< --Previous Up Next–>
Harrison Street Police Station
Life Span: 1873-1911
Location: Corner LaSalle and Harrison
From “History of Chicago” by A. T. Andreas, Volume 3, 1886
The first precinct headquarters was located at the City Bridewell at the time of the fire, while the Armory on Adams Street was being repaired. Immediately after the fire, the members of this precinct located at the church on the corner of Harrison Street and Wabash Avenue for a few days, and then removed to the frame school-house, on the corner of Harrison Street and Pacific Avenue, and built their own lock-up at that place, remaining there until the new station was completed, at a cost of over $40,000, at the same location.
Chicago Tribune January 23, 1898
The Harrison Police Station is an eyesore and a nuisance. It has outgrown its usefulness and, like a pest-house in the midst of a crowded community, is threatening with loathsome disease, the surrounding neighborhood.
This is figuratively speaking, for the health that is threatened by the proximity of the Harrison Street Police Station and its allied courts is the moral and health of the community.
The spot in the very center of the festerIng vice of the “levee,” and it attracts to its central locality hundreds ot toughs, petty and great criminals, disreputable members Of both sexes. The streets leading to the courts are more or less filled with the habitues of the station and the courts, and all day long these people infest the neighborhood.
No good purpose is subserved by having the Harrison police courts where they are. They cover the cases in the First and Second Districts, and could as well be removed out of the legitimately business districts, where they are, into a spot where the deadly upas exuded from them would fall innocuous.
There are a variety of reasons why the station should be removed, and not one why it should be retained where it is.
The Mayor thinks that it should be done away with.
The police have for years recognized that it is out of place.
The building Is antiquated, uncomfortable, inadequate, and badly arranged.
It is Inaccessible.
it Is difficult for the police quartered there to reach threatened points within the district in case of riot.
No accommodations are afforded for sleeping quarters for the officers.
The buliding was erected In 1873, upon ground belonging to the school fund. It and the engine-house adjoining occupy lots in the half block on Harrison. between Pacitic avenue and Clark street, belonging to the School board, the lots covered being known is Nos. 14. 17, 20, and 23. The city pays to the School board a yearly rental of $6,000 for the land.
Spoils the Neighborhood.
If this station were removed well people that the unsightly and vicious character of Clark street in this neighborhood would disappear.
Said Mayor Harrison:
While other parts of the business district have rapidly improved the portion of the city around the Harrison Street Police Station has steadily deteriorated. The improvement of the business section has been blighted by that station. From Pacitic avenue and Van Buren street, clear over to Dearborn, for several blocks south, all building has ceased. Men do not want to risk their money in stores that cannot be rented to decent people. The police court is responsible for this.
I would like to see this station removed into some central locality, where it would not wither the business interests, nor hurt the residences. There are such localities, and I am informed that the city owns several eligible pieces of property where the station could be located.
That portion of the city where the station is now located ought to be the most valuable, for certain of business, in the city. it Is admirably calculated for the location of wholesale houses and light manufactories. It is the heart of the railroad terminals, and buildings ought to go up there that would be a credit to the city. Look at the buildings that have gone up on Dearborn street, around Van Buren, and for a block south. At Harrison street they stop abruptly. The men who put money into such buildings saw that the neighborhood southward was not of the kind to support business enterprise.
Now, If this police court could be removed to some other spot, I am sure that the problem of the vicious character of South Clark street would be solved. The removal should be made at once. As a business proposition, it Is worth studying. That piece of property which the station now stands is worth a lot of money, and the station removed and the neighborhood relieved from Its incubus. It would rent for a handsome figure, or sell at a handsome price.
That the Mayor Is correct in his impression is acknowledged by all who have given the subject thought. For over five years no improvements whatever have been made in this locality. Some seven or eight years ago a movement set in that was at the time considered sure to reclaim the neighborhood, but tha neighborhood Is still unclaimed.
Men argued that the contiguity of the Board of Trade Building and the great business interests of La Salle street would prove advantageous. And so, the Monadnock Building went up on the northwest corner of Dearborn and Van Buren streets, and the Fisher Building, with its nineteen skyscraping stories, was erected upon the northeast corner.
Men said that property in that neighborhood was going to reach fabulous figures, and that the only way to build at a profit was to run up the stories toward the sky.
This theory resulted in a great bunch of skyscrapers along the street. The big Monon Building was put up at 324, diagonally opposite the Manhattan, thirteen stories, and just below it, also on the west side of the street, the Caxton Building, full of printing offices.
A little lower still the State Accident Insurance Building was built while opposite the fourteen-story Ellsworth Building was put up. On the northwest corner of Harrison and Dearborn streets the fourteen-story Pontiac Building was built, and there this class of buildings stopped. That block contains more tall structures than any other block In the world.
Improvements Held Back.
Real estate men said that the movement had temporarily stopped until the neighborhood to the south should improve; that pretty soon the march of the skyscraper would continue down Dearborn street and down Clark :treet and along Harrison street. But it didn’t. The Harrison Street Po!ice Station and its two reeking police courts stool in the way. They blocked all possible advance. The foul denizens of the levee sauntered past the doors of the palaces of industry, and the decent people drew to one side. Improvement stopped.
Now, after these years, one brave man has essayed to break through the evil charm that hangs over the locality. W. A. and A. E. Wells proposed to erect a twelve-story building on the southeast corner of Clark and Harrison streets and let the contracts. But they looked over the neighborhood and they weakened. They instructed the architects to alter the plans and to build only a six-story building. “If the neighborhood improves,” say the Messrs. Wells, “we will add the six extras stories—some day!”
Of coarse the reader has read of the character of the neighborhood that surrounds the Harrison Street Station. Three-fourths of all the crime in the city is furnished right at hand by the district. Old ramshackle houses, many of them single and two story frames of the days immediately succeeding the fire, compose the majority of the buildings. Pawnshops, rumshops, and places of questionable resort, but protected by the laws as they now stand, flourish there. On the northwest corner of Custom-House place and Harrison, a corner that ought to be worth an immense sum for legitimate business, stands a one-story row of buildings that are constructed of wood and which are used for the sale of second-hand clothing. Custom-House place is full of old frame buildings that harbor disreputable lodgers and that are used for unsightly business.
If one starts from the Harrison Street Police Station and walks east along Harrlson street he encounters two blocks of seedy brick and disreputable and decayed frame buildings. few more than two storIes in height. all ancient. The city authorities seem to have recognized that dirt and filth are the natural environments of the residents and habitues of the spot, and seldom clean the street.
If one walks north along Paciflc street from the station he sees a long of row of old buildings, stables, and decayed warehouses where should stand hustling factory and mercantile houses. The railroad upon the opposite side of the street ought to attract such enterprises.
And so on from one to three blocks in every direction the same picture of decay is presented. The closer you approach to the station the more aggravated appear the signs.
Its Logical Location.
Where could the Harrison Street Police Station be removed to? Where is a spot naturally adapted for it? Where can a piece of property be found that will not cost the city a large sum and where the erection of the necessary building will not be attended with the same blight that has wrecked the business interests of the blocks surrounding the present station?
The city owns several pieces of property in the district covered by the two police courts. One of these, at the corner of Michigan avenue and Fourteenth street, seems an Ideal spot for the location of the institution.
When the city contemplated building the Indiana avenue and Fourteenth street pumping station it purchased not only the land on the northwest corner on which the building now stands but the two lots on the southwest corner, the two lots on the southeast corner of Michigan avenue arnd Fourteenth street. nad the single lot on the northeast corner of the same streets. Thus the city acquired all of the property fronting on Fourteenth street, between Michigan and Indiana avenues. It was originally feared that the pumping station Would close Four- teenth street. therefore the additional ground was bought in order to cut through the street fifty feet further south.
The two lots on the southwest corner of Indiana avenue and Fourteenth street were given up to the city electric light plant.
Two frame buildings, two stories and basement each, stand upon the lots on the southeast corner of Michigan avenue and Four- teenth street and are leased for $33 a month each, the leases running by the year from the 1st of each May. So the city gets $840 a year in rental for the buildings that stand upon a piece of ground that cost $22,000 in 1888, which is about 3.75 per cent on the investment, and the city pays the taxes. This piece of property is 50 feet frontage on Michigan avenue by about 115 along Fourteenth street to the alley back of the electric light plant.
The northeast corner of Michigan avenue was bought from Elizabeth M. Andrews in June of 1888 for $l6,500. and is 25 feet frontage on the avenue by 110 feet along Fourteenth street to an alley back of the pumping station. It is occupied by a good fourteen-room marble residence which is rented for $50 a month. This building is three stories and basement. An annual rental of $600 on the investment of $16,500 gives a return of 3.63 per cent, and the city pays the taxes and the insurance.
Why not locate the Harrison Street Police Station here? Inspector Hartnett has a scheme which appears to be a good one. He proposes that the Harrison Street Police Station and the two police courts be removed to a building that shall be erected on the two lots on the southeast corner or Michigan avenue and Fourteenth street, and that the fire company now located in the Second Regiment Armory be removed to the front half of the lot on the northeast corner, the rear half on the alley being used for a patrol-house.
Thus the city fathers would solve three knotty questions at one swoop, so to speak. They would clean up the Harrison Street slums, would locate a fine, new, modern station and police courts upon unproductive city property, and would find a home for the lake front fire company now lodged in the armory building, which must be torn down in obedience to the decree of the courts. The police detail located at the armory should be withdrawn to the City Hall, where it Is nominally detailed from.
Police View of the Plan.
Here is what Inspector Hartnett has to say about the proposed transfer:
I have been a policeman for fifteen yeas and during the entire time, barring the incumbency of Chief Badenoch, when I was reduced from Captain to sergeant and sent over to the West Side, I have been stationed in the First Ward. I am now in command of the inspection district, sent here, presumedly because I know the district.
For ten years I have recognized the baleful influence exerted by the police station. It should not be located in a business or in a residential neighborhood. The character of Clark street is largely owing to the presence of the police courts. It seems strange, but it is a fact, that crime and disorder always cling about the very precincts that are designed to hold them In check.
The reason is because decent people move out of a neighborhood just as soon as a police station is built there. Then the rents come down and the vicious take advantage of the fact. The Police cannot regulate the morals of the people. They can only step in when an overt act is committed. They are not supposed to regulate the daily lives of the community. Save In cases of disturbance of the peace or felonies the policeman must be blind. This is America. not Europe. An attempt on the part of the police to regulate the morals of the people and to pass upon who are and who are not respectable would call down upon the heads of the force a howl from all classes of society. Therefore we must recognize the fact that a police station kills trade and ruins a residential neighborhood.
I told Chlef Badenoch long ago that the Harrison Street Station should be moved. The very and best place to locate it is on thle city property at the corner of Michigan avenue and Fourteenth street. The neighborhood has already decayed owing to the fact that the Illinois Central buildings cut off the lake view at this point. There are also located the smoking nuisances, the pumping station and the electric light plant.
Other manufacturing plans are going in there. The residence portion of Michigan avenue has already moved southward, and nearly all of the houses are now given over to lodgings and cheap boarding places.
No Surroundings to Spoil.
The location of the station there cannot hurt the neighborhood. It would be a positive benefit. Here are practically unguarded the great water pumping station, the electric light plant, and the Illinois Central buildings, all of which would be the objects of attack at the hands of a mob.
A modern station should be built upon this spot, with cells in the basement, police offices on the first floor, and courts upon the second floor. The dormitories for the men should be located upon the third floor, and possibly a fourth floor added, which could be ordinarily used as a police armory and gym-museum, and in time of riot for dormitories for the extra force of men who are then kept in reserve at the station.
In the event of our removal to the proposed site on Michigan avenue it would be different. We would be within reach of the Illinois Central trains, the elevated, and the Cottage Grove cable cars. Again, it is a more central location than the Harrison street location. The district covered by the courts runs from the river on the north to Th!rty-first street on the south, east of State, and to Sixteenth street east of State as far as the river on the west. You will see that the location at Michigan is central as compared to this.
It has already been stated that the city pays to the school fund the sum of $6,000 a year for the rent of the Harrison street property. In other words, the city takes money out of one pocket and puts it into the other and loses the taxes that an ordinary holder would have to pay. Now, real estate men agree that the School board could rent this property on a long lease for at least $10,000 a year.
So, from a money point of view, aside from moral and utilitarian aspects, the city is doing itself each year out of the difference between $10,000 a year in rental for this property and the $1,410 that it receives in rents from the two pieces of property at the corner of Fourteenth street and Michigan avenue. How is that for business?
Excerpt from “Wide Open Chicago”, Harper’s Weekly, February 5, 1898
If any would wish to know partly what “wide-open” Chicago means, he should spend an evening in the Harrison Street station house. It is a low, shambly structure in the heart of the levee district, on a narrow street that runs along one of the railroad terminals. Police reporters assert that it is the “worst station-house in the world,” meaning by that the place where more arrests for grave and shocking crimes are chronicled than in any other police station in the country. The cells are in the cellar, and adjoining the hearing-room are two police courts, where those arrested are arraigned. The desk is in a sort of alcove in the southern end of the main room, and is screened with a wire netting. It is a busy place. As many as 300 arrests have been chronicled there in one night. It is a dull evening when fifty arrests are not made. Except for the manifest character of those who swarm in and out of the place, one might fancy it the counting-room of some financial institution, for the clink of money-changing is going on there constantly, and the shylock of the slums, the professional bondsman, stands by the grating of the desk and hour after hour reaps his harvest. In the Harrison Street station there are two shylocks who do most of the business. One is a negro about fifty years old, a member of the bar, keen in judgement and rich in this world’s goods. The other is a white man, such as may be found in most police courts. The fee for each bail bond is said to be five dollars. Rarely are these bonds forfeited. If they are forfeited, the shylocks pursue their victims relentlessly, and ultimately land them in jail. Few of those arrested remain in the cells all night. One may easily compute what a paying business it must be to these professional bondsmen to have the run of a station-house like that to the practical exclusion of others, and one may form other conclusions if he so desires.
Lockup keeper sitting outside jail cells in the Harrison Street police station in 1907.
Chicago Tribune July 14, 1911
This is the last day of the old Harrison street police station. Before night it will be attacked by wreckers. Work of razing the patrol barn and fire engine house adjoining the station has already begun.
With the demolition of these buildings, the last to remain on the old Jones school lot, as it was called before the fire of 1871, the way will be cleared for the printing establishment to be erected by Rand-McNally company. The new structure will cover nearly one-half the block from Van Buren to Harrison street and from Clark to La Salle.
With the passing of the Harrison street station there is removed one of the world’s famous landmarks in the history of criminology. It was the most noted police station in the United States.
Housed a Million Prisoners.
During its forty years’ existence more than 1,000,000 prisoners, men and women, have occupied its cells. Some of the world’s noted criminal have tarried there. “Bunko” Tom O’Brien and Eddie Guerin, both products of Chicago, were no strangers to Harrison street in the old days. O’Brien died in Devil’s Isle while serving a life sentence for the murder of his pal in Paris. Guerin, who also was sent to Devil’s Isle for life, escaped from there and is now living in London. Big Dan Coughlin, another Chicagoan, who died a few weeks ago in South America, was locked up at Harrison street for the murder of Dr. Cronin.
“There is no police station in the world like Harrison street.” said George Porteous, who in 1889 established the first Bertillon system of identification in this country at the Harrison street station. “I have been in every noted police station in this country and Europe, and none of them can stack up against Harrison street., Bow street in London and Mulberry street in New York are the only stations in the world that can anyway approach Chicago’s famous prison.”
First Prisoner Makes Comment.
“Honey” Hall, a well known negro character of the First ward, was the first person locked up at the Harrison street station. He stood in front of the old structure last night and mused:
Many a one has gone up and down them steps since ‘Honey’ made his first visit here. I was ‘pinched’ by Rodney Long and John Enders, two colored policemen, who had the distinguished sagacity of being the first ‘stew’ in Harrison street. That’s some considerable luminosity, ain’t it?
Chicago Examiner, July 14, 1911
“OLD HARRISON” IS GONE
Old Harrison Street” Is no more. For two days vans have been carrying away the desks and office records and to-day the old building at West Harrison and South La Salle streets, for years the most famous police station In Chicago, will be but an empty shell. General dissatisfaction with the new quarters at 625-627 South Clark street is being expressed.
Harrison Street Police Station
Harrison Police Station
Robinson Fire Map 1886
Volume 1, Plate 4
Seventeen years after the closing of the Harrison Street Police Station, a new, modern Police Headquarters was built fairly close to the proposed 1889 location at 11th and State. This building remained in use till 1993,