Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1934
A spectacular aerial photograph of the raging fire in the Union stockyards area as it swept, leaving an appalling trail of ruin, together with other pictures showing in detail the other thrilling views of the disastrous south side fire, will be found on page 5.
A tremendously destructive fire, which began at 4:14 p. m. yesterday in the Union stockyards on the south side, was only brought under control at 8:30 last night after an area of about eight city blocks—approximately 80 acres had been burned over. The flames ravaged territory both inside and outside the yards.
Damage was estimated at $8,000,000, though it was admitted that there could be no definite figure on the loss for several days.
More Than 50 Injured.
There were reports of loss of life, but none of these had been substantiated early this morning. More than 50 persons were injured, most of them firemen overcome by smoke or suffering from burns.
About 2:30 a. m. firemen digging in the stockyards ruins along 43d street, west of Halsted street, found a man about 33 years old, apparently a yards employe, buried under a fallen wall. He was taken to Southtown hospital where slight hope was held for his recovery. One fireman was reported missing, but this was denied by Fire Marshal Michael Corrigan.
Firemen were still fighting sporadic outbursts of flame in the affected area at midnight. They declared, however, there was no further danger from the blaze. Two hundred policemen were pa- the district to guard against looting. They were assisted by American Legion volunteers and others.
Heavy Loss in Stockyards.
Considerably more than one-fourth of the pens and barns in the stockyards were utterly destroyed, as were the historic office and exhibit buildings clustered about the entrance to the yards.
Sweeping across Halsted street, the eastern boundary of the yards, the flames attacked buildings on a front nearly two blocks wide and carried destruction beyond Emerald avenue, the first thoroughfare east of Halsted.
All the buildings in the area bounded by Halsted, Emerald, 41st, and 42d streets were attacked by the flames and all but a few were destroyed. Some damage was done to other structures along the east side of Emerald avenue, while business buildings along Halsted street as far south as 42d place were consumed. North of 41st street only one building, an old factory, was burned.
2,200 Men Battle Flames.
For more than four hours 2,200 firemen, with five-sixths of the city s equipment, battled the flames. Reports that the fire fighters had used dynamite to clear away. buildings in the path of the conflagration were denied by Marshal Corrigan. Dynamite was at hand, it was said, but was not used.
It was the barrier offered to the flames by the widespread Chicago Junction railway tracks between 40th and 41st streets and the dying down of brisk southwest and south winds after sunset that enabled the firemen to win their battle to save a much greater area from destruction.
Within the yards the flames consumed all the buildings and pens from a point south of 43d street north to the Chicago Junction tracks, and from Morgan street east to Halsted street. Besides the buildings and pens, some 100 freight cars on sidings were destroyed.
Worst Fire Since 1871.
“This is the worst fire Chicago has known since the great one of 1871,” declared Mayor Kelly, who went to join the firemen soon after the fire started. The same opinion expressed by Marshal Corrigan.
The mayor added his thanks to the firemen for their earnest work and complimented the 300 policemen who were hurried to the scene for the perfect order that was maintained throughout.
Marshal Corrigan said that perhaps 150 families were made homeless in the fire swept area east of Halsted street. There was no accurate estimate on this, however, as the buildings burned were mostly business houses with rooms for transients on the upper floors.
Capt. John J. McDonald of the Stockyards station reported shortly after midnight that the police had received no requests for shelter.
While the flames were raging Gov. Hormer at Springfield put on the radio an appeal for Mayor Kelly to call him. When the mayor reached a telephone and acceded to the request the governor asked what help was needed, if necessary, he said, he would send troops to patrol the devastated area. The mayor told him that the city’s police force was adequate for the service and declined with thanks.
Fearing that the human suffering would be much greater than it actually turned out to be, the Red Cross, the Illinois Emergency Relief commission, and the National Guard cooperated in a relief effort. A shelter was opened in the Red Cross sewing factory at 510 East 31st street, but there were few appeals for help.
Spectacular aerial photograph shows fire moving eastward across north portion of Union Stockyards. The view is northeastward, with the World’s Pair grounds and the lake in the upper left corner. A score of landmarks of the area occupied by Chicago’s largest industry were destroyed, making the property loss the greatest of any Chicago conflagration since that of 1871. Since a large proportion of the area was filled with wooden structures, made tinder by the record drouth, a brisk wind caused the blaze to spread rapidly. Some 2,200 firemen fought the flames.
Smoke Visible for Milles.
The flames for hours furnished a stupendous spectacle. Vast clouds of smoke, mingled gray and black and tinted with the red of the licking tongues of fire, rose into the air and were visible all over the city and the . Aviators reported seeing the column of smoke as far away as South Bend, 95 miles to the southeast.
The winds carried this smoke northward to the south end of the loop and then drove it across the buildings of I he World’s Fair and over Lake -Mich- igan.
Vast throngs attracted by this smoke column rushed to the scene. So great was the congestion that twenty- police captains were ordered to the affected district by Police Commissioner Allman and they responded with the 300 men. A fire protection area bounded by Ashland and Wentworth avenues, 55th street and 31st street was declared in effect and all traffic that necessary for fire fighting was halted.
Call for Suburban Aid.
Every bit of available file department equipment except a thinly skel- protection for the rest of the city was concentrated against the flames. Suburban fire departments. including those of Blue Island, Chicago Heights, Oak Lawn and Harvey moved companies in to the edge of the city to aid, releasing the outlying Chicago companies for duty at the big fire.
Because it was believed possible that the flames might spread out over a much greater area and endanger all the territory north of the yards and of the loop, radio stations broadcast for the fire marshal appeals to all firemen off duty. They were requested to report to the fire and hundreds did so.
Before the flames were finally brought under control a 5-11 and 15 special alarms had been sounded.
Great crowds of residents of the immediate vicinity of the stockyards and of more distant sections as well flocked to the fire and since it raged for four hours, all were there in time to view the spectacle. This picture shows the view northwestward from the intersection of Emerald avenue to 43d street. The Drovers National Bank is in the background on the right.
Buildings Dried by Drouth.
Just north of the pens first attacked a large barn. It and runways to the east and west were loaded with hay and other feeds for the animals. As the flames, driven by the brisk winds, attacked these they went up in vast billows of smoke and fire. The long drouth had made the ancient wooden structures as dry as tinder and they fed the growing fire and enabled it to spread with great rapidity.
It was hardly a half hour before an area greater than a city block was burning. Employes of the stockyards hastened to drive the sheep in the pens north. They succeeded in saving most of these, but several hun- dred cattle were reported to have perished, difficulties having been experienced in driving them.
The flames for a time drove almost straight east; then the wind shifted and they were driven to the north and northeast. On a narrow front they even leaped to the west past Morgan street and it was feared the western half of the yards and the huge packing plants of Swift & Co., and Armour & Co., two blocks west of Morgan, at Racine avenue, would be attacked.
The Live Stock Exchange building (tall structure in background), which housed offices of 100 commission firms or live stock brokers, was left a mass of ruins by the stockyards fire. In the foreground is the structure housing the cattle buying offices of Armour & Co. This picture was made in the early stages of the fire. Both of the structures, which stood on Exchange avenue west of Halsted, were destroyed.
Big Packing Plants Untouched.
Firemen were assigned to soak the Armour plant, the nearest, with Water, but the tire continued its course cast and north and these important buildings, in which many thousands of Chicagoans work, not touched. The small area of pens Nweat of Morgan street went up, but a ring of fire fighters halted the holo- there.
All the telephone lines, electric lines, and gas mains in the vicinity of the yards were put out of commission.
Swinging over to Halsted street on the southwest winds, the ruddy tongues of flame leaped across and found the old brick and frame buildings extending from 41st street to well beyond 42d ready prey. Observers reported that masses of burning timber from the yards, as large as coal scuttles, rained down on the roofs and on the fire fighters.
From the saloons, the small groceries, the upper floor rooms, fled the terrorized workers and residents. There were loud cracklings in the wind. So swift was the advance of the flames that firemen at times had to lay down their hose lines and flee to save themselves.
The same conditions had prevailed in the yards while the winds blew strong and Mayor Kelly declared last night that six pumpers and a large amount of hose had been burned before the firemen could remove from danger. He estimated the city’s loss at $200,000.
Even a fire station, that of Engine company No. 59 at 826 Exchange avenue, in the yards, was destroyed.
So great was the heat that the Halsted street folk had to flee by rear doors. It was too hot in front. Farther to the east, along the west and east sides of Emerald avenue, householders, convinced that the end of their buildings was approaching, carried out their most precious belongings.
Many Householders Flee.
This attitude of fear extended all the way over to avenue and many of the householders there also fled. None of the buildings facing on Union, however, were burned severely. Policemen went through the district urging the residents to hurry and informing their lives were more valuable than their possessions.
The fire officials at the scene held that the shift of the wind was of great aid and that if strong breezes had continued to blow from the vest and the southwest it might have been impossible to save a much larger area to the north and east.
The fire attacked the Stockyards line of the Rapid Transit company at Exchange avenue and damaged the elevated structure as far cast as Emerald avenue. The station at Halsted street Nvas burned down and a car, abandoned there by its crew when the power was shut off suddenly, was consumed. The loss to the elevated lines was estimated hy Harley Johnson, for the receivers, at $500,000.
The shading indicates district swept by flames. Numbers show principal buildings. ① Office building. ② Saddle and Sirloin club. ③ The Stockyards inn. ④ Drovers’ National bank. ⑤ International amphitheater. ⑥ Another International Live Stock show building. ⑦ Horse auction barns. ⑧ Transportation Agencies building. ⑨ Illinois Humane society building. ⑩ United States Department of Agriculture building. ⑪ Exchange building and radio station WAAF. ⑫ Buying offices of Armour & Co. ⑬ Old Exchange building. ⑭ Stores and offices. ⑮ The Drovers’ Journal. ⑯ Live Stock National bank. ⑰ Warehouses. ⑱ Stock pens.
Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1934
Several famous landmarks in the Union stockyards were wrecked by the great fire yesterday., Dozens of homes, shops, rooming houses, saloons, and office buildings were damaged. Estimate 150 families homeless.
It was impossible last night to compile a complete list of the structures wrecked, but among those celebrated in Packingtown were these:
International Amphitheater, on the west side of Halsted street between 42d place and 43d street. Formerly Dexter Pavilion, it had been enlarged and was the scene of the International Livestock exposition for 33 years. Flames reduced it to a skeleton of steel.
The Stockyards Inn, famed hotel and stockmen’s headquarters, at 42d and Halsted streets.
Saddle and Sirloin Club, on Dexter Park avenue, one block west of Halsted, scene of dinners for Presidents, princes, and other celebrities who visited Packingtown.
The Drovers National Bank, 4201 South Halsted street.
The Livestock National Bank, Exchange avenue and Halsted street.
New Exchange Building, office structure at Laurel and Exchange avenues, which housed more than 100 commission firms and the Union Stockyards Transit company.
Old Exchange Building, just south of the new building.
Radio Station WAAF, on top of the Exchange building.
The Daily Drovers’ Journal, 836 Exchange avenue.
United States Department of Agriculture offices, 999 Exchange avenue.
4-H Boys’ and Girls’ Club Building, on Dexter Park avenue.
Record Building, housing various concerns.
The Chicago Junction Railroad Station.
The Percheron Society of America.
L. Livingston grain and feed depot.
Montgomery Ward Farm Equipment office.
Sears & Roebuck Farm Equipment office.
Armour & Co. Stock Buying office.
Stock Yard Garage.
Harry McNail Riding Stables and offices Livestock Photo Company.
P. Brennan Packing Company.
East of Halsted street about fifty buildings went up in smoke.
The Dexter Pavilion
Original International Amphitheater
The Stockyards Inn
Chicago Tribune May 21, 1934
Cause of the Fire.
The cause of the fire was not determined, but the prevailing belief was that a carelessly tossed match or cigaret was responsible, although Marshal Corrigan said it may have been spontaneous combustion. Marshal Corrigan took the occasion to issue the following statement:
To the citizens of Chicago:
Yesterday’s harrowing experience in the stockyards should be an object lesson in fire prevention measures to all our citizens. During this unnatural dry spell, with attending high winds, I desire to caution every man, woman, and child against starting rubbish fires In yards, alleys, streets, or vacant property.
What happened yesterday could very easily be repeated in any other section of the city. A seemingly ordinary fire almost got out of control because of the elements and the public should guard against a repetition.
Chicago Tribune May 22, 1934
Chicago Tribune November 11, 1934
The above view is from the top of the nine story Exchange building at the Union stockyards, looking east over the array of rebuilt structures destroyed or damaged in the big yards fire of May 19. This is the largest construction program undertaken in Chicago in several years and involves a total expenditure of A. Epstein, structural engineer, designed all of the improvements and has supervised them. From left to right the are ① offices of International Live Stock exposition and of “Jackknife Ben,” ② Drovers’ Journal building, ③ Chicago Merchandise and Equipment company and Fidelity laboratories, ④ Live Stock National bank, ⑤ railroad office building, ⑥ Pure Bred Live Stock Record building (Saddle and Sirloin club on top floor), ⑦ Boys’ and Girls’ Club building, ⑧ Stockyard inn, and ⑨ International amphitheater. Part of the parking space for thousand cars is in the foreground. Several of these buildings already are completed and being used; the bank building was opened for business Monday following the Saturday and Sunday fire, and alterations were carried on without disturbing business. The Saddle and Sirloin club has been used for several weeks. The Exchange is occupied. The Stockyard inn will receive guests this week.
The New International Amphitheater
The new International Amphitheater
The New International Amphitheater
4220 South Halsted Street
The New International Amphitheater
The New International Amphitheater
December 1, 1934