Central Block, Central Hotel, Central Manufacturing Block
Life Span: 1872-~1926
Location: 72-88 Market Street, Southwest Corner Market and Washington Streets
The adjoining Central Union Block was located on the northwest corner of Madison and Market streets and started construction days later, but was completed in just 60 days.
Chicago Tribune, December, 20, 1872
AN HISTORICAL BUILDING.
There are some buildings, even in this comparatively young city, worthy of an historical notice. One of these is the building on the west side of Market street, between Madison and Washington, generally known as the Central Block. This building is noteworthy, because of the fact it was the first substantial structure to spring from the ashes of our prostrate city; its first foundation stone being laid Oct. 1871, three days after the fire; and also, because it was the meeting place of the Board of Trade during the year succeeding the fire, a portion of the building being occupied by the Board from Nov. 16, 1871, to the anniversary of the fire, ninth day of October last. The block was built by Judges Farwell and Wilson, upon ground occupied as a dock and yard by the Joliet Mound Company, and was designed to be an office building. It is a plain brick structure, six stories high, painted drab, and ornamented with white stone trimmings and an iron cornice.
That portion occupied by the Board of Trade, consisted of a long shed, built in the rear of the main edifice, and was leased to the Board free of charge for three years. Hre was transacted the bulk of the produce and grain business of Chicago for one year, and it was within this rude structure that men’s hearts were encouraged, and the commercial world of Chicago returned to its former activity, after a sea of fire rolled over them. It may be said that this room was the place where was enacted the first scene of that story of our prostration and recovery, which is so wonderful that it has been talked of and read about all over the world. It is therefore fitting that when this building has been converted to another purpose, its history should be recorded.
Some time ago the entire block was rented to Thomas Kendrick & Co., to be reconstructed into an European hotel, and, on Wednesday last, the Central Hotel restaurant and billiard room was formally opened to the public in the rooms occupied by the Board of Trade. The event was celebrated by a dinner given by the proprietors to a large number of invited guests. The hotel proper will not the opened until Jan. 1. It is being well arranged for a hotel, and the managers promise that it shall be first-class in all its appointments.
The house is in the centre of business, being surrounded by Field, Leiter & Co., J.F. Fargo & Co., Field, Benedict & Co., and many other prominent business houses.
It will be quite an acquisition Market street, which has been much improved on its river side by the erection of Central Block. The building will continue to be occupied by the United States Signal Service and the Western Union Telegraph offices. This, in brief, is the history of one of the memorable buildings of Chicago, a history which, while it may not be of much interest now, will be very valuable a quarter of a century hence.
1869 Sanborn map shows that before the Great Fire, the Southwest Corner of Washington and Market Streets was a dock yard occupied only with wooden frame buildings and so there was virtually no debris to clean up. Stone foundations were laid just three days after the fire. Note that at this time the Washington Street Tunnel was used.
Land Owner, February, 1874
Central Hotel, Market St., Near Madison, Chicago, Located in the Heart of the Wholesale Trade. The Best $2.50/Day Hotel in Chicago. Passenger Elevator. J. Appleton Wilson, Proprietor.
Robinson Fire Map
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1891
Two electric wires came in contact in the dynamo room of the Chicago Arc Light and Power company on Washington street, just west of Market street, early last evening. In an instant there was a flash followed by a loud sputtering noise, and almost before the men at work could escape it was in flames.
Withe wonderful rapidity the fire spread throughout the building, and in less than two hours it was completely gutted, and much valuable machinery was ruined. According to the estimates of T.J. Smith, manager of the outside lamp system, Wylie McCoy, who built the engines, and Irving Flight, the night engineer, the losses on machinery will be as follows:
The Heinrick Contracting company, of which T.J. Smith is Superintendent, sustains a loss, according to his estimate, of $20,000 on building materials, which were on hand to be placed in the building.
The building was purchased last Januart by the Arc Light and Power company, and has since been entirely remodeled. It has a frontage of fifty feet on Washington street and and 160 on the east side of the river.
The night force had scarcely settled down to work when the fire occurred. Four of the men were at work setting up a new dynamo and one was oiling the machinery. John Blake, watchman for the Central Manufacturing Block, which adjoined the Arc Light and Power Building to the south, had just entered the door, which blew shut with a bang. Then came the flash and the men fled for their lives.
“It was all done in a flash,” said Blake. “As soon as the wires touched there was a flash. Then the sputtering fire ran along the wires until the whole room was aglow. No matter which way I looked there was fire. The rubber covering to the wires seemed to be burning, and as I ran out through the old dynamo-room it was the same there, and from the appearance of things when I got out it was the same all over the building. The electricity seemed to run along the wires, and by the time I reached the alarm-box the fire seemed to have broken out in every separate room. Fortunately, as the men were leaving, Thomas Rallston, one of the night engineers, shut off the steam and the engines were stopped and the flow of electricity shut off.”
A firewall saved the Central Manufacturing Block, which joined the electric plant to the east, so that the firemen had little trouble in keeping the fire confined to the building which it started, but considerable damage was done by smoke and water in the Central Manufacturing Block, which is occupied by a score or more of manufacturing companies. Among those slightly damaged were:
The E.J. Woodman Steam Warming Apparatus company, No. 85 Market street;
The Matchless Metal Polish company, No. 82;
The M.C. Chase Hard Rubber company, No. 80;
The Excelsior Cork Cutting company’s office, No. 78;
and Thomas, Jacobs & Co., hot water heating apparatus, No. 76.
So sudden was the fire and so instantaneous the spread that the fifteen occupants of the building at the time barely escaped with their lives.
The Chicago Arc Light and Power company supplied a large number of business houses and theaters with lights, and the burning of the plant left them in the dark. The electric signal lights on the Rock Island railway went out and had to be supplied with oil lamps. The lamps in front of the Grand Opera-House, Hooley’s Theater, the Standard Theater, the Academy of Music, the Haymarket Theater, and the Lyceum Theater all went out. Fortunately the incandescent lights used within were supplied by another company, so that the audiences were not disturbed. The lights in Woolf’s and Greisheimer’s clothing stores, all of Hannah & Hogg’s saloons, and a large number of other business houses went out and they had to resort to the use of gas.
Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1911
Willis & Frankenstein have leased for Thies J. Lefens to Louis Abel the four story and basement building at the southwest corner of Market and Washington streets for a term from May 1 at a term rent of $27,000.
Civic Opera House
Ross & Browne Real Estate Map of Central Chicago
This entire block was purchased by Samuel Insull in November, 1926, as the site for the Civic Opera House.