Surface Lines whereby the La Salle street tunnel for street cars will be closed during construction of the Dearborn street subway. The Dearborn subway turns west at Lake street and crosses La Salle. It is planned to re-route street cars thru other tunnels.
The south end of the LaSalle Street tunnel at Randolph Street on March 25, 1939.
Chicago Tribune April 10, 1902
LA SALLE STREET BOULEVARD PLAN.
The proposed change of La Salle street and La Salle avenue into a boulevard for reaching Lincoln Park via the Lake Shore drive overlooks the natural approach to the park and suggests another against which many objections may be brought.
The La Salle street route involves crossing nine street car tracks on the South Side, including the Randolph street crossing, the most dangerous of them all. From Monroe street to Randolph street to Lake street the opening into the tunnel leaves only a narrow passageway on either side in a block devoted entirely to business and, of course, always crowded with vehicles. From Lake street to South Water street, La Salle street is almost impassable by reason of vehicles standing along the sides. From South Water street to the river the center of the street is occupied by the ventilating shaft of the tunnel. On the north side of the river the situation is almost as bad, for La Salle avenue, form the river to Illinois street, is occupied by structures and tunnel openings corresponding to those on the South Side, and from the river to Chicago avenue it is given up almost entirely to factories, small shops, and saloons.
Why should such a route be urged? It is ten blocks out of the way from Michigan avenue. It involves the building of a special bridge, which may prove impracticable on account of the tunnel, and there are other disadvantages and difficulties not mentioned in the way of boulevard constructions. The natural approach to Lincoln Park from the South Side is Michigan avenue, thence to Lincoln Park boulevard and Lake Shore drive. A more unsuitable approach to the park could hardly be selected than La Salle avenue. A more suitable and attractive one cannot be found than Michigan avenue. The crossing of the river by viaduct and bridge is simple and practical. There is no obstacle but in the expense. That obstacle just now stands in the way of every other public improvement, and could be provided for as other improvements in the future will have to be. In selecting a boulevard connection between the South Side and Lincoln Park, why ignore the natural route which is obvious to any one, and against which no rational objection can be offered, and select a remote and roundabout one which will be attended by many difficulties and no compensating attractions?
Electric Trolley Weekly, November 26, 1910
The rebuilding of the three tunnels under the Chicago river and the preparation for their utilization by the cars of the Chicago Railways Company is coincident with the remarkable rehabilitation of surface traction facilities in Chicago under the direction of the Board of Supervising Engineers Chicago Traction as well as with the plans for an unobstructed river channel which, in response to popular demand, the federal government has insisted upon as an aid to Chicago commerce. The three tunnels, each of which accommodates two tracks, are as follows:
- 1. The Van Buren street tunnel under the south branch of the Chicago river, located between Clinton and Franklin streets, just north of Van Buren street. This tunnel has a total length of 1,517 ft. between Franklin street, in the business center, and Clinton street, on the West Side, and is divided into an east approach of 112 ft., a tunnel length of 1,095 ft. and a west approach of 316 ft.
2 The Washington street tunnel extending along along the center line of Washington street, under the south branch of the Chicago river at \\ashington street, has a total length, with approaches, of 1,520 ft. between Franklin street, in the business district, and Clinton street, on the West Side.
3. The La Salle street tunnel, extending along the center line of La Salle street under the main Chicago river between Randolph street, in the business district, and Michigan street, on the North Side, has a total length of 1,887 ft., of which 1,170 ft. of the old tunnel was brick arch, about 180 ft. of iron girders, with brick arches between, and the remaining 537 ft. about equally divided between the approaches.
Progress of the Work
As stated in ELECTRIC TRACTION WEEKLY, issue of October 22, 1910, the Van Buren street tunnel, which had been in course of construction since July, 1906 was on October 16 officially opened to traffic for small cars, and steps are being taken to remove certain steel columns supporting the elevated railway structure which now prevent the operation of the large through-route cars through this tunnel. As reported in our issue of November 19, 1910, the Washington street tunnel is nearly completed and the installation of car tracks is proceeding while the tunnel builders, George W. Jackson, Inc., are finishing the work at the east approach. The La Salle street tunnel work is well advanced. The War Department has issued a permit naming December 2 as the date upon which the river current may be shut off at Lockport and shipping may be denied passage and the work of pouring concrete about the twin steel tubes which have been constructed in a shipyard may be commenced and the tunnels to La Salle street then sunk into place. As it requires several days to float the tubes to La Salle street, they have been started on their journey.
History of The Tunnels
The Van Buren street tunnel was built between the years of 1890 and 1894 by the West Chicago Street Railroad Company to accommodate the cable line passed which was then being built on Blue Island avenue. The tunnel was a three-centered brick arch of 30-ft. span at the springing line and 20 ft. in height from the invert to the crown of the arch. The west 500 ft. of the tunnel is directly under the Pennsylvania Railroad Company’s yard, while the east 300 ft. support four seven-story brick buildings. The Washington and La Salle street tunnels, very similar in general form of construction, were built with the proceeds of city bonds, the former in 1867 and the latter between 1869 and 1871. In the late 80’s when the street railway companies were contemplating a change from horse cars to cable lines, the Washington and La Salle street tunnels were turned over to them for car operation on condition that the roof of the Washington street tunnel be lowered so as to provide a depth of water over it of 17 ft. instead of 14 ft. This work was done by the company in 1889. In September, 1901, the Secretary of War, in obedience to an act of Congress of April 27, 1904, notified the Chicago Union Traction Company to lower the roof of the Van Buren street tunnel to provide a depth of water over it of at least 22 ft. and also similarly notified the city of Chicago with regard to the Washington street and La Salle street tunnels.
The maximum depth over the tunnels in 1901 was but 18 ft. while the depth at mean water level was as low as 16 ft. The increase in the draft and tonnage of lake vessels made the tunnels a barrier to shipping and this was particularly noticeable when the river level was lowered by reversal of the current due to the opening of the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
The work of lowering the Van Buren street tunnel and removing the roofs of the Washington and La Salle street tunnels was begun by the receivers of the Chicago Union Traction Company in 1906. The Van Buren street tunnel was acquired by the Chicago Railways Company in 1907. On February 11, 1907. the city council passed an ordinance providing for the completion by the Chicago Railways Company of the the work of lowering the river section of the Van Buren street tunnel and the reconstruction of the Washington street and La Salle street tunnels.
The work on the Van Buren Street tunnel, as begun by the Chicago Union Traction Company, consisted of the building of a new steel girder and concrete roof in the river section, the building of bulk heads at each end of the new roof, the cleaning out of old tracks, cables, yokes, etc., lowering the invert and underpinning the old foundation for practically the entire length of the tunnel, rebuilding the pump chamber and well and removing the old roof in the river section. The completion of this work and the equipment of the tunnel for modern operation has been noted.
The work of removing the Washington street tunnel which, in order to comply with the act of Congress was begun under the direction of the receivers of the Chicago Union Traction Company, consisted of the building of a new steel girder and concrete roof over the river section, tearing out the south wall of the roadway, building new foundations in the old foot passage of the tunnel, building water tight bulkheads and finally removing the river section of the old tunnel roof and the center pier of the Washington street bridge, which rested upon the tunnel. This work was completed about October, 1907.
The New Washington Tunnel
About a year later plans were prepared for the construction of a new tunnel and the western approach, designated as section No. 1, was completed by George W. Jackson, Inc., in 1909. In January, 1910, the same company began work on section No. 2, which embraced the east approach and the river section. This work, which is now practically completed, has constituted not only an important but a novel engineering feat, a plan new in tunnel construction having been devised by George W. Jackson, Inc., and used for the first time in this work. When the old tunnel in the river section was torn out, a flat roof, consisting of steel girders supporting a concrete slab, was put in, mainly with intent of complying with the government’s requirements that the old arch be removed as an obstruction to navigation. It was at this time not determined in exactly what manner the flat roof built just above the old invert tunnel would be utilized in building the new tunnel. However, Mr. Jackson and his engineers decided that this roof, as built under the bed of the river, would serve satisfactorily for the roof of the new tunnel and that he would proceed to build concrete side walls under it to support it. An ac companying cross section shows how this was accomplished. Tunnel headings were started and the clay removed in the space represented by the base of the wall to be built. Forms were built, steel reinforcement rods placed and the concrete put in. When the walls had been completed at the base, excavation above this wall and up to the old foundation walls was carried forward. The work was done in sections and lagging at the sides of the walls left in place and all necessary provisions made for the proper support of the old wall until the new wall was ready to support its load. After the new walls had been built, the old invert and the core below were taken out, exposing the new concrete walls. About 200 ft. of this work was done under the main bed of the river.
There still remained 996 ft. of Section 2 to be built, including the east approach, and much the same process was pursued in building the concrete arch. Numerous headings were established, in the manner shown in one of the illustrations, and the clay and rock, removed by means thereof, corresponded to the mold which it was desired the new concrete wall and arch should occupy. The walls of the excavated arch were lined, as rapidly as headings were advanced, with the timbers constituting the forms for the concrete arch; reinforcement was laid and the concrete put in, as the excavation progressed. Later, the core of clay was taken out, exposing the forms, the removal of the latter revealing the finished arch, which has a width of 28 ft. The two tracks of the tunnel are separated up to within 100 ft. of the portals with a curtain wall which, except under the river section proper, was built at the same time as the remainder of the arch and in the manner above described, so that the removal of the core was in two bores as shown in one of the illustrations. The concrete invert for the new tunnel was then put in place. The Chicago Railways Company will proceed with the installation of car tracks as soon as material can be carried into the tunnel and while the tunnel builders are finishing the work at the east approach.
The Board of Supervising Engineers has carried out its intention to build the Washington street tunnel in harmonious accord with the future subway system. Accordingly the track in the present west approach is laid on a temporary grade of 9 per cent, and is, for present use, supported on temporary trestle work consisting of bents on 10-ft. centers with stringers between them to support the ties. The east approach is on a temporary 10 per cent grade. The rail now laid on the west approach is a low T-rail. A double flooring over the ties completes the approach. As will be noted from the profile drawing, the permanent track grade from the subway system into the tunnel is intended to be 2.9 per cent on the west approach and 3 per cent on the east approach. The permanent grade in the tunnel itself is 5.3 per cent. The track work in the tunnel proper will have no unusual features, the subgrade and ballast resting on the heavy concrete invert, which has a minimum thickness of 2 ft. 10 ins. The Board of Supervising Engineers expect the opening of this tunnel to have an immediate effect in relieving the traffic congestion, towards the accomplishment\ of which the efforts of the board have been directed during the past two years. With the Washington street bridge closed to traffic since the commencement of work on the tunnel and with the frequent interruptions to traffic due to the necessity of opening the other bridges over the south branch to permit the passage of vessels, the operating ingenuity of the company and the patience of the public have been severely taxed.
La Salle Street Tunnel
The designs for reconstruction of the La Salle Street tunnel made in 1906 contemplated a new roof in the river section. But in November, 1906, water broke through the invert as the result of a leak and flooded the tunnel. After ineffectual attempts were made to repair the damage it was decided to abandon the old tunnel and to remove it by dredging a deep trench along the outside of the walls, then drilling the walls and roof and blasting. All work of removing the roof and side walls to provide the necessary depth of water required by the government, was completed by April, 1907. Various methods of reconstructing the tunnel were proposed. Owing to the fact that the United States government objected to the obstruction to navigation which would result from the construction of the river section by the open cut method, a double bore steel shell, to be erected in dry dock, floated in place, lined with concrete and sunk to position upon foundations previously prepared, was later designed and finally adopted.
LA SALLE STREET BRIDGE #1
Marshall Suloway Bridge
La Salle Street Bridge
Chicago Tribune December 20, 1928
An important new loop traffic outlet to the north will be opened at noon today when the new La Salle street bridge, linking the thoroughfare across the Chicago river, is formally dedicated and thrown open for vehicular use.
City officials have arranged a celebration starting with a parade at 11:30 a. m. from Grant park to the bridge, and a ribbon cutting ceremony there at noon, followed by a luncheon and speaking program at the Hotel Sherman. Mayor Thompson will lead the parade and be the principal speaker at the luncheon. The program was arranged by Commissioner of Public Works Richard W. Wolfe.
Electric signs announcing the opening last night were swung from the top of the bridge, lifted to display them. Flags and bunting decorated the bridge houses and buildings along La Salle street and Wacker drive.
The new span, which is of the bascule type, and the viaduct over the C. & N. W. tracks at the north approach, was built at a cost of $2,000,000.
LA SALLE STREET BRIDGE OPENED TO PUBLIC WITH ELABORATE CEREMONY.
Left to right: Sam Golan, Karl Eitel, Richard W. Wolfe, commissioner of public works; Mayor William Hale Thompson, who cut the restraining ribbon, and Charles Agnew, harbormaster.
New types of bridge covering have been developed since the advent of heavy automobile traffic. This particular kind is made up of asphalt planks laid diagonally.
La Salle Street Bridge
Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1928
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