Chicago River Bridges | South Branch Bridges | North Branch Bridges | Main Channel Bridges
Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1904
The project of connecting the north and south side boulevard systems by a driveway of which Chicago may be proud gives promise of soon becoming an actively prosecuted movement on the part of public men, property owners, and civic bodies.
It developed yesterday that the plan to effect this connection by a subway was proposed by the Lincoln and south park boards has been definitely abandoned in favor of The Tribune’s plan to widen Michigan avenue north of Randolph street, and to connect the the boulevard thus formed with Lincoln Park boulevard (Pine street) by means of a new bascule bridge and a viaduct extension. All opposition to The Tribune scheme, presented to the public nearly a year ago, is therefore at an end, and all the interests concerned profess themselves united on a definite mode of procedure.
Subway Plan a Dream.
President Tracy of the Lincoln park board said:
- The subway plan was a dream. It is exactly the opposite of what Chicago needs as a connection of the north and south boulevards. The Tribune scheme is the only feasible suggestion that has been made. I am in favor of it in every detail, and, in fact, I know of no opposition to it. Michigan avenue should be widened by condemning the property on the east side, north of Randolph street.
Then a bascule bridge should be thrown across the river in a slanting direction to the foot of Pine street. I will guarantee that the Lincoln park board will undertake the work on the north side of the river, which will include the bridge approach and the asphalting of Pine street as far north as Ohio street.
Foreman Favors “Tribune” Plan.
President Foreman of the south park board said:
- I always was opposed to the subway plan. At best it was nothing but a little hole in the ground that was proposed. What I want to see is a great, comprehensive plan for connecting the boulevards on lines commensurate with the needs and ideals of the Chicago of the future—the Chicago plan of 5,000,000 people, at least. The Tribune plan is a good suggestion along the right time. I am in favor of getting to work as soon as possible on the elaboration of any plan which contemplates a beautiful and generously conceived driveway across the river.
A map of the scene of The Tribune’s proposed scheme of improvements is held generally to furnish the most potent argument in favor of the plan. The argument becomes more impressive to those luckless pedestrians whose acquaintance with the street is obtained on the ground level. North of Randolph street Michigan avenue shrinks in width from ninety to sixty feet. Between Randolph street and the river this breadth of sixty-six feet is monopolized by day by a double row of towering trucks, dray horses, and yelling drivers.
Detail of Michigan Avenue between Randolph Street and the River
Carriages Scarcely Can Pass.
Between the rows there is scarcely room for one carriage to pass another, which maneuver is effected usually amid much profanity from the truckmen thus momentarily disturbed. In view of this condition it is generally considered captious to call attention to the paving of this link in Chicago’s boulevard system, which here is of granite blocks and as ill cared for as that of any traffic alley. The pedestrian makes his way along the sidewalks by hurdling the countless skids on which merchandise is being projected from the trucks into the wholesale houses that line the street. Pedestrians who promenade Chicago boulevards for exercise may here practice the invigorating hop, skip, and jump, while the dodging of sliding bales and boxes and encounters with profanity irate freight handlers afford a cheap and pleasant variety of adventures.
Cost of Widening Street.
It is here that The Tribune’s plan begins. It is proposed to widen Michigan avenue north of Randolph street to ninety feet by condemning a slice of property on the east side of the avenue. This property, running through to Central avenue, has a depth of 130 feet. This land is now worth from $1,000 to $1,500 a front square foot or not more than $8-$12 a square foot. The land is all improved with the exception of 224 feet at the extreme north end, but the improvements are old.
Estimating the damage at $20 a square foot, real estate men declare that the condemnation of a forty foot strip would cost not to exceed $850,000 for the land alone. The damage to improvements, they say, will not exceed $200,000, thereby making a total of $1,050,000 for the widening of the thoroughfare.
Bridge 350 Feet Long.
At the termination of Michigan avenue at the river it is proposed to build a bascule bridge suitable for a boulevard and slanting eastward across the river at such an angle as to run the extended driveway directly into Pine street. This would require the acquirement of a small piece of the Goodrich docks and of the Kirk soap factory. The bridge probably would be extended on the north side as a viduct to clear the Northwestern switchtrack.
The width of the river slanting line proposed is 350 feet. Assistant Engineer George M. Wisner of the drainage board estimates in a general way that it would cost $350,000 to build the bridge desired and $90,000 to construct approaches and the viaduct. President Tracy of the Lincoln park board proposes that the bridge be made an artistic memorial structure, commemorating some event inn the city’s history.
With the bridge costing $340,000 and the property damages $1,050,000, it is estimated that the cost of the whole undertaking, including the asphalting of the streets, can be kept well inside of $2,000,000. The abandoned subway project involved an expenditure of $3,000,000 for a less attractive work.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1911
Diagram of North and South Boulevard Connection. showing width of street North and South of the River and the zone of the proposed Improvement indicating all intersecting thoroughfares.
Michigan Avenue Bridge construction
The Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1920:
The Michigan boulevard link was officially opened to traffic at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. At that hour Mayor Thompson, whose administration has the credit for bringing to reality this dream of thirty years; Michael J. Faherty, the driving boss of the bridge builders, and Charles H. Wacker, head of the Chicago Plan commission, stepped from an automobile and stood before a tiny ribbon stretched across the south end of the upper level.
Heads uncovered. The crowds surged against the ropes. The band began to play “The Star Spangled Banner.” Then Big Bill’s show broke loose. Airplanes over the bridge sending showers of booster literature, noats under the bridge blowing shrill whistles, sirens, calliope; bombs exploding and sending gay umbrellas and flower designs fluttering down upon the massed heads, confetti and music and flying banners everywhere.
Terrific Noise. Feature.
It was a sparkling day, cheerful and full of zest. Everything combined to make the event memorable. It was all packed into a few minutes of terrific noise. The bands a few feet away sounded like the thin droning of mosquitoes.
The mayor’s cowboy hat was pressed against his breast, and his face was a mingling of gravity and pleased emotion as he waited to cut the thin ribbon, sensing the great measure of the achievement. He had lived half a century. He had reached a mark. He was looking toward a new mark. Let him remember this day.
Dedication ceremony, 14 May 1920
At 4:00 p.m. on the sunny afternoon of May 14, 1920, Chicago Plan Commission Chairman Charles Wacker and Board of Local Improvements President Michael Faherty stood beside Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson as he cut the ribbon to open the upper level of the new Michigan Avenue Bridge.
Followed by Deluge.
A lull came in the din, and the mayor pulled a pair of shears from his pocket, snipped the silk ribbon, stepped into his machine and was whirled smiling across the bridge. From blocks the people lined the way and cheered him. He was followed by the deluge. Panting at the gates, Chicago’s automobile racers followed him along the new highway in an unbroken stream. The dam was broken. The snarl at the Rush street bridge was relieved. Traffic officers smiled.
The upper level will remain open to traffic while the builders are working underneath. They were working yesterday even during the ceremonies. A few toil stained men in overalls climbed the slippery steps from the river bed and gazed upon the glory that their hands had created.
Road Wonderful Sight.
The smooth, wide perfect road, capable of lifting to let the ships pass through, was a wonderful thing to behold. It was lined with police and decorated from stem to stern in flags of America and gay Japanese lanterns. The iron work was painted a cheerful red. The paving was still fresh with tar, untouched by wheels until the mayor crossed. Then came Chief of Police Garrity with flying banners. Everywhere the Boosters. They had signs on their cars telling of the glories of Chicago. They spent money a decorating their cars.
Flowers by Ton
There were floats that were dreams of grace and color and beauty. Flowers by the ton. Pretty girls by the shipload. The members of the Commercial club, an organization which gave great help in the bridge project, rode near the head of the parade. Bankers mostly, in limousines. Behind them came members of the Bridge Operators and Boosters’ union men with hard hands and weather beaten cheeks, riding close in small cars. The building of the bridge called for them both.
The photograph above shows the old Rush street bridge, the new Michigan avenue one, and points of interest along the river banks. It was taken from an airplane for The Tribune by Pilot Dallas M. Speer, whose picture is inset
There was an official reviewing stand at the north end of the bridge where all the guests of the city and the men and women who had to pick out the gold and silver medal winners for the best cars. The occasion was unique in that there was no speechmaking. The people did the speaking. All the way down, the new wide avenue, from the Art Institute to the bridge the roads were packed. All new, bright, sunny—a view of Chicago at its best. Someone put up a big sign reading:
- All hats off to our mayor—what do we live for?
But the cars are rolling over the bridge.
Narrow Escape for Autos.
The opening ceremonies were nearly marred by an accident. While bands were still playing and fireworks being displayed the lumber steamer Herman H. Hettler signaled for the opening of the bridge. Bridge Tender George B. McLaughlin started to raise the south span, unaware that four autos were on it. The cars slid backward and would have dropped through the opening made by the raising to the abutment of the bridge if policemen had not attracted the attention of the bridge tender by firing their revolvers. The machinery was immediately stopped and the occupants of the autos saved from injuries.
Looking south across the Michigan Avenue Bridge during formal ceremonies on opening day in 1920 with city officials riding in the first automobile across the span.
Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1920
They would have thought him crazy, if old John Kinzie, fishing in the river at Rush street a hundred years ago, had said:
“Yes, sir, I predict that in about a hundred years there will be the third largest city in the whole world right here, and there’ll be a bridge over this here river that will open like a knife, and that 50,000 new fangled things called automobile will cross that bridge every day, and that boats run by the stuff that comes out of as tea kettle when its boiling will dash up and down the river, and that flying machines will fly every which way, and that property round here will be worth over a hundred dollars an acre.”
Motor Age, May, 1920
Chicago formally opens the Rush Street “Link” Bridge.
CHICAGO, May 14, 1920—Motor car dealers, automobile clubs and civic organizations turned out to make this a roaming holiday for Chicago. The cause of the holiday was the formal opening of the Boulevard Link bridge which was formally thrown open to traffic at 4 o’clook. An automobile parade, consisting or several thousand machines, made the occasion one of the moat pretentious In Chicago’s annals of automobile activities.
The Boulevard Link bridge forms the connection between the north and south side boulevard systems of Chicago, and ta virtually the only entrance to Chicago’s Motor Row, which is largely located on the south side, from the north shore residence district, the wealthiest in the city. Although the completion of the Boulevard Link is a matter of civil pride, it is particularly a source of rejoicing for automobile men.
Mayor William Hale Thompton cuts ribbon and officially opens the new Boulevard Link Bridge to traffic. right, the automobile parade passing over the bridge. Only half the bridge roadway was utilized in order to give spectators a better chance to see the parade.
Some of the decorated cars which featured the parade. The cars shown here were part of the contingent furnished by members of the Chicago Automobile Trade association.
From Fort Dearborn Magazine June, 1922
New Boulevard Link’s Traffic Almost Double That of London Bridge
More Than 34,000 Vehicles Pass Daily Over the Double Deckers of the New Michigan Avenue Structure as Compared With 18,387 Over England’s Famous Bridge
Incidental to the putting of the finishing touches on the New Boulevard Link Bridge, it is interesting to know that the present traffic over this structure is nearly double that of the famous London Bridge. Statistics on record in the office of the city statistician, Frederick Rex, also show that traffic over this bridge is considerably in excess of that over the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg or Queenshoro bridges in New York City.
The new boulevard bridge which more than 34,000 vehicles pass
On an average week day 30,569 automobiles, 494 motor busses, 2,011 trucks and 1,414 wagons—a total of 34,488 vehicles—pass over the upper and lower decks of the Michigan Avenue Bridge every twelve hours. as compared with 18,387 over the London Bridge.
Cars numbering 9,700 and 5,188 vehicles—a total of 14,888—pass every twenty-four hours over the Brooklyn Bridge and 20,785 vehicles and 3,475 cars— a total of 24,260—pass over Manhattan Bridge. Traffic on W’illiamsburg Bridge includes 9,651 cars and 17,480 vehicles. a total of 27,131; on Queensboro Bridge, 2,4911 cars and 17,858 vehicles, a total of 20,332. Hence the traffic on the Chicago bridge during twelve hours exceeds that on any one of these important bridges for twenty-four hours.
In 1913 the City Council passed an ordinance for the widening of Michigan Avenue from 66 to 130 feet between Randolph Street and the river and to 141 feet north from the river to Chicago Avenue, a total distance of about one mile. The widening has been made on the east side of Michigan Avenue. south of the river, and on the west side of what was formerly Pine Street, north of the river. The plan included the construction of a double deck hascule bridge across the river, which was started April 13. 1918 and was completed May 14, 1920, with the exception of the two towers at each entrance and the stairways to the boat landings which were just recently fnished. The bridge and the steel structures supporting the upper level are designed to support 20-ton vehicles in motion. The bridge is operated by electricity.
One of the Four Towers of the New Boulevard Bridge
As a result of the development of north Michigan Avenue as a connecting link between the South Side, the “Loop” shopping district, and the North Side, this thoroughfare has practically become the base line of the city’s traffic.
The necessity for the Michigan Avenue improve ment \vas made plain by a traffic census that was taken in 1916 and 1917 at a cost of $10,000. At various periods of the year, during several days, a force of 250 investigators was employed to count all vehicles entering and leaving the central business district and to determine the character of the vehicles and the business of the occupants, the points from which they came and to which they were going.
This count showed that in a week of some 300,000 movements of automobiles about 85 per cent were used in connection with business, and 15 per cent for pleasure. Other counts indicated that about 60 per cent of all automobiles entering and leaving the central district drove along Michigan Avenue either at the southern outlet at 12th Street. or at the northern at Rush Street bridge. Between 7 a. m. and 7 p. m. the average daily number of automobiles passing over Rush Street bridge was approximately 12,000 and of this number 85 per cent were used for business purposes. There were approximately 2,000 auto trucks and other slow moving commercial vehicles passing over Rush Street bridge every day in addition to the passenger automobiles.
An aerial view of the new boulevard bridge showing traffic between 8 and 9am in the morning.
Because of this traffic congestion. particularly the interference of crossed lines of traffic, all concerned in the transportation of any kind of merchandise by vehicles through the streets in the central section of the city were put to serious inconvenience by the loss of time in the transportation of freight. The volume of freight represented by this traffic is indicated by the statement of the Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad to the effect that the freight business originating in the Illinois Central yards just east of Michigan Avenue and south of the river amounts to $24,000,000 a year, or about One-third of all the business done by the entire Illinois Central Railroad system.
Aeroplane View of the New Boulevard Link and the Wrigley Building.
The Site of Old Fort Dearborn Is on the South Bank of the River Immediately Adjacent to the New Boulevard Link Bridge.
The north tower of the Wrigley building would not be completed till May, 1924.
The widening of Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street to Chicago Avenue, and the construction of the double deck bridge, has relieved the traffic congestion that formerly existed along the north end of Michigan Avenue across the Rush Street Bridge and the streets on the North Side leading to the Rush Street Bridge. In addition to this great benefit to the city. the improvement has created a great plaisance for office buildings, hotels, clubs, theatres, stores and shops, thereby increasing the opportunity for continuing the erection of magnificent buildings, and making Michigan Avenue one of the most beautiful and busiest thoroughfares in the world.
The increase in the value of real estate due to the construction of the Michigan Avenue improvement has already exceeded $100,000,000 according to the estimate of members of the Chicago and Cook County Real Estate Boards. The total cost of the improvement was less than $15,000,000. Instances of increases in value of some properties on North Michigan Avenue show by actual sales as much as 1500 per cent increases, or from $5 to $100 per square foot.
Thousands attend the opening of the Outer Drive Bridge, also known as the Link Bridge, on what is now Lake Shore Drive at the mouth of the Chicago River on Oct. 5, 1937. In the background are signs for Baby Ruth, center left, and General Electric, right. The bridge was intended to ease congestion on Michigan Avenue and in 1937 it was one of the longest, widest, and heaviest bascule bridges
The Old Rush Street Bridge (#4) Which Was Supplanted by the New Boulevard Structure
The new Boulevard and the south tower of the Wrigley Building in 1921
Michigan Avenue Bridge Raised
Chicago Real Estate
Michigan Avenue Link
Michigan Avenue, North of the New Boulevard Bridge.
Fort Dearborn Magazine
Photo by E. J. Lembeke., Member of Chicago Camera Club
Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1937
From a muddy, narrow, unkept and little used dead-end street to one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares is the remarkable metamorphosis brought about in less than two decades by the erection of an eight million dollar bridge over the Chicago river. A glance back from present day North Michigan avenue, which now ranks with the great shopping streets of metropolitan cities, to its drab predecessor—Pine street—reveals one of the most startling changes in city history.
The building of the Michigan avenue bridge, which was opened May 14, 1920, did more than transform a lane into a boulevard. It opened to development a large area on both sides of Michigan avenue, many square miles in extent, and resulted in the erection and remodelling of buildings costing an estimated two hundred million dollars.
Put Millions Into Buildings.
Along North Michigan avenue alone, from Randolph street to Lake Shore drive, thirty-three good sized fireproof buildings costing approximately $70,000,000 for actual construction alone, and involving many millions more for land investment, have been erected since the Michigan avenue bridge was opened.
In addition, many millions of dollars have been poured into old buildings to modernize them into structures suitable for a great thoroughfare.
Every street leading from North Michigan avenue, between Randolph street and Lake Shore drive and nearby parallel thoroughfares, have felt the stirring growth of motor and pedestrian traffic on the avenue and reacted to it to the tune of millions of dollars in new construction.
Large Areas Affected.
From the lake to Clark street and from the river to North avenue great projects of all kinds—educational, religious, commercial and civic—have come to life as a result of linking the north and south sides with a modern bridge and the resultant development of North Michigan avenue.
The two pioneer tall buildings on North Michigan avenue, the Wrigley building and the Drake hotel, were both completed the same year the Michigan avenue bridge was opened—1920.
One year later the Tribune plant in the rear of the present Tribune Tower, and the Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank building were completed. In 1922 building activity developed at the south end of the bridge and the London Guarantee building was erected.
Three Built in 1923.
The following year, inspired by the success of the Wrigley building, the Wrigley Building Annex was erected, and also the Allerton hotel and the Central Life building (recently renamed the 720 North Michigan Avenue building.
In 1924 Michigan avenue construction developed south of the bridge and the Bell building was erected.
Five big structures, involving a total investment in buildings of approximately sixteen million dollars, and many millions more for land, were completed during 1925. They were Tribune Tower, the Michigan-Ohio building, the Tobey Furniture building, and the Illinois Women’s Athletic club.
Two Climb Skyward.
During the next year, 1926, only two big structures climbed skywards on North Michigan avenue—the Lake-Michigan building (recently renamed Harvester) and the 840 North Michigan building at Chestnut street. The following year only one tall structure, the 333 North Michigan Avenue building was completed.
But during the next year—1928—all building records for the avenue were broken and ten large structures, representing a total investment in construction alone of nearly twenty-one million dollars, were completed.
These were the Palmolive building, Drake Towers, (not actually on Michigan avenue, but at that time virtually an annex to the Drake hotel), Woman’s Athletic club, the Farwell building, the 700 North Michigan Avenue building, the 733 North Michigan avenue building, the Medinah Athletic club, the McGraw-Hill building, the Decorative Arts building, and the Carbide and Carbon building.
Build During Market Crash.
Although the slowup in building throughout the city was more apparent, three North Michigan avenue buildings were completed during 1929—the year of the great stock market crash. They were the Michigan Square building, the 430 North Michigan avenue building, and the building at 669 North Michigan avenue, later occupied by Saks Fifth avenue store.
Then came a six year lull in building everywhere, broken, so far as North Avenue was concerned, in 1935 when The Tribune erected the W-G-N studio building adjoining Tribune Tower, and Saks Fifth Avenue store doubled its capacity by building an annex.
This photograph, taken in April, 1922, from the Wrigley building, discloses a scarcity of skyscrapers, automobiles, and pedestrians along North Michigan avenue between the river and Lake Shore drive. The Tribune plant is shown in the right foreground, reached from Michigan avenue by a pedestrian bridge. Tribune Tower wasn’t completed until three years later—in March, 1925. The Wrigley building and the Drake hotel were both finished in 1920—the year the Michigan avenue bridge was opened to traffic.
Street Has Many Changes.
The foregoing list of new, fireproof buildings frails, of course, to include several million dollars’ worth of moderate sized buildings and modernization of may others.
Few important streets have had as many building changes as North Michigan avenue. Widening Pine street (from the river to Ohio) and Lincoln parkway (from Ohio to Lake Shore drive) into modern North Michigan avenue, necessitated slicing off the front of many buildings and removal of others. The result was many rebuilt structures, many enlarged buildings, and a number of medium sized entirely new structures.
If space allowed, one could make an imposing list of skyscrapers erected adjacent to Michigan avenue as a result of it being made a major entrance to the north side. The Pure Oil building, the Mather tower, the Chicago Motor Club building, and a number of hotels and office buildings, both east and west of North Michigan avenue north of the river, might be named.
Business Moves North.
A significant factor in the further development of North Michigan avenue is the definite trend of business northward. The International Harvester company bought the Lake-Michigan building and moved northward. The Crane company contemplates moving to a new building at East South Water street and North Michigan avenue.
This northward trend got under way when the Michigan avenue bridge opened. The opening of the new outer drive bridge, it is predicted, will encourage it.
The late Ernest Graham of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, one of the best known architects in America, once said:
- The Michigan avenue bridge is going to cost about $800,000 according to preliminary estimates; actually it cost eight million, and it’s been worth more than eighty million dollars to the public of Chicago.
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