ONE YEAR AFTER—THE RESTORATION OF CHICAGO
The Lakeside Monthly, October, 1872
Part I Reconstruction.
Part II Public Works and Buildings
Part III Churches and Schools
Part IV Private Buildings
Part V Business Blocks
Part VI Amusements, Arts, and Science
Part VII Chicago and Its Railways
Part VIII The Year as Seen From the Board of Trade
Lakeside Monthly, October, 1872
PUBLIC WORKS AND BUILDINGS.
The first step toward permanent rebuilding was taken by the State of Illinois, although there was not a single structure in the city before the fire belonging to the State, and none is proposed. The facts in the case are these: Chicago had, by permission of the State, expended a vast amount of money in deepening the Illinois and Michigan Canal, an aqueduct designed originally for commercial use only, but which, by deepening so as to reverse the current of Chicago River, would also form a grand sewer for carrying off the floating filth of the city. Such a revolution in the river’s flow had been actually accomplished in the summer of 1871. This great achieve ment turned the offal previously flow ing through the heart of the city into the lake, gathering foulness as it neared its debouch, into the Illinois River, thence into the Mississippi, saluting St. Louis in its march to the sea. There was great rejoicing at the completion of the work, on sanitary and olfactory ground. The value of that river reform was vastly enhanced by the fire. Quite a long strip of territory skirting the river, which had before been given up to cheap uses, the stench being intolerable, came into prominence at once, as sites for mercantile houses. The practical area of business in the heart of the city was materially enlarged. That was, however, more an individual than a municipal benefit. The great first step for re building was taken by the exercise of a reserved State right, which would probably never have been exercised had it not been for the fire. The motto of Illinois is “State Sovereignty.” The founders of this common wealth were extremely Jeffersonian in their politics; and in keeping with this motto, the General Assembly, in authorizing the municipality of Chicago to deepen the canal, stipulated that the State Government might at any time assume complete control of the canal by refunding to the city its expenditures for improvement. A few days after the fire, Governor Palmer convened the General Assembly for the purpose of considering the propriety of the State’s relieving the city by exercismg that reserved right. Only eleven days after that awful ninth of October, the Legislature passed an act appropriating $2,955,340, with interest until paid, for relieving the canal lien. It was provided that not less than onefifth nor more than one-third of this amount should be applied by the city to the rebuilding of bridges and public buildings destroyed by the fire, the remainder to be applied to the payment of the interest on the bonded debt of the city and the maintenance of the fire and police departments. This substantial token of sympathy not only set the city government at work to repair the desolations of the fire, but it nerved and stimulated the general public, its indirect advantage being greater than its direct.
Eight bridges and three viaducts were rendered impassable by the great conflagration, the wood-work being totally destroyed in some cases. No time was lost in their repair. These repairs have now all been completed, or nearly so, and with one exception paid for. The total cost will not vary materially from $330,000. The three viaducts are all on the main branch of the river, across State, Clark, and Wells streets. Three of the bridges have the same location. The fourth one across the main branch is at Rush street, near what used to be the river’s mouth, but is now its source. One of the bridges is across the North Branch, at Chicago avenue. The other three are across the South Branch, at Adams, Van Buren, and Polk streets. Some damage was done to the La Salle street tunnel by the fire, but not much. From the ninth of October until the first of January, that under-water road was the only direct means of crossing between the North and the South Divisions of the city.
Had the roof of the engine-house of the Water-Works been fire-proof, many millions of property destroyed in the great conflagration would have been saved. When, therefore, we say that the damage to the Water-Works was only about $100,000, we refer simply to direct damages, or to what it has cost the city to foot its repair-bills. Even this estimate does not include the damage to the North and South Side reservoirs. The damage to them is set down at $20,000; the loss by the in jury of water-pipes, at $15,000; by fire hydrants, at $10,000; water metres, $6,000. An immense waste of water occurred through open service-pipes, adding $97,410 to the water expense of the city, from which no revenue was derived. Putting all these items to gether, we have the cost of restoring the Water-Works, $248,410. The new roof over the engines is iron; and the catastrophe of last fall can never recur. In connection with the Water-Works, it may be mentioned that a new lake tunnel, of much larger capacity than the old one, is now under contract, to be completed July 1, 1874. The cost cannot be given in advance of its completion, as it is to be paid for according to plans and specifications, or by the piece.
The number of miles of street pavement exposed to the fire was 28½; and the estimated damage was $211,350, or 17 per cent, of the original cost. The damage has, so far as possible or necessary, been repaired. The wooden blocks of the Nicholson pavement were second only to vaults in being fire proof. There were destroyed 599,537 feet or 113-1/5 miles of wooden side walks, valued at $404,991.50; of stone, 37,122 feet or 7 miles, valued at $531,095.60; of flag-stone, 6,122 feet, over one mile, valued at $5,293.80. There has since been laid 366,500 feet or 69-2/5 miles of wooden sidewalks; 16,840 feet or 3-1/5 miles of stone pavement; and 880 feet, or 1/6 of a mile of concrete—making in all 38,480 feet or 72-23/30 miles.
The fifth City Hall, which was built around a water tank on the SE corner of Adams and LaSalle streets. The first public reading room was housed in the water tank.
The city occupies no buildings now except its own, and has bought none since the fire. It had to rent accommodations for its Government until the first of January, when it moved into a city hall erected on the reservoir lot, as it is called, on the southeast corner of Adams and La Salle streets. It is a square structure, covering 178 feet. It is ample enough to afford room for all the city officers, together with the law library, the county recorders office, and such of the courts of record and county officers as are not provided for in the remnant of the ante-fire court house. The amount expended in constructing and furnishing the building is set down at about $75,000. The city has two police stations under way, one on Harrison street, its old location, another not far off on Pacific avenue. Two hook and ladder engine houses are in process of construction, one on the old armory lot, the other on Dearborn street. These four buildings are in the South Division. In the North Division two fire engine houses are being built, one on Southport avenue, the other on Michigan street.
The county loss was confined to the Court House and jail, all in one building. The old Court House had been botched up only a short time before the fire, by the addition to it of very expensive but shabbily constructed wings. The one on the west belonged to the city, the one on the east to the county. The contents of both were totally destroyed, including all official records. The old or central building and the west wing were ruined past all repair. It will cost a large sum to remove the debris. The east wing is a wreck; still, by a slight expense in refitting, the county was able to render the basement and the first and second stories tenable. The only structure now in process of erection at the expense of the county is a jail. It is located at the corner of North Dearborn and Michigan streets. The material used is stone, iron, and brick. It is designed to be fire-proof; two hundred and ten feet front, two hundred and eighteen feet deep, and three stories high. The building will be divided in to different departments, consisting of the criminal court, insane and hospital departments, and the jail proper, each with different departments for male and female. The jail will accommodate from two hundred and forty to two hundred and fifty inmates. The building will be completed about the first of November, 1872.
The main idea in and incentive to the canal lien policy of the State, which we have already explained, was to aid in the restoration of the City Hall, which is to be built in connection with the Court House, forming one building, occupying, without covering, an entire square, bounded by Washington, Clark, Randolph, and La Salle streets. As yet no plans have been so much as submitted. The City and County Governments have decided to jointly offer a premium of $5,000 for the best plan of their joint building, of $2,000 for the second best, and $1,000 for the third best. How many millions of dollars the structure will cost, no one can so much as guess. The destroyed wings were frauds as well as shams. The public is keenly alive to the importance of a good job and no “jobbery.”
The United States had one building in Chicago at the time of the fire—its Custom House, Post Office, and Court house, on the corner of Dearborn and Monroe streets. It was not half large enough to accommodate the government business, and part of the officers were obliged to find quarters elsewhere, and those in the building were cramped for room, especially the Post Office force and the courts. The structure was otherwise a good one. The four walls were of Joliet limestone. It was the only bed rock structure in the city; that is, the only one in which the stone laid as it originally did in the quarry a circumstance that went far to protect it from weather stains, and from the fire. Had all the windows been protected by iron shutters, the contents would probably have been preserved. As it was, everything went down, including the contents of the vault, which, by an egregious blunder, had been set on iron pillars, which of course gave way. Nothing has been done with the building except to remove some of the rubbish, and it is not known what will be done with it. It will probably be sold, site and all.
Early in the winter, Congress appropriated $2,000,000 to the purchase of a new site, and the erection of a new building. Of this it took $1,250,000 to buy the land. Subsequently, another appropriation of $2,000,000 for the same object was made. The first appropriation for a public building is rarely if ever the last. After much discussion and figuring, the Government bought what was known as the Bigelow block, a square bounded on the north and south by Adams and Jackson streets, and on the east and west by Dearborn and Clark streets. The preliminaries were not all settled, and actual possession of the ground acquired, until July. A large force of men and teams are now at work clearing off the refuse and excavating the basement. The cost of clearing the ground will be $3,700. The Government, through the supervising architect of national buildings, Mr. A. B. Mullett, advertised for bids for furnishing concrete for the basement, also stone for the superstructure. The proposal for the former which was accepted, was put in by Singer, Talcott & Co., whose quarry is at Lemont, Cook County, a few miles up the canal.
The advertisement for proposals to furnish stone for the superstructure was such as to narrow the competition to a few quarries. The architect excluded all limestone. He also excluded all quarries which had not been worked for at least ten years. As the “party of the second part” is liable to fail, making it necessary for the Government to take possession of the quarry and get out its own stone, Mr. Mullett also, and very properly, refuses to entertain the bid of any party not in possession of an undisputed title to the quarry from which it was proposed to take the material. The bids were opened at Washington. In every proposal which could be entertained at all, with one single exception, the proposition was to furnish stone of a minimum size at a specified price, and add one cent for each foot in the larger sizes. No such bid could be seri ously entertained. It is worth more per foot to furnish large blocks than small ones, but no such amount. The bid actually approved was put in by John M. Mueller, of Cincinnati, whose quarry is at Buena Vista, on the Ohio River, a locality given some notoriety of late by a popular novel entitled “A Good Investment,” the scenes of which are laid in that stony region. His bid was to furnish stone at $1.30 per foot for blocks not exceeding 100 feet in dimension; $1.35 for blocks of over that size and less than 150 feet; and $1.47 for all other blocks, however large.
The following description of the building is vouched for by the supervising architect, Mr. J. C. Rankin, as correct:
The plan of the building measures 342 feet 6 inches, by 210 feet 6 inches, covering a space of one acre and two-thirds. There being five stories, including basement, we have a floor-area of 7.3 acres, after making allowance for the court and the wall. There are, as will be seen from the ac companying illustration, bold projections; and in the elevations there are important central features on each facade, carried above the main cornice as towers, each surmounted with a dome and tholus in stone. The architecture may be described as a Florentine Romanesque, treated freely. The corners are heavily quoined; and the wall surface is relieved by ornamented piers, with richly carved capitals.
The first story is treated with the segmental arch. The bold, rich transom carried throughout continuously, adds to the solidity of this story, and prevents any appearance of attenuation, which the piers otherwise would have. The Post Office requirements for light are such as to make it a very difficult problem to solve, in giving up all wall space to glass, not to destroy the architectural effect by an unpleas ant feeling.of the slightness of support for the superstructure. On each of the shorter sides is a handsome and capacious portico—a pleasing as well as thoughtful feature. On the long sides will be a sufficient number of exits and entrances.
The second and third stories are similarly treated; the second story, slightly the richer, having an ornamented pedestal course, through which will be admitted air for ventilation. The windows have semi-circular heads, with pointed Italian arch mouldings, the transom to be of stone. These stories are otherwise well defined by broad belt courses, simply and care fully decorated. The main cornice, a remarkably ingenious feature in itself, carries a balustrade at its outer edge; and its great projection is well sus tained in finely modelled brackets.
The story above the main cornice is elegantly treated, in an entirely original manner, whereby a good story is obtained without the hackneyed Man sard roof; and the outlines of its win dows, with a rich frieze, give a fine treatment of a difficult problem. The sky hue of so large a building is most pleasingly relieved by its ornamented chimneys and towers. The gable ends on long sides, flanked by ventilating shafts, boldly mark the roof, and offer legitimate features of decoration—a fact the architect has made the most of in its pleasing design.
The first story and basement are for the Post Office business entirely. The second story will be used by the subtreasury and customs, and the third story will be devoted to the law courts.
The general plan of the building is an interior court 83 feet by 198 feet, open to the ceiling of the first story, which will be a glass skylight, lighting the working part of the Post Office. In the upper stories is a continuous corridor, making the circuit of this court; and all the rooms are amply lighted from the outside walls of the building. The vaults will be carried through each story in solid masonry from the found ation. At each end of the building will be two passenger lifts, besides a fine airy staircase. The ventilation of every part is well cared for.