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Honorè Block II
Life Span: 1872-1894
Location: NW corner of S Dearborn and W Adams streets
Architect: C. M. Palmer
The second Honorè Building was primarily occupied by the Marquette Hotel which rented 300 rooms. The building has 10 offices, 12 stores and two elevators. The outer walls were possibly the most ornate in Chicago at that time, with the Palmer House being its closest competitor.
The model of this building was completed in 1871, burned in October 1871, rebuilt in 1872 with much salvage, and gutted by fire on January 4, 1879. Later known as the Howland Block, with a frontage of 50 feet on Monroe Street and 190 feet on Dearborn Street. This building was erected upon the same site where it had stood before the Fire. It was five stories high, with basement, and was built of Cleveland stone.
One of the first tenants secured, Grommes & Ulrich Wine Merchants immediately leased the building’s basement space. There was a citywide basement shortage due to different types of foundations. Grommes & Ulrich installed a large refrigerator plant in the lowest level to house their “immense stock of costly wines.”
Chicago Tribune January 5, 1879
THE FIRST FIRE OF 1879.
It is a little over a year since the citizens of Chicago have been interested br terrified, as the case may be, by the sight of a large and disastrous conflagration. It was in the latter part of 1877 that the grand Singer Building, on the corner of State and Washington streets, went up in smoke and down in ashes, and since then there has been nothing deserving the name of a conflagration, nothing which could fill the streets in the business centre of the city with an eager and excited crowd of spectators, until ‘the blaze of yesterday, which destroyed one of the most beautiful buildings of Chicago, one of those which rose from the ashes of a predecessor soon after the fire of 1871,—the Honore Block. It seems as if institutions, as well as men, had their fates. This is emphatically true of the Chicago Post-Office. which yesterday made its third move since 1871, and this move, too, not, as it was hoped, to the Government Building, but over to the Singer Building, which was just constructed in time to accommodate it, as the Honrore Block opened its hospitable doors in July, 1874, to receive the City Post-Office, then evicted from its headquarters, on Wabash avenue. It is fortunate that this last move was executed with much less loss than any of its predecessors. There was more time than in 1871, it is true, and there was also, perhaps, more system, and the destruction of the letters and other public property cannot be compared with that which occurred in that memorable conflagration. It was in 1871 that the Post-Office moved first. Then it established itself in the old Methodist Church, on the corner of Harrison street and Wabash avenue, was driven out of there by the fire of 1874, and is now once more compelled to move on extraordinarily short notice.
A little after 3 o clock yesterday afternoon, an alarm of fire was given from Box No. 42, at the corner of Monroe and LaSalle streets. A very few minutes afterwards a consolidated alarm was turned in from the same box, and the engines for a radius of miles around were hurrying to the spot and in a brief time, had made their connections with the hose and were at work upon the flames, which had, unfortunately, owing to neglect, the peculiar construction of the building, and its inflammable character, gained such headway that it was impossible to stop them; and, though the firemen worked with the zeal, knowledge, and determination character of Banner’s boys, it was impossible for them to do more than to save the surrounding buildings. The grand structure on which their attention was chiefly concentrated was practically ruined, involving a heavy loss not only upon the Connecticut Mutual Life-Insurance Company, into whose hands it fell by the foreclosure of a heavy mortgage, and which had also expended, during the spring and summer of last year, $50,000 in renovating the structure, but also upon the hapless law firms whose costly libraries were in great part consumed, upon the Chicago & Alton Railroad, which had its headquarters there, and also upon the Military Department of the Missouri, whose records, though probably saved in great part, were still somewhat damaged.
The destruction is the more to be regretted, and is the more surprising, since the building was fitted up with all the apparatus for giving early notice of a fire, and also for extinguishing it. It was provided throughout with the mercurial fire-alarm, and also had a private pump of its own, of great capacity, and was furnished with standpipes which, it was expected, would supply all the water that was needed. Part of these advantages were neutralized by the faulty construction of the building, the elevator shaft carrying the flames almost in a moment from the basement to the dome; partly by the immense quantity of wood in the building; partly by the inflammable mansard, which was far beyond the reach of the steamers; and partly by the intense cold, which bad its effect, though an almost imperceptible one, upon the movements of the firemen. It is impossible for men, even those as well trained and so energetic as the members of the Chicago Fire Department, to do the full and absolute measure of their work when the thermometer is below zero, when they are handling hose through which pours a flood of water which is almost at the freezing point, and when the ground on which they stand is covered with lce-cold water to the depth of nearly a foot. It is doubtful whether others could have done as well as they did, could have shown the endurance, the promptness, and the earnestness which they, under the orders of Marshal Benner, displayed yesterday afternoon.
As will be seen further along in the report, arrangements had been made for securing headquarters for the Post-Office and the Alton Railroad, and similar arrangements will speedily be made for the army headquarters. The beneficial effect of the fire wil probably be to expedite Congress to induce it to grant so large an appropriation that the Government Building, now nearing completion, may be fitted up for occupancy by the Post-Office Department, at least by late spring. There can be no question that this will be done. For eight years now, the third largest Post-Office in the country has been living in hired buildings and has thrice been burned out. It will never do to expose the valuable property of the Government to another such hazard,—never do to put the citizens of this great city to a renewal of the inconvenience they have suffered. Congress reassembles this week, and the first thing that the Chicago Congressmen should do is to call up the Appropriation bill, which covers the Government:Bnilding, and see that it is pushed through.
It is difficult at this moment to estimate the exact loss, because it cannot be told until to-day how much the walls have been injured and precisely how far the interior of the building has been destroyed. The original cost of the building was $100,000, loaned to Honore by the Connecticut Mutual, about $150,000 more which he succeeded in raising from various quarters, or consisting in land which be traded to the contractors, and $50,000 expended in the renovation by the Connecticut Mutual after it came into its hands. There was also, probably, $50,000 worth of material in the old building. So far as can be ascertained, however, the damage by the present fire is limited to the upper floors, and it seems as if $150,000 at the outside ought to make good the loss. This, how- ever, is a conjectural estimate, subject to a closer inspection to-day. There is good insurance to the extent of $100,000. The losses of the occupants—the Post-Office Department, the Chicago. & Alton Railroad, Army Headquarters, law firms, etc.—will ,not exceed $45,000, and this-may be reduced in case the valuable law libraries come out in anything like decent condition.
The account of the fire, as furnished by the reporters of THE TRIBUNE, who were* early upon the spot, is given below.
THE FIRST ALARM.
The first intimation of the fire received at the fire-alarm office was from a half-grown boy, who rushed in and said:
Fire in the Post-Office.
Almost at the same moment boxes No. 43. corner Monroe and Dearborn streets, and No. 47, corner of Adams and Clark streets, were turned in,—one at 3:27 and the other at 2:32. The man whose name is Michael Nugent, was employed in the distributing department of the Post-Office, and haa been sent by the head of the department, Mr. Vierling, to give the alarm. A string with a key at either end was given him. One of the keys fitted the fire-alarm box No. 47, and the other some door in the building. Unfortunately, the youth got hold of the latter, and tried to open the signal-station door with it. Of course he couldn’t do so, but he persisted in the attempt, it never occurring to him, in his excitement, that the other one might fit, and, after fiVe minutes of vain effort, he concluded to run to the central office, about a block distant, and tell the operators. The Fire-Insurance Patrol got an alarm on the mechanical telegraph, and were the first to reach the scene, one of the men turning in Box No. 43. Before the first relay of engines arrived—Nos. 1, 5, 10, 11,. 13, 21, trucks 1, 2, and 6—smoke was issuing from the roof, though there was apparently no fire between it and the basement, from the Adams street entrance, to which a vast volume of smoke was out. As the structure was five stories in height, with a Mansard roof 25 feet high, the latter being beyond the reach of a ground stream,—Assistant-Marshal Shay saw at a glance that more help was needed, and at 3:40 sent in a combined second and third. This brought on the engines Nos. 6, 7, S, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 23, 25, and 27, and trucks 3 and 4. Later (at 4:30), Nos. 19, 3, 29, 22, 26, and 20 were ordered by Chief Benner. This made twenty-four steamers and five trucks, all of which were at work by 5 o clock, and most of them were on duty the greater part of the evening.
As near as can be ascertained. the fire broke out in the basement near the, boller, and spread thence into the carpenter-shop. A steam-fitter named Harry OdenbaUgh ran up-stairs shouting fire to alarm the occupants of the different rooms. In a very few minutes. however, the smoke was so dense in the hallways that escape by the stairways was cut off, and about twenty people, mostly women employed in tho bag-repairing room, experienced considerable difficulty in getting out of the upper stories. All, however, were rescued. The smoke drove out the employes of the Post-Office,. but not before those in the-mooey-order office and stamp departments had put their books, papers, money, etc., into the vaults. The men in the west wing had to run for their lives. this portion, though separated from the main building by a court, filling so rapidly with smoke that they could save anything. The firemen, however, went in and hoisted the windows, and, the smoke being driven out by the wind, tbe employes went to work with a will and in a very short time had all the mail in the street, whence it was carried to the American Express Building and other places in the vicinity. Not a letter was lost; nor were many newspapers. Everything in the distributing department, stamp-room, and carriers’ room was carried out, even to the cases, no fire reaching the west wingg, in which these rooms were located. Perhaps the only serious loss, beyond the furniture, to the Government will arise from the destruction of stamped envelopes, which were in the basement, about twenty feet from the carpenter-shop. No fire had reached them at 6 o clock, but they were soaking wet.
The fire made its way from the carpenter-shop into the storage rooms, and reached the roof through the elevators in the south end of the building. No particular blaze was noticed in the basement at all, the shavings, paper, and wood-work seeming to be smoked to pieces. Along toward 4 o clock the roof began to blaze, first in one part and then in another. Every few minutes large pieces of iron and timber would tumble to the sidewalk. The remarkable metallic figure on the ball which ornamented the centre of the Dearborn-street front, and which was once said to be H. Honore motioning to Eastern capitalists, in a short time,—was melted, perhaps, by the heat. The Mansard roof, composed of wood and corrugated iron, yielded gradually, to the flames, and by a quarter of 5 most of it had vanished, the fire by this time having possession of the fifth floor, particularly that part south of the Dearborn street entrance, and, by 5 o’clock, of the whole of it. Below no flames were to be seen Dearborn street in the centre of the structure, where the stairways, were located, brands fallen down through tha elevator and set tbe wood-work ablaze; but in the rear the fire bad worked its wa down to the third floor, nearly all the window-frames having ignited, and the rear rooms, separated those fronting on Dearborn street by a hallway fifteen feet wide, were all lighted up by the burning of their contents. This rear part was difficult to get at, in fact, could not be gotten at except from the roof of the west wing and that of the Howland Block (old Honore Building), just north of the alley, and from these positions water could be, thrown into only the fifth floor. There were four streams on the top of the Howland Block, eight on the top of the west wing, seven on Dearborn street, and five on Adams street. The two first mentioned did good execution,—that is, the water was thrown into the building; but, with one or two exceptions, the balance were for a long time useless, since the water could not be forced up high enough. Only the first-class steamers could do that. Efforts were to break the window panes with the streams, but they were unsuccessful, as in the case at the Singer Building; so guns and navy revolvers were procured, and bullets and buckshot fired at them. As it was im- possible to take aim, owing to the smoke and steam which filled the street, very little glass was broken, the missiles generally hitting the stone front. When a pane was struck by accident the crowd yelled. This was the only way water could be gotten into the stories below the fifth, and the attempt was finally to a limited extent.
Honorè Block II
Robinson Map 1886
Volume 3, Plate 1