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
AMUSEMENTS, ARTS, AND SCIENCE.
It is but nine months ago that the first number of The Lakeside that was published after the great fire of the preceding October 8th and 9th, looked over the ruins of brick and stone and monuments of wealth and enterprise, and recalled tear fully the recollections of art, science, literature, culture, and elevated amusements, whose treasures and abiding places had been ruthlessly swept from the face of the earth in one night of terror and desolation. The most hopeful of us at that time would scarcely have cared to risk his reputation for clairvoyance by the prediction that the ninth monthly issue of this magazine would have had material whereon to base a record of Restoration that should include the abstract and testhetical enjoyments which then seemed to have been destroyed forever. None of us would have believed, in that hour of depression, that something less than a year would be sufficient to place Chicago in a position to contemplate and enjoy greater facilities for the pleasures to be found in culture, music, and the drama, than ever liefore. Hamlet’s mother did not change her widow’s weeds for the garland of a bride more speedily than the people of Chicago abandoned their sackcloth and ashes to clothe themselves anew in bright colors, and provide the pleasures of a metropolis.
The material reconstruction of the stricken city is that which first fills the observer’s mind with wonder. It assumes the aspect of a marvel, when one simply regards the apparent impossibility of having provided the material and secured the labor necessary to the accomplishment of the work that has been done in rebuilding. But it is really more wonderful that the reestablishment of amusement-places and the interest in art-progress should have found so important a place in this work of reconstruction, both because these things could have been the easier deferred, and because the increase of business would ordinarily have been supposed to monopolize the time and attention of all who had the pluck and the money to begin over again. Yet six weeks sufficed to see a sort of interregnum theatre erected; six months saw a larger and more beautiful structure occupy the place where McVicker’s old theatre stood; another dramatic temple stands almost ready for occupancy, at the corner of Wabash avenue and Congress street; a minstrel theatre, taking the place of the old Dearborn, but located on Monroe street, and of fairer proportions, has been dedicated; still another theatre, on Randolph street, has been roofed over and will be opened before the winter season begins; more than $100,000 were subscribed at a recent preliminary meeting for discussing the practicability of erecting an opera house; Chicago has a grand free and public library, duly chartered by the Legislature, which it never had before the fire; the Academy of Sciences has made such headway as to have a larger building than its old one well under way; the Historical Society is simply waiting its turn to take up the work of research where the fire left it; a project for a new Academy of Design has been formed, the ground selected, the building planned, and everything placed in readiness to begin operations; one public art gallery has been established on State street,—and, for the sake of brevity, there is already a beginning of what will result in more numerous, elegant, and costly structures of art, science, and culture than old Chicago ever had. If these be not evidences of a cosmopolitanism that no firt can ever destroy, then I should be at a loss to know where to look for them.
The public amusements of Chicago from the time of the fire until now, have not, it is true, been of a character to excite any particular glow of pride or enthusiasm on the part of the patriotic citizen. Naturally, the first effort to revive them was in the way of pandering to cheap tastes, as being least difficult to satisfy. A minstrel enter tainment was about the first to settle itself in a West Side hall; then a dramatic company found but feeble encouragement in a wooden structure that had been used for < ierman theatricals ; then it seems as though a dozen variety shows were provided for the various portions of the city; it was not long before a circus found a local habitation on Clinton street, and a name in calling itself amphitheatre; six weeks were enough to erect a theatre building, a little more pretentious than all the others, where, during the winter, there assembled crowds of working people, who found their labor more remunerative than ever before, and who monopolized the privilege of amusement-going. This was a circumstance that was attributable, not so much to any particular depression on the part of the Chicago people, as to the unattractive character of the entertainments that were provided. There was no place left where the opera and concert troupes could come, arid no theatre which offered inducements for the higher class of stars and the better kind of dramatic entertainments. The usual amusement-public made a virtue of necessity, and stayed at home; while the increase of 30,000 or 40,000 in the population an increase made up largely by the laboring classes, who found themselves in pos session of more spending money than they were accustomed to—served to keep up places of amusement that are now gradually falling off and giving way to the old regime. The churches did good secular work, however, on week days—almost as beneficial to the community, perhaps, as the religious labor they accomplished on the Sundays. Such of these institutions as did not suddenly develop a mercantile spirit and transform themselves into piano warerooms, gas-fitting establishments, post offices, and wholesale clothing houses, were largely utilized as assembly places for lectures, concerts, and respectable entertainments. One enterprising young gentleman, who supplemented his career by a sudden and mysterious disappearance, whereby he became more interesting than ever, had the foresight to discern that the better class of amusement-seekers, thus deprived of the ordinary facilities for gratifying their tastes, would be greedy for anything that offered a substitute. So he organized a "Star" lecture course, and literary men and doctori, who had been regarded heretofore as irretrievably stupid by the beau monde, found themselves reading their essays hefore a maze of gros grain silk, lace shawls, white kids, and black broadcloth, all brilliantly illuminated, and fluttering feeble approval of the display that reminded the spectators rather than auditors of old times. These unaccustomed scenes must have dazzled these quiet gentlemen, and led them to believe that Chicago, of all places, is the home of culture and the repository of true appreciation,—which, of course, will only prove to be one more of their delusions and disappointments, when the usual facilities for the display of toilettes and the levelling of lorgnettes shall be duly provided. Alternately the churches were awakened, however, from the drowsiness of the lecture room, by a brass band, of the French, Frenchy, with bells ringing and cannon booming,—so that Chicago was not with out its sensation, even in the passive days of its reconstruction.
Now let us see what is the promise of the future. As the dearth of amusements for the past few months has been occasioned simply by the destruction of the amusement-places, and not from any lack of in terest or money, this promise can be best determined, perhaps, by a more detailed mention of the buildings already completed and in process of erection. First among these comes McVicker’s Theatre, a view of which is presented as an appropriate illustration to this article. No one familiar with Mr. McVicker’s past career, was surprised to find him the very first to begin the work of restoring our public places of amusement on a scale commen surate with Chicago’s ambition and resources. For fifteen years he has maintained his place at the head of his profession in the West. Having climbed the ladder from the very bottom round,—beginning as a call hoy in a theatre,—he has had that practical education which alone insures success, and which almost invariably creates a legitimate pride in a calling that is too apt to become meretricious in the hands of adventurers. To ex-Mayor John B. Rice, who will probably be a candidate for Congress before this article is printed, and to James H. McVicker, Esq., who has frequently been mentioned in connection with Congressional honors, Chicago owes more than to all others her advanced condition in the way of amusements. Mr. Rice was the first to give Chicago a regular theatrical building—a little theatre, which was abandoned at the time Mr. McVicker built a larger edifice to take its place, in 1857. At that time Cincinnati and St. Louis, botk older cities, possessed many more inducements in the amusement way; now, though Cincinnati and St. Louis claim to be almost as large as Chicago, their people rarely enjoy the same opportunities for gratifying musical or dramatic taste, and do not pre tend to sustain places of amusement that compare in number or elegance with our own. Mr. McVicker erected his first theatre on the site of the present edifice, long before Chicago was equal to its support, and at a time when people came to this capital of the Northwest simply for moneymaking purposes. The building was al most as large as the present theatre, and was erected at a cost of nearly $100,000. Those were struggling days. A stubborn fight of two or three years left Mr. Mc Vicker without a claim to the ownership of a single brick ill the theatre in which he had placed all his money, his pride, and his hope. Yet that was but fifteen years ago, and when there was no competition whatever. In those days, Charlotte Cashman, in her prime, would come to Chicago and play to no better business than $350 or $400, while to day she would feel chagrined if she did not act before $1,800 or $2,000 worth of people at each performance. Then it was only something of a locally sensational nature which proved sufficiently attractive to be popular. There was one piece, the writer remembers, entitled “The Court Martial,” in which a good-hearted but bombastic militia colonel figured in so ridiculous a fashion that he felt himself called upon to announce that he should shoot McVicker on sight; the redoubtable manager replied that, as he did not wish to put the colonel to any trouble, he would pass the post office every mining at ten o’clock. The shooting did not occur.
There was another play called “The Eastern Cousin,” in which a number of the best-known citizens were pictured on the stage—and Chicago was not so large then but that we all knew one another—and which caused merriment enough to call out a full attendance for a few nights. But these occasions were the rare exceptions, while empty benches were the rule. Fortunately for Chicago, there was no one else to whom the management of the place could be entrusted, and, at the outbreak of the war, Mr. McVicker bought the theatre back, paying for it as he could. From this time on, it was steadily prosperous and profitable. Competition then came in, but the management maintained its legitimate way of doing business, and Mr. McVicker found his reward in wealth, position, and the good-will of his fellow citizens.
The present structure represents really a cost of about $400,000, without estimating the value of the land on w hich it stands. The original theatre was built at a cost of about $100,000; in 1867, about $32,000 were expended upon it; in 1871, the inside was entirely taken out, leaving the four walls standing, and a new theatre built, at a cost of $80,000, which was burned in about six weeks after its completion. Mr. McVicker’s insurance proving to be but little better than nothing, his loss in the fire on the theatre alone, without counting other property that lie owned, was not less than $150,000. He proceeded at once to put up a shanty on the ruins, and set scene-painters to work, as the first requisite of his new enterprise. He began building the theatre itself on April 1st succeeding the fire, and it was opened with a crowded and brilliant audience on the evening of August 15th—the work having been done in three months and a half, and costing $175,000. We all have more or less superstition some people confuse it with honesty—and it may be mentioned as a singular coincidence that Mr. McVicker showed no particular depression on account of his losses, until the day after the fire, when he discovered that he had lost an old silver five-cent piece, which he had found some years before, and had attached to his watch chain. Some weeks afterward, before he began work on his new theatre, while “walking down Broadway” in New York, he picked up another old five-cent piece, almost identical with that which he had lost. He gave it the accustomed place on his watch chain, and most of us can understand why he should feel easier in mind, though it would be a difficult matter to explain. His “luck” at all events—whatever that may mean—has been exceedingly good ever since that time, and his friends will unite in the hope that it will be long before he shall lose his other five-cent acquisition.
A brief description of the new theatre should accompany the cut. Its exterior presents a massive appearance in its walls of dead white, the entrance set off by a colonnade in black and gold, with bronzed figures of Comedy and Tragedy at each side. This entrance is ample as well as elegant, and has the advantage of leading to the auditorium direct on the ground floor. In the matter of exit, the manager’s foresight and experience have prompted him to provide unusual facilities—each circle having, with its own hallway, double staircases and seven doors that may be used in any emergency. The dread of fire that every one must have experienced in crowded auditoriums, will enable all of us to appreciate these facilities. The formation of the house within approximates as nearly as practicable the horse-shoe shape. so that the stage is clearly visible from every seat in the house, those at the side having quite as good a view as those in front. The auditorium itself is entirely closed in from the lobby by folding doors, in order to shut out the noise that dislurbs and mars a theatrical performance much too frequently. In general appearance the interior resembles that of Booth’s Theatre in New York more than any other, though of course the frescoing and decorations are entirely different. The proscenium is beautifully and uniquely ornamented with grand mirrors, which reflect the brilliant chande lier and the bright colors of the theatre, and the animated presence of the audience on both sides of the house. The idea was a happy one. The house is provided throughout with the iron-backed opera chairs, which have proved to be more popular than all other seats that have been invented for public buildings. The orchestra and orchestra-circle seat about 800; the first balcony seats 500 more, and the second balcony as many, making the entire seating capacity of the theatre 1800—there being no gallery and none of the revels in whistling and peanuts of the old-time gods. Hanging from the dome, at a height of sixty-five feet, is a gorgeous candelabra, of 200 gas jets with a mass of reflecting pendants and prisms, which is lighted at the touch of electricity, and thus creates a magic sort of illumination that is peculiarly appropriate to the mysteries of the mimic art. The great chandelier is turned off upon the raising of the curtain, leaving the auditorium in the subdued light of the side chandeliers, and concentrating the brilliant lights upon the stage, which thus looks as though it were illuminated by calcium reflectors. The provisions for ventilation are almost unequalled, the theatre being surrounded on all sides by an area from sixteen to twenty feet wide, making it practically the same as if situated in the centre of one block otherwise unoccupied. The mechanical departments are all modelled on the latest improvements—being a combination of all that is advantageous or desirable, wherever found. McVicker’s new theatre thus becomes one of the most delightful in the whole country,—entirely comfortable in its accommodations, convenient for entrance and exit, handsome to look upon, and provided with working departments that present graceful scenery and picturesque effects never thought of a few years ago. It will be devoted legitimately to the drama. The plays are produced so elaborately that most of them have a run of three or four weeks. The principal dramatic stars of the country, including Edwin Booth, Charlotte Cushman, Sothern, Joseph Jefferson, Maggie Mitchell, Lawrence Barrett, and others, will appear during the season. Until an opera-house shall have been constructed, it is probable that opera will also find its way into McVicker’s, and the Lucca troupe will certainly give a brilliant season there during the winter or early spring.
The next new theatre to be opened is known as Aiken’s Theatre, and is the handsome result of the enterprise of Mr. Frank E. Aiken, well known as the former manager of https://chicagology.com/prefire/prefire057/Wood’s Museum, Aiken’s Dearborn Theatre, and, more recently of the Hooley Opera-house, in the management of which he was engaged at the time of the fire. It was not long after the smoke had cleared away before Mr. Hooley and Mr. Aiken were looking toward rebuilding. They concluded, however, to build separately, and Mr. Aiken located on Congress street and Wabash avenue, several blocks further south than any one had as yet thought of building a theatre. The style of architecture in the new structure is the Renaissance. The dimensions are 80 feet in width and 150 feet in depth. The height of the building is about 70 feet, and the stage is 51 feet deep. The front is highly ornamented, being set off with a French roof and three pavilion towers rising over the cornice. Its material is gray stone up to the second story, then red pressed brick with elaborate stone trim mings. The main entrance is very large, and practically made still larger by the lobby-room given at each side. The door posts consist of Corinthian columns of cut stone, each capital sustaining a sphinx-head, while the whole entrance is surmounted by a broken pediment cap with a bust of Shakespeare in the niche. Meli, an Italian ar tist who has done much toward the ornamentation of new Chicago, has provided two figures—one of Comedy and one of Tragedy—which have been placed be tween the pavilions of the French roof. The interior is, of course, of the most mod em style. The auditorium consists of the orchestra and three circles, the dress circle separated from the orchestra by a simple railing. The seating capacity of the house is said to be about 1700 in all. The seats themselves are of the most comfortable pattern, consisting of large iron chairs with sofa springs. The proscenium, which fur nishes room for two private boxes, is elab orately finished, as, indeed, is the entire auditorium, presenting altogether as pleas ant a place for public entertainments as could be desired. Mr. Aiken has provided a dramatic company for the season, but will also present many of the entertainments which would naturally find their way to an opera-house if one had been constructed. About the time that this number of The Lakeside comes before the public, Theodore Thomas’s superb orchestra, which arrived in Chicago about a year ago, just in time to see the fire and escape a scorching, will discourse here its sweetest music. Then Rubenstein, the pianist, Mario and Carlotta Patti, Janauschek and Aimee, will follow in rapid succession.
Mr. R. M. Hooley, the well-known Brooklyn manager, who had erected a theatre on Clark street about a year before the fire, which shared the common fate, has been busily at work in the construction of a new edifice on Randolph street, between Clark and LaSalle streets, opposite the Court House and City Hall, and but a few doors from the Sherman House. Mr. Hooley will have a theatre that will compare favorably to any other in this new and beautiful city. In some respects, it will be the cosiest and pleasantest place of amusement in Chicago. It will seat about 1400 people, and has the advantage of bringing the audience close to the stage, and thus aiding to establish a rapport between performers and spectators that will contribute largely to the success of his entertainments. The stage, like those of the other theatres, is constructed with all modern improvements, and will be provided with the most complete working departments. This building, too, has the advantage of having an area on all sides of it, which will furnish the most thorough ventilation. The frescoing and ornamentation will be in keeping with the light and cheerful character of the entertainments which the house will present. It is Mr. Hooley’s intention to open his theatre on October 9th, the anniversary of the Chicago fire. The first attraction will be a pantomime troupe; and it is intended to keep up a succession of novelties during the entil e season, correspond ing somewhat to the general idea of the French vaudeville. The manager has had a vast experience—having catered to the public amusement for twenty-seven years—and it is not too much to predict a successful career for this new venture.
Mr. Samuel Myers, formerly associated for many years with Mr. McVicker in the management of the latter’s theatre, has already opened what may be regarded as the handsomest minstrel theatre ever built. The building, 55 x 102 in dimensions, is located on Monroe street, between State and.Dearborn, and has a seating capacity of about 1000, distributed in parquette, dress circle, and balcony. The stage is 27 feet in width by 35 feet deep, and 31 feet high. The interior is beautifully ornamented. The lower walls and ceiling are done in simple but chaste designs in lavender and gold; the panels holding flowers and fruit in their centre. The front of the balcony is adorned with mouldings of a Greek pattern, alternated with scroll work, and painted in white and gold. The principal fresco represents Folly with fool’s cap and bells floating in the air, and drawing in ihe rear Winter clad in furs with skates on his feet, as well as a third figure, which, with its sad, half-shrouded face, might very well stand as the type of the goddess Melancholy, The frame in which this painted allegory is set is richly adorned with Cupid’s dragons, floating swans, etc. Immediately beneath and around the dome are painted the medallion portraits of Burns, Shakspeare, Beethoven, and Rossini. It is pleasant to know that so much taste has been used in fitting up a house for an entertainment peculiarly American, and it is certain that this entertainment, under the management of Mr. Myers, and the stage direction of Mr. Kemble, who is an accomplished gentleman, will be uniformly chaste. This opera-house—even though it be for burnt-cork opera—will lie the re sort of our best classes, who will go there for the relief to be found in mirth and laughter.
Thus we find Chicago, within a year after the great fire, in the possession of six theatres in full running order, five of which have been built since the destruction of the city, and four of them of an elegance and costliness as striking as any like number on the continent. Another year will probably see us in possession of one of the most beautiful opera-houses in the world in addition to these. Mr. McVicker had no sooner finished his own theatre than he was the first to realize that Chicago should have a grand opera-house. With the experience of the past, it was too much to expect that any one individual should provide this; so he set about the purpose of interesting the principal citizens of Chicago in the enterprise. At one meeting $75,000 were subscribed as follows: Potter Palmer, the $10,000; J. H. McVicker, $10,000; H. H. Honore, $10,000; Eugene S. Pike, $10,000; Gage Brothers & Rice, $10,000; John V. LeMoyne, $10,000; Chauncey T. Bowen, $5,000; Mancel Talcott, $5,000; H. E. Picket, $5,000. Besides these subscriptions, made on the spur of the moment, Mr. M. C. Stearns subscribed $25,000 in case his property, on the corner of Adams and Dearborn streets, should be selected as the building, he offering a lease of one hundred years on very favorable terms. The officers of the Chicago Club also indicated that a subscription of $100,000 should be raised in their own body in case suitable apartments should be set aside for them in the building, for which they should pay an annual rental. Besides making actual and large subscriptions, such gentlemen as Messrs. Palmer, McVicker, Pike, Honoré, LeMoyne, and others propose to take an active part in bringing the enterprise to a successful result, and no one familiar with Chicago pluck and energy, can doubt that they will do it. The basis of the under taking is a sound one. It assumes that the opera-house proper will do no more than pay its own way in the world, but that the business block to be erected in connection with it will pay a fair interest on the investment.
The Fine Arts received a severe shock by the fire of 1871, the details of which were given in the Fire Number of The Lakeside of last January. Of course, it is impossible to restore such paintings and statuary as were actually destroyed; but the work of reestablishing the interest and the facilities for enjoying the cultivating influ ences of art, is progressing rapidly. Mr. Aitken, the manager of the old Opera House Gallery, has already a collection which he has located on State street. Mr. Moore, also well known as one of the must useful men to the community in this way, is back from New York, anxiously linking about him for a location. The Academy of Design, which suffered se verely in the loss of its building and the scattering of its collection, is taking practi cal measures towards reestablishment. Mr. Leonard W. Volk.the accomplished sculptor, has made a proposition for erecting a building for the institution. The site is one of the most desirable that could be found, and is 171 feet in depth, with a frontage of 54 feet on the avenue. Ground is already broken for the building, which will be 54 feet on Michigan avenue, by 100 feet on Van Buren street. The material will be of pressed brick, with Frear stone trimmings; the front will be of tasteful design, with a niche on either side for statuary, and the whole will cost about $25,000. This offer will undoubtedly be accepted. Meanwhile, the artists who were frightened off to St. Louis, Cincmnati, and other cities, by the general destruction of material things, and the consequent temporary depreciation of things immaterial, are rapidly returning with the unanimous conviction that Chicago burned out offers them better opportunities than the unprogressive cities to which they resorted. Certain private art-collections which were saved, are increasing in size and attraction; notably those of Win. B. Howard, Esq., and Perry H. Smith, Esq.
The check which the cause of science received in the burning of the Academy of Science and the Historical Society buildings, with their treasures, was still more se vere. The building of the latter of these institutions was located near the comer of Ohio and Ontario streets, in the North Division of the city, and was supposed to be fire proof. It disappointed this expectation, fall a prey to the great devouring element, and perished with its valuable contents, in cluding the Healy Collection of Paintings, belonging to the Chicago Art Gallery, and other valuable pictures, together with the Original Draft of the Great Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. Nothing has yet been done to restore the edifice or construct a new one in its place. The ground and foundation are there, subject to a mortgage, the interest of which is for the present paid out of the Life Membership fund of the society, which originated with Mr. J. Y. Scammon, and to which he largely contributed. A few things, of little value, were found in the cellar, under the debris, and they and the books and publications received since, are placed in the rooms, the use of which has been temporarily given to the society, over the Marine Company’s office. They arc for the present in charge of Doctor I. O. Boycsen, a learned Norwegian gentleman. What material was saved from the building has been sold, and the proceeds properly taken care of by the officers of the society.
The building of the Academy of Sciences, which was situated upon the rear part of its Wabash avenue lot, and in which was contained its valuable Museum and Library, as well as the large Alcoholic Collection belonging to the Smithsonian Institute, was also supposed to be ordinarily fire proof; yet it met the common fate of other buildings within the burnt district. The foundation walls and some of the iron columns and beams were saved, and the building is being restored—indeed, is now about ready for the roof. It is supposed that some part of it will be ready for occupation before the end of the year. A large business house, 55 x 100 feet, is bemg erected on the street front, reserving a wide entrance to the museum building on the north side. Its Curator, Doctor William Stimpson, died recently, inflicting a much greater loss upon the society than that caused by the fire. Doctor Stimpson was one of the most practical, learned, and em inent scientific men in the world. It may be reasonably concluded, however, that the progress in the way of reestablishing both these useful institutions will be as rapid as it could possibly be under the circumstances.
There remains but one more feature to be mentioned in the scope of this article the Public Library. The destruction of the libraries of the Young Men’s Library Association, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the Catholic Library, had the effect of uniting all resources and energies in one effort to bring about the establishment of a great public library, commensurate with the size and progress of the city. This became a matter of so general an interest that the State Legislature last winter passed an act authorizing a tax upon all the assessable property of the city, for the uses of the library, from which it is expected that $50,000 a year will be received. This revenue does not begin, however, until the first of next year, when the tax for the present year will become due. For some time to come, the fund will be used for buying books; but, event ually, it is designed to purchase a site and erect a library building. Meanwhile the Public Library will find accommodations in the temporary City Hall, where it is at presenfjhnd in the new City Hall when it shall be completed. The library must, for a time, rely upon donations, a large number of books having already accumulated in this way. The British Government has inflicted some 2800 volumes of British Patent Office Reports; but, as a partial offset, English authors and publishers have forwarded some 3000 volumes of a miscellaneous character. The management of the affairs of the library is in the hands of able and prominent citizens, whose individual interest will contribute largely to its ultimate prosperity and usefulness.
The facts and indications of progress which it has been practicable to present in this article, will, to the minds of many per sons, convey greater evidences of the grand metropolitanism of Chicago, than will the more startling figures of the increase in business.
James H. Runnion.