Rutter Building, A. C. McClurg Building (1883)
Life Span: 1873-1899
Location: 117-121 Wabash avenue, NW corner Wabash and Madison streets
Architect: G. P. Randall
The America Bookseller, November 1, 1882
As an indication at once of the increased demand in the city for first-class quarters for trade, and the growing importance of Wabash as a retail center, I hear that Jansen, McClurg & Co. have rented the Rutter building, on the north-west corner of Madison street and Wabash avenue for five years, from May, 1883. This store is a substantial brick structure of five stories and basement, with a frontage of seventy five feet on Wabash avenue and one hundred and fifty feet on Madison street. This, when fitted up as proposed, and filled with a large stock of miscellaneous literature and an immense variety of rare and elegant articles of stationery, bric-brac, and fancy goods, will form one of the most commodious and beautiful sales-rooms in the city, and one that will surely attract much attention from visitors to Chicago
Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1893
The A. C. McClurg Building.
Fronts 150 feet on Madison Street and 72 feet on Wabash Avenue, at the northwest corner. It is a brick block 75 feet high, with 6 stories and basement. It was erected in 1873, and contains one of the largest bookstores in the country.
Chicago Tribune, February 13, 1899
A.C. McClurg & Co.’s publishing house and bookstore, rendezvous of Chicago book lovers, home of rare and priceless volumes, and one of the largest sales houses of books in the world, was destroyed by fire yesterday.
The third floor of the building, 117 to 121 Wabash avenue, was discovered ablaze at 10 o’clock in the morning, and in three hours the ruin was complete. Not a book was saved, not a square foot of interior was left untouched by the flames, and the parts of the walls standing when the fire was mastered will be toppled over by order of Fire Chief Sweenie on the basement wreckage, under which lie buried the charred and pulpy fragments of a $500,000 stock.
The aggregate loss is $650,000, with insurance of $500,000.
For sixteen years the firm of A.C. McClurg & Co. had occupied the five-story red brick building, of which the ice-coated skeleton is now the remnant. For the first three years of the sixteen the firm name was Jansen & McClurg, a designation dating back to 1872. The building and grounds were owned by the Ezra T. Rutter estate, which erected the structure in 1873 at a cost of $143,000, remodeling it in 1883 to prepare for the tenancy of the book dealers.
General McClurg said last night that a plan was already under consideration involving the erection on the old site of a new building to be occupied by the company.
During the fire water flooded the basements adjoining Wabash avenue and State street stores of Mandel Bros., and, in conjunction with smoke, which penetrated every floor of the Wabash avenue store, damaged stock, according to the estimate of Leon Mandel, to the extent of about $10,000.
While members of truck companies 1 and 9 were working near the south wall last evening the sidewalk gave way and seven men were thrown into the basement, which was filled with four feet of half frozen water. They were:
All escaped injury but Smith, who suffered a sprained knee.
Sweenie’s Rush to the Fire.
Chief Sweenie, when he reached the scene, half an hour after the flames broke through the third story window of the Madison side, realizwd the futility of trying to save any part of the McClurg building. The chief was attending service at St. Patrick’s Church on the West Side when the fire broke out. His driver ran his horse from the City Hall to the church, sent word into the chief, and three minutes later was driving at full speed down-town. The chief tossed his Sunday hat and overcoat under the buggy seat, donned helmet, ulster, and rubber coat—always stored in the rig for such an emergency—and stepped from the vehicle ready to assume command. Eight hours before—2 o’clock in the morning—he directed the attack on the fire in the basement of Foreman & Co.’s store.
The flames were blazing fiercest in the center of the building, eating up and down from the third story, where the fire started. The plan of the chief was to drive the fire back from the fire wall protecting Mandel Bros.’ store and toward the alley side of the building. The first purpose was carried out, but the weight of the books defeated the second. Starting on the third floor from an explosion, according to the statement of Engineer Nick Granggran, who said he heard the noise and rushed up, to be driven back by the flames, the fire burned toward top and bottom. The third was the stationery floor, and the two floors above contained the wholesale stock—masses of printed material, heavy as lead.
Floors Yield to Dead Weight.
Whatever the big nature of the explosion, the combustible material of the floor was instantly on fire, the tongues of flame eating their way at express speed to the heavy timber joists supporting the floor above. Though the building was far from fireproof, the wood resisted the assault of the fire for over an hour, and when the building collapsed the timbers were little more than half eaten through. The pressure of the tons above tore the ends loose from their wall settings, and is some cases broke them at the center.
At 11:20 o’clock the third floor fell, followed at intervals of seconds by the crashes of the fourth floor and of the roof as their supports gave way. and they added their impetus to the descending mass. Although the fire had not obtained great headway in the two lower retail floors, the avalanche from above carried them and their contents into the basement.
During the instant the second floor checked the descent the torrent of books, brick, and lumber sought a side outlet, striking the Madison street wall with irresistible force. The brick wall bowed out and then seemed to be hurled into the street. Engine companies 8 and 21, commanded by Captains O’Connor and Heahle, were immediately under the part that fell. The second that the wall held saved their lives. One of the Captains saw the bricks bend out and yelled a warning. Dropping their hose, the men jumped backward, escaping death by a margin of inches. Lieutenant Miller of engine company 2 was standing on the platform of hose tower No. 2, in the middle of the street, and made no move to get away. Coping stones and brick fell about him, but he was untouched His leg was broken at the Grand avenue elevator fire, a few months ago. The bricks were hurled through many of the plate glass windows of the stores on the opposite end of the street, including those of the Anderson Art company, C.T. Wilt, and H. Falkenau.
Rare Works Destroyed.
In the center of the building, where the greater part of the debris found a resting place, the vaults of the McClurg company were situated on the second floor, containing among other things of value several unpublished manuscripts.
The southeast corner of the building was the spot allotted to the rare books owned by the company. Some of the volumes stored there were the only ones of their kind in existence, and their loss is the loss of literature. When the roof fell these books shared fate of their more common companions.
The walls were covered with ice almost as soon as water commenced to fall on them. The water flowed into the street, where it soon froze, impeding the movements of the firemen and becoming responsible for a disaster to hose tower No. 2.
The wheels of the wagon supporting the standpipe slipped, disturbing the equilibrium of the tower, which veered to the west and then fell backward to the south, the iron mast tearing out a window in the second floor of St. Mary’s block on the south side of Madison street, projecting the hose through the opening and directing the full force of the stream into the rooms of the Staten Dyeing company. Before the water could be cut off considerable gamage was done to the furnishings of the Fowler Optical company and of D. Nickas, florist, on the first floor. The thermometer remained at zero during the time the firemen were at work, but no member of the department suffered frost bites. Care given by neighboring restaurants and the Chicago Ath;etic club to the needs of the fire fighters was in part responsible for their imminity. Cups of hot coffee were brought to them at their stations.
The elevated loop was not tied up by the fire, but no stops were made at the Madison and Wabash avenue station.
The Cottage Grove avenue and State street cable lines were blockaded. After some delay they switched their cars back at Van Buren street.
NW Corner Wabash and Madison Streets
Robinson Fire Map
Excerpted from Publishers Weekly, February 18, 1899
The history of the firm of A.C. McClurg & Co. might be said to date as far back as 1848, for it had its origin in the book business conducted at that early day by S.C. Griggs in Lake street. It was with this firm that General McClurg began his experience in the book business, and laid the foundation for his remarkably successful business career. In 1866 he returned from the War of the Rebellion and became a partner in the firm.
Two years later a fire destroyed their stock and the store was reopened in State Street a few doors north of Madison Street. The locality was then known as “booksellers’ row,” two other book establishments occupying adjoining buildings. Then came the big fire of 1871, and the business was removed temporarily to the residence of Egbert L. Jansen, in Wabash Avenue, near Twelfth Street.
In 1872 the firm of S.C. Griggs & Co., dissolved partnership, S.C. Griggs devoted himself exclusively to publishing, and the firm of Jansen & McClurg was formed to continue the retail business, the store being located at 39 and 41 Lake Street. At that time the firm was doing a yearly business of very large proportions, its trade even before the big fire amounting to $500,000 annually. The business continued to grow steadily and in 1884 it was found necessary to secure more commodious quarters. It was then that the firm leased the Rutter building. In 1886 Mr. Jansen retired, and the firm took its present name, Frederick B. Smith becoming a partner.
In the volume of its business and the amount of its stock the firm has been recognized for years as one of the largest in the country. More than 350 persons were employed in the store and as traveling salesmen, and the trade extended from Pennsylvania to Oregon.
The publishing department of the firm represents but a small proportion of the annual business, General McClurg stating that $100,000 would cover the transactions in that line.
The firm has always contracted for its printing, and is thus fortunate in not losing the plates for its various publications. A large stock of plates is in the keeping of local printers and also with Eastern firms. The card-engraving business of the stationery department was another feature of the trade enjoyed by the firm, and the destruction of the card plates left in the keeping of that department will be a heavy loss.
“It is impossible to state what our future course will be,” General McClurg is reported to have said to a representative of the Inter Ocean. “For the present we shall have headquarters in the Edson Keith building, at 166-172 Wabash Avenue. Our books and papers were in the vaults and we hope they were not damaged. We shall secure a wareroom, order new supplies, and fill orders that come to us as promptly as possible. A new building, planned to suit our business, would, of course, be the ideal thought; but even should we conclude to build, a place to do business in for the present will be necessary. Our business demands an entire building, and the offers that have so generously been made thus far are for no more than one story.”
In the reorganization it is possible that General McClurg may retire, leaving the business to younger men. He has a beautiful home, a good income, and his friends declare that his remaining years should be passed free from the cares of business.
Chicago Tribune, April 20, 1900
When Policeman Robert Lind followed a shadow through a hole in the wall at the northwest corner of Wabash avenue and Madison street he thought he merely was in the ruins of the old McClurg building, but he found instead that he was in a den of thieves. He called two other policemen, and they went in after the ghost, or shadow, or whatever it was.
Down in the depths of the ruin they heard voices. Policeman Lind drew his revolver and said sternly, Come out, or I’ll let daylight shine through ye.” He said this he knew that a ghost, even a down-town ghost, which is much unlike the graveyard variety, did not like to have daylight shining through him. There was more whispering, then a small, squeaky voice said: “Wot do you want? We ain’t a-botherin’ of you.” Again Policeman Lind commanded the ghosts to stand forth, and then from the ruins shadowy forms appeared.
Policeman Lind had just said, “I command ye to leave this place of haunted ruins,” when Policeman Kehoe said: “Say, they ain’t ghosts; they’re bums.” The prisoners admitted they were.
When the police examined the ruins they found in the tower in the center a room fitted with three bunks and some old blankets. In one of the vaults under the sidewalk were more bunks and the ashes of a fire. Pictures were pasted on the walls, and a tin coffee pot suggested the distinction between kitchen and dormitory. A city water pipe had been tapped, and furnmished the occupants of the ruins with a bountiful supply of cold water. The police do not know what the boarders in the ruins did with the water, but they might have used it i making coffee.
The room in the tower was marked “Wolfert’s Roost,” and the long rows of vaults were marked “Paradyse Ally,” “On de Bum Streat,” and “Michigan avenoonit.” The police found a quantity of stolen goods in the ruins.