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Federal Building and Post Office
Life Span: 1904-1965
Location: Dearborn, Adams and Clark Streets and Jackson Boulevard
Architect: Henry Ives Cobb
Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1896
Postmaster Washington Hesing refuses to indorse the plans submitted by Architect Henry Ives Cobb for that part of the new $4,000,0OO government building which Is to be used for postoffice purposes, and in a friendly but emphatic letter states his objections to them. And Mr. Hesing’s refusal is thought likely to result In modifications which will leave the arrangement of the portion of the building to be devoted to postal service to the local postoffice authorities.
In his letter to the architect, Mr. Hesing renews his old objections to the site of the new structure, but only as a matter of principle, for that question is considered fully settled. The plans for the building so far as they concern its exterior and the arrangements for all Federal offices, excepting the postoffice, have been accepted and approved by the Treasury Department. When Architect Cobb carried the plans for the postoffice to the Postmaster-General the latter declined to accept or indorse them until they had been submitted to and approved by Postmaster Hesing and Inspector J. E. Stuart, who is in charge of all rents and leases relating to the postal service. Mr. Cobb came to Chicago last week and was in conference with the two officials several days, going over the plans as he had prepared them.
Letter of the Postmaster.
Their objections were stated In a letter written by Mr. Hesing to Mr. Cobb and heartily seconded by the Inspector. The letter bears date of Dec. 5.
Referring to Mr. Cobb’s request that the Postmaster look over the architect’s plans and express his opinion of them Mr. Hesing says:
- I am compelled to state from the standpoint of a practical postoffice official that, while you have perfectly solved the question of light and ventilation, and have drawn plans for a building that are beautiful and that will be a monument to your genius as an architect from the esthetic point of view, the interior arrangement as laid out will not at all suffice.
I realize well the great difficulties to be surmounted when you are asked to construct a building that will do, as it were, for a factory and for a residence. As I have always contended, the postoffice should be in a building devoted solely to postoffice purposes, where the entire business could be done on two floors.
The difficulty always has been in this country that the needs of the Postoffice Department have been secondary to other departments. I do not believe that any building in which other departments are located can ever be constructed that would be perfectly satisfactory for postoffice purposes. But we must deal with the facts as they are and not as we would like to have them and must make what I consider the best of a bad bargain.
Postoffice’s Space Needs.
It has always been my hope that the new Federal building should be built primarily to accommodate in every respect the postoffice, which requires twice as much floor space as all the other government offices in the building combined, and which must be universally admitted to be of greater importance than even the collection of internal revenue, the paying out of money by the Subtreasury, or the disposing of justice by the Federal courts.
The wretched accommodation afforded the postoffice was the strongest factor in securing the appropriation for the new building. I contend now, as I always have, that a model cannot be constructed upon the old site, because of its small area.
An ideal postoffice should have all the departments which handle mail arranged on a single floor, with ample space, abundant light, and good ventilation. Hence it is that our present temporary building, while not handsome to look at from the outside, is, for practical purposes, as a great workshop, where during the twenty-four hours of the day there are employed fully 1,500 men, absolutely perfect, and affords today the best opportunities for good service of any building in the United States,
Every sacrifice should be made to accommodate the postoffice which will require over two-thirds of the working area of the new building.
Points Which Are Essential.
After a thorough study of the situation I am convinced that to make the best use of the plans submitted by you the following points must be conceded and if any one of these points is not conceded the building, as far as the arrangements of the Postoffice Department are concerned, will be a total failure.
The points upon which I must insist are:
First—The entire flrst and second floors and a portion of the basement must be given to the postoffIce, to be arranged to suit its necessities. I mean to say by that that this space must be kept absolutely clear of all partitions and obstructions not required for postal business.
These two floors and basement should be left by you for the time being simply as a great space surrounded by four walls, to be turned over to the practical postoffice officials when the time comes for the inner arrangement and disposal of space.
You cannot, as an architect, be expected to know what the needs are nor how it desires to lay out the floor space. Give that department the space and it will cheerfully assist in laying it out.
Opposes Basement Work.
Second—All mail must be received and dispatched from the street level, and no mail shall be received or handled in the basement. The very idea of asking any man to work in the basement is itself enough to condemn the plans as submitted. It was this fact more than any other that prompted me to take the interest I did in agitating the erection of a new building.
Men should not and must not be expected to do accurate and quick work in a basement.
The basement can be utilized for file rooms, lockers, stock room, supplies, shops, and postal card sub-agency.
Third—I insist that the government should construct this building to suit its business; to satisfy its officials, and not to be mutilated to gratify the whims of adjoining property owners.
I know that architects are great sticklers for symmetry, but symmetry must sometimes give way to utility.
Fourth—The railway mail service, Postoffice Inspectors, and Civil Service Board must have convenient quarters above the second floor, and some additional room may be required for the use of the postoffice proper.
Wonderful Growth of a Decade.
During the last ten years the annual receipts of the office have increased from $2,250,000 in 1887 to $5,250,000 in 1893—an increase of 133 per cent.
The amount of mail handled increased 100 per cent, and now aggregates 8,000,000,000 pieces per annum.
The money order business has increased from $1,500,000 transactions in 1887 $3,250,000 transactions in 1896, aggregating over $31,000,000.
The force employed In the main office is now 125 per cent greater than it was a decade ago. The per cent of increase is growing greater, which fully justifies these demands for space. This ratio of increase kept up will soon so congest these quarters that within twenty years the government will be compelled to erect auxiliary buildings on the North and West Sides.
Affixed to the Postmaster’s communication and signed by Inspector Stuart is the following:
- This matter has been thoroughly discussed by the Postmaster and myself and the foregoing letter expresses the result of our conference. I heartily concur with the same.
Mr. Hesing Talks.
Mr. Hesing said last night:
- I have always contended that the government made a mistake in locating a new building on the old site. Rut It is too late to change that now, but the interior plans drawn by Mr. Cobb will have to be changed, as I refused to ‘O.K.’ them.
I insist that the basement and the first and second floors, which are designated for postoffice use, shall be turned to the practical officials in charge of the office, without any walls, rooms, partitions, elevators, or pillars. Then these practical men can divide the space allotted to the service to the best advantage.
The trouble with most of our public buildings is that they are turned over to the service cut up and divided just as the planners thought best, and without regard to the actual needs. So I objected to having one draw plans for the interior arrangements of the new Postofflce, except the practical men who may be In charge of the service when the new quarters are ready for occupancy.
Mr. Cobb is in New York.
Harper’s Weekly, June 12, 1897
THE CHICAGO GOVERNMENT BUILDING.
THE existing, or rather the late. government building at Chicago—for it is now represented only by an excavation as never been satisfactory to that town, and long ago become inadequate for its purposes, while the complaints against the building as a work of architecture ruder, and, after the World’s Fair had educated Chicago, mounted to a popular demand that the Post-Office should be replaced by something more worthy of the city.
This is the demand that was appeased by the appointment of Mr. Henry Ives Cobb, one of the leading architects of Chicago, to prepare for a new government building, which is to accommodate primarily the post-office, but also a number of courts and all of the Federal offices of the city. The result, on paper, is the building illustrated on page 589, and on the ground an enormous excavation. Considering the apprehension that was felt in the early history of the building concerning its stability, seems odd to read that it has been found necessary to blast out the old foundations with dynamite.
The site is a very fine one. That is to say, it is a full block, 396 by 321, in the heart of Chicago, and surrounded, or inevitably to be surrounded, by skyscrapers. Although the Chicago sky-scraper has been curbed by law to a maximum of ten stories or so, the maximum will be obtained by every future builder in this quarter. The ordinary treatment under these conditions would be a hollow square lighted from the surrounding streets and from a central court. The scheme actually adopted is the reverse of this, in that the centre of the plot is occupied by the most solid and the loftiest part of the building. The law requires that the building shall extend to the limits of the site, and thus prevents the withdrawal of the building so as to be seen across a foreground on any side. But the designer has obtained this effect while still complying with the law by surrounding the site with a range of building of only two stories enclosing cruciform structure of eight, and a dome at the crossing 100 feet in diameter and 200 feet high, or more than the height of any one of the tall buildings that front or that can front the government building. Obviously this is the most eligible arrangement to secure the complete and effective lighting of the building. Obviously, also, are pyramidization of the whole pile towards the central dome gives promise of the most imposing architectural effect. There is every reason to believe that whereas the shabby old Post-Office was a disgrace to Chicago, the new government building will be one of its chief boasts.
Chicago Tribune, June 16, 1901
Designs for the four colossal groups that are to stand at the four corners of the new government building in Chicago, seventy-five feet above the pavements, have been accepted at the hands of Sculpture Richard J, Park of Chicago, and that artist will soon enter upon the three-years’ task in their execution.
Four charioteers, driving to four points of the compass, each symbolical of one of the four grand divisions of the world’s map, are in the general scheme. These figures will be in heroic mold, the head of the charioteer rising eighteen feet above the bronze hoofs of the horses, and their positions, far above the pavement, above the level of the roof of the main builsing, will give a silhouette effect against the sky that must be imposing.
America, Europe, Asia, and Africa are symbolized in these groups. Emblazoned on the front of the American chariot is the shield of the United States, and rising above it is the head of the eagle. The chairiot of Europe has the bull’s head, that of Asia has the lion, and that of Africa has the head of the tiger. The figures of the charioteers, so far as possible, are symbolical of the races.
These chariot groups, in their spirited action, represent the expedition of the mails to all parts of the world. Each group, as nearly as possible will be headed in the direction of the country it represents. Thus, Europe will take the northeast corner of the building, Africa the southeast, Asia the southwest, and America the northwest corner.
Horses in the groups will be just twice the life size. To attain the silhouette effect it has been necessary to express spirited action in the figures in order to lift them into the light. It is the design that each figure shall show clearcut from the street levels, outlining itself in greatest measure against its background of sky. Each horse will be about the size of the horse in the equestrian statue of General Logan on the lake front.
These groups, when cast in bronze and mounted, will weigh about 6,000 pounds each. They are to be ready for placing in 1904. Complete, the four groups will cost about $80,000. The artist will begin upon the work in a few weeks, and purposes to deliver the groups according to contract. Owing to the great size of the building and the height at which the groups will stand, not more than one group at a time will be seen from the street levels. Only from some of the upper windows of surrounding skyscraping buildings can the general effect be comprehended. Originally it had been in the mind of Architect Cobb to have the groups at the base of the dome, but on consideration it was deemed that the height would be too great for a group, and, instead, single figures will be placed there.
When the new federal building is complete these bronze groups will be the largest in Chicago to be placed at such a height. Nothing else in that line approaches them.
As comparison with most of the sculptor’s preceding work, these groups express much more action than he has been given to, but necessarily so because of the effect to be attained en silhouette. Most of his creations have been marked by a quiet restfulness, which is characteristic of him in his art. Just now Mr. Park is recovering from a severe attack of sciatica, following an injury from a fall, but as soon as possible he will take up work on the groups.1
Each of these creations will be made up of ten or twelve pieces of bronze, which will be raised to place by derricks especially rigged. The steel structures at the corners of the building has been designed to sustain such a weight. These figures will be among the last touches made to the new building, and from the intersections of the four streets forming the sides of the government plat the full effect of the ornamentation will be gained. In a point of size the sculptor has never before attempted such a work.
View of dome under construction.
Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1902
LOWERING THE LAST STONE IN WALL OF THE NEW POSTOFFICE BUILDING.
The last stone in the wall of the new Postoffice building was hoisted into place yesterday afternoon. Government Inspector Leo Canman superintended the work, while William Frazer and Louis Larson, stonesetters, laid the last piece of granite—one of the round decorations on the Adams street parapet.
The last stone went into its place almost over the spot where the first stone was set. At 2:15 o clock, June 8, 1900, tho first block of Mount Waldo granite was put in place on the Adams street side. For ever two years the stone setters have. been putting granite into the great building. They have laid 450,000 cubic feet of stone.
The above photograph was taken from the north wing of the building, on the third floor, looking northwest towards the wall just being completed by the stonecutters.
Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1905
THE POSTOFFICE BOTCH.
After ten years of vexatiously protracted construction Chicago has its postoffice and finds it a botch. It is architecturally more imposing than the unpretentious but useful structure on the lake front, which has answered its purpose so excellently. The new building has a handsome dome, likewise stately wings, and more or less elaborately decorated interior. In these respects it outdoes its one-story brick predecessor. In facilities for caring for the mails, loading and unloading them, receiving and distributing, and in general administering the great public utility for which it is intended the homely shack on the lake front is far and away superior to the new building in Dearborn street.
The original suggestions ot the postoffice department as to handling and for the mails were rejected by the architect, who was working not so much for the public convenience as for personal glory. In place of the methods suggested he devised the hideous chutes in Dearborn street, which are an inconvenience to pedestrians, a detriment to the interests of property-owners, a public nuisance, an obstruction to the business of the street, and a disfigurement of the architectural appearance of the east front of the building. One proposition was to build a shed over the sidewalk, but this was too audacious for consideration and was abandoned and the iron chutes substituted, which, in turn, will necessitate about two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of chutes and elevators within the building to get the mail from the basement to the second and third floors for handling. In carrying out the present arrangement the architect has made Dearborn street the back yard for the postoffice, erected eyesores, and arranged blocking tp an already congested and narrow street with long lines of mail wagons.
It was the duty of the United States government to provide a building capable of accommodating the huge postal business of this city, to keep its premises in good order, and to provide ample conveniences for loading and unloading the mails. All this could have been done if the structure had been, planned and constructed by a special architect, as other business buildings, theaters, and hotels are, and not by an architect whose principal object to exploit his own fame. It was possible to have built a structure combining beauty and business facilities. What has been accomplished is a structure combining beauty and botch.
Something must now be done to remedy the botch, and it should not take another ten years to do it. Apparently the only way out of its trouble for the government is to build large branch at the great railway stations on the south, north, and west sides, say near the Adams street Union station, the Northwestern, and the Polk street or Park row station, which relieve the heavy work of the general postoffice. These, with tube service and, perhaps, underground tunnels, may obviate, for instance, the existing necessity of sending a huge bulk of mail to the general postoffice from the-west side, sorting it over, and sending 50 per cent of it back to be taken out by the various roads leaving the Union station.
Something of this nature will have to be done to relieve the situation and carry on the mail transportation of this city. Evidently this use of the now building was not considered by the architect, lie has given the government an impressive dome, will not be so impressive after it has been exposed to Chicago’s soot a few years more, with a structure under it which is well adapted for most anything but the purpose it was intended to serve. And this is what the government gets from architectural amateurism.
Central portion of east facade seen from Quincy St.
Inter Ocean, October 29, 1905
The new postoffice was thrown open to general business at noon yesterday.
A party of Washington postal officials, prominent Chicagoans, and postmasters from other towns inspected the many new mechanical and general devices and transit departments, and made a tour through the auxiliary tunnel service system of the Illinois Tunnel company, which is to play an important role in the operation of the new “automatic” postoffice of this city.
Under a huge flag suspended from the top of the the central dome of the new federal building the crowds surged, admiring, asking questions, and trying to catch occasional glimpses of the mechanical activity in the inner departments of the postoffice.
The rumbling of ponderous machinery, the click of automatic mail bag and letter distributing devices, the whir of rubber and leather belting which carry the letters and packages heretofore handled by hand and trucks, gave the impression of an enormous factory or milling plant.
In the former postoffices of Chicago, and in those of other large cities, nothing like the mechanical equipment of Chicago’s new postoffice is known.
Without the slipping of a cog, without confusion or misunderstanding, and, it is said, without the delay of a single piece of mail, the 5,000 employes of the postoffice stepped into their new places yesterday morning, and at noon nothing but thye mailing department remained in the “temporary’ postoffice on the lake front, which has been in use for ten years.
Six hundred teams moved the paraphernalia of the old office into the new building, 150 more will gather up the “loose ends of the former office” today, and by tomorrow morning nothing belonging to Uncle Sam will remain on the old premises. Two months were spent in careful drill and preparation for the moving.
Two million letters and 200 tons of inferior class class mails will be handled a day by the automatic devices, and the so far indispensable hands of the employe.
A misfortune at the new postoffice proved to be a boon. The driveway underneath the center of the building had been made too narrow. The vey heart of the foundations of the huge pile of stone and iron lies in its proximity. To widen the drive was beyond the power of the most skilled engineers.
The remedy was found in the Dearborn street mail chutes, leading from the sidewalk, the huge belt transmitters, and the tunnel system, which will be the avenue for mails to and from the railway stations. From the tunnel mail bags will be carried by belts to the primary distribution centers, whence the mails in small iron troughs will be sent on the journey through the building, to be automatically released at their various destinations.
Combination notch locks will drop Texas mail into the Southern railroad pouches, Canadian mail land without the assistance of human hands into the Northern railway chutes, and so forth.
Registered mail only will be sorted and packaged by hand.
Senator A.J. Hopkins, several merchants, editors of the several foreign papers in Chicago, and other guests were addressed by Postmaster Coyne as the tour terminated in his sumptuous offices in the third floor.
Mr. Coyne declared that the present postoffice could scarcely be compared with what was considered a postoffice ten years ago, so miscellaneous is the present postal business and so wonderful the devices for handling mails.
The old premises on the lake front will be nominally occupied for two more months by the postoffice.
Chicago Tribune November 7, 1905
Chicago’s $5,000,000 federal building is a poor makeshift as a postoffice.
That was the opinion expressed yesterday by Postmaster F. Coyne and his subordinates down to the “shift” that has to block the wheels of the small wagons drawn by four sad eyed mules and two horses up the steep incline of the driveway.
Mr. Coyne wasn’t complaining—he said he had done that three years ago. He said he was doing his best to get along in quarters that admittedly were inadequate and badly arranged.
Personally, Mr. Coyne has nothing to complain of. His office is spacious and luxurious. But the men who have to get the mail out on time—who are subjected to a thousand and one inconveniences and hardships—say, after a week in the new building:
- Give us back our old temporary postoffice on the lakefront.
Inspector Janice E. Stuart is preparing a report to the government about the postoffice and will not anticipate what he is going to say, but officially he blames the people who a dozen years ago insisted on the employment of Henry Ives Cobb as architect.
Temporary Post Office
Washington and Lake Front
Objections to the Building.
Here are a few of the objections to the new postoffice:
- •Owing to the bad and inadequate arrangements, it is still necessary to use the old postoffice building on the lake front.
•The platform space in the driveway is insufficient and it takes one-fourth longer to handle the mail than it did at the temporary building.
•The runways are too steep, requiring extra teams and wagon blocks. Later it will be necessary to install hydraulic lifts at great expense.
•The chute boxes in Dearborn street are inartistic and a great bother.
•The arrangement of of the postoffice has necessitated the installation of $250,000 worth of machinery that takes up valuable space and doesn’t always run smoothly.
•Extra men are needed and the old men have to work overtime, some of them twelve hours.
•There are drafts all over the building.
•Stamps, money orders, and money is blown about at the windows to the annoyance of patrons and despair of the clerks.
•So much noise is made by the machinery that it is impossible to hear anything except the complaints of patrons.
•Dirt from the light shafts drops on the workers and mail in the city delivery and other departments.
•There is not enough drinking water in the city department and the mailing division—but two fountains being supplied for each thousand men.
•There is a vast amount of waste room that it is impossible to utilize.Lobby space has not been provided in the city department.
Congestion at Mail Chutes.
The congestion at the postoffice is most noticeable in the late afternoon and evening, when long lines of wagons are standing in Dearborn street waiting their turn at the mail chutes. Some of the wagons are obliged to wait an hour. Postmaster Coyne’s remedy for this is to have business men mail their packages early in the morning.
“We are not complaining,” said Postmaster Coyne. “We made all our complaints three years ago, and we are doing as much as possible to remedy defects by the application of modern machinery. we hope before many weeks to have everything in running order.
“Every one knows =, of course, that this was not arranged by the postoffice. The ideal postoffice would be all on the first floor, and would have but one entrance. A general postoffice is nothing more than a factory for converting raw mail by registration, cancellation, routing, and tying up into the finished product, and this building never was intended as a factory. Our space is divided into three floors, and practically into three city blocks.
“It is remarkable what has been accomplished by the loyalty of the men. There was some congestion last Wednesday and Thursday nights, but last Saturday night everything was cleared up and there has been no more serious trouble. The increase in October business was $107,476, or 20.92 per cent over that of the corresponding month a year ago.”
Needs $75,000 for Improvements.
Mr. Coyne thought it would take at least $75,000 to make the postoffice what it ought to be. This would include tile shafts around the belt conveyors and elevators to lessen the noise and draft, and hydraulic elevators for the driveway. Station U, at the Union railway station, and Kinzie station on the north side, would relieve the congestion 75 per cent when they were in proper running order, and he believed that the temporary postoffice on the lake front could be abandoned as soon as the Illinois Tunnel Company is ready to take mail, which it promises to be in another month.
“Don’t blame the government for the makeshift postoffice,” commented Inspector Stuart. “Twelve years ago Chicago was clamoring for a local architect, and it got one, and the result is seen. A postoffice should be on one floor, and all the departments should extend around a court or rotunda with one main entrance. The building looks all right from the outside, but the old temporary postoffice was a great deal better arranged.”
Chicago Tribune August 25, 1904
From today, the statisticians will augment Chicago’s list of the “largest things in the world” by the addition of its “nine miles long” system of pneumatic postal tubes, which formally was opened yesterday at the temporary postoffice in the presence of 500 federal, state, county, and city officials, railroad and business men. The first “mail” dispatched through the twelve inch brass tubes was a silk American flag. It was followed by a bouquet of roses addressed to Postmeaster General Payne. It took the mail less than three minutes to travel from the Twenty-second Street postal station to the temporary postoffice on the lake front. The first letter was addressed to President Roosevelt, and was signed by Postmaster General Payne, Postmaster Coyne, and Senators Cullom and Hopkins, who were present.
The tubes just opened are 8.9 miles long and connect the new postoffice, temporary postoffice, Chicago and Northwestern Depot, La Salle Street Depot, Union Depot, Illinois Central Depot, Twenty-second Postal Station, Armour Postal Station, and Stockyards Postal Station. The Twenty-second Street and Armour stations were the first opened for the service.
The first day of the Chicago postal pneumatic tube service: 24 August 1904
On the right Postmaster Frederick E. Coyne places the first bundle of mail into a pneumatic carrier; note its large diameter compared with European versions. On the left is R. W. Morrell, a pneumatic tube expert. The Chicago postal pneumatic tube ran between the post office and the Winslow rail station. The tubes were rented from the Chicago Pneumatic Tube Company.
The system is operated by compressed air, the mail being transported in large oblong leather boxes, metal mounted. The system was constructed by the Chicago Postal Pneumatic Tube Service Company, which will receive $119,625 annually for the service. The tubes greatly will facilitate the handling of mail in Chicago. Where hours have been required for the transportation of mail to and from the various stations has been dispatched through the tubes, the first letter taken out of the same bag will have been assorted and started on its destination. Delays created by the accumulation of mail as well as by its slow transportation will be done away with.
Pneumatic tube terminals at the Main Chicago Post Office about 1910.
Federal Building and Post Office
Sanborn Fire Map
Journal of the Western Engineers, 1896
Before beginning the description of the foundations of the Chicago Post Office building your attention is invited to a statement of the kinds of materials met with in constructing them . This will facilitate a clear understanding of the merits of the plans devised, thereasons for their adoption and the methods employed in the execution of the work .
The City of Chicago stands upon a flat plane. The materials underlying it are as shown on accompanying sections. (Fig. 440.)
Commencing at the surface where this has not been disturbed there is aboutone foot of black soil. Below this there is a stratum of rather fine sand from six to eight feet in thickness near the lake, and growing thinner westwardly until it disappears. Under this sand where it is found, and beneath the black soil where the sand does not occur, there is a stratum of stiff, moderately hard clay, from three to eight or ten feet thick . And from the bottom of this hard clay to a depth of from forty to sixty feet below city datum (low water lake level), the material is very soft clay, saturated with water, with now and then a thin stratum of firmer clay, usually not more than two or three feet in thickness. At the bottom of this very soft clay, at a depth of from forty to sixty feet below city datum , the clay becomes hard and mixed with a small and gradually increasing percentage of sand and gravel, changing into a genuine hard pan within the first three or four feet. This hardpan is so hard that it cannot be penetrated with the common wood auger usually employed in making borings; and when it is desirable to go deeper with a test hole, resortmust be had to a drill.
It is from six to thirty feet in thickness, and rests upon a solid bed of limestone lying at a depth below city datum of from sixty to ninety feet.
In making excavations for the foundations of large buildings in Chicago they are generally carried down from ten to fifteen feet below curb grade. This means the removal of the soil and sand at the surface and a portion of the hard clay below .
From this description of the materials underlying the site of the city, it is hoped that a clear understanding may be gained of the circumstances which exist and the conditions which must be considered and complied with in designing the foundations of heavy buildings in Chicago.
Experiments repeatedly and carefully made by loading the soft clay found at the bottom of the proposed basement floors show that it begins to yield under loads varying from three to four thousand pounds per square foot. But if these loadsremain, the settlements which take place will appear to cease during the time commonly occupied by the experiments. If the loads are increased much beyond four thousand pounds, the settlements do not cease, but seem to go on continuously , though at a gradually diminishing rate. And in many instances in which buildings have been erected on foundations covering such areas as to make the loads carried by the soil well within the limit of 4,000 pounds per square foot, these buildings have within a few years from their completion settled and cracked badly. These settlements have been so slow that they could only have been detected and accurately measured by levels carefully taken at long intervals. Such levels taken on the Board of Trade Building during six years showed a total maximum settlement of 16½ inches and minimum of 8 inches, which caused it to crack so badly that parts of it had to be taken down. The average settlement was 12¼ inches in six years, 2¼ inches in one year, or only about ½ of an inch per month. From which it must appear that those who built in accordance with the teach ings of the experiments made were pardonable for the costly errors that resulted from ignorance of this insidious peculiarity of the soil which no experiment had revealed.
The simple fact is that there is a gradual settlement that goes on during long periods under loads less than those which the soil will sustain temporarily. This probably results from the gradual squeezing out of the water in the clay through its infinitesimal interstices by the superincumbent loads. As the time during which this movement of the water takes place increases, the velocity and resistance from friction diminish, and as the water disappears the clay is more easily compressed, and hence this slow settlement. In confirmation of this theory it is found, where excavations are made of soil that has been longloaded, it is found com pressed and partially dried to a considerable depth below the loads. Nothing but very close and accurate observations and measurements made through a term of years can determine just what is the maximum safe load that this soil will sustain permanently; and as there is considerable variation in the character of the materials at different places, it would seem very difficult if not impossible to fix upon any load that could be considered safe, which would not be so small as to be of no use in planning foundations.
In the case of the foundation of our Government Post Office and Custom House Building, which are under consideration, all the controlling circumstances seemed to lead to the designs that were adopted, and which have now been carried out to completion with out a single serious difficulty or accident, by the McArthur Bros. Co., contractors
The building is to be monumental in its character. The appropriation made by the Government for its construction is munificent, amply providing for building the magnificent edifice that it will be, after the very best methods, especially such as will absolutely insure its greatest durability. The plans by Mr. Henry Ives Cobb, architect, seem models of correct design,adapting each part of the building to its purposes and providing amply for all requirements with a minimum quantity of materials.
The weight of the building will be very great, amounting to about 150,000 tons. The several methods of construction of the foundations studied and compared were:
- 1st, Masonry on platforms of steel beams and concrete.
2d, Wells sunk to hard pan and filled with concrete or rubble masonry.
3d, Piles driven to hard pan wooden grillage concrete and masonry.
The first method was rejected because unsafe and too expensive. The second method, though deemed perfectly safe and reliable, was from careful estimates found to be unnecessarily expensive for this site. The third method, with piles, timber platforms, concrete and masonry, was adopted as being free from any danger of settlement and less expensive than either the first or second methods.
The piles are so many posts resting on an unyielding bottom and sustained from lateral flexure by the pressure of the surrounding materials, thus affording positive support for the loads they carry and transmitting them directly to hard bottom.
The maximum load to be carried by a pile was arrived at by reference to a greatmany examples of old structures on pile foun dations in similar materials, notably some of the London bridges across the Thames and bridges across the Seine in Paris, in which the piles are loaded to sixty tons each and even to one hundred tons in one of the latter. Also by calculating the sustaining power of piles of the same kind used in the foundations of the Public Library and other very heavy buildings in Chicago. During the construction of the foundation for the Public Library Building I loaded one of the piles with all the pig iron that could be stacked on it conveniently (fifty-three tons), and had this load left on it for weeks, without producing any settlement, after the first subsidence due to the elasticity of the pile. The application of Trautwine’s formula to the piles in the foundation of the Post Office building since they have been driven, shows the load adopted of thirty tons (each) to be perfectly safe.
Preliminary borings made for the purpose of determining the quality of soil underlying the site of proposed building, resulted as follows: (See also Fig. 440.) After boring through the filled material and sandy soil for about twelve feet below surface of street, a layer of hard brittle clay, about three feet thick , was struck. Below this to a depth of from 55 to 60 feet below street level the clay was very soft, with spots of stiffer clay, and traces of gravel in places, but nowhere firm enough to sustain any consider able load. From the depth of 55 to 60 feet the material grew harder gradually, with more gravel, until at the depth of from 69½ feet to 71½ feet below the street level, hard pan was struck, into which it was impossible to bore with a common wood augur.
From the borings it was determined that the length of piles in the foundations, to be cut off 26½ feet below street level, would be from 43 to 45 feet, provided they were driven to hard pan, so the plans were made for 50 foot piles, to allow for slight irregularities in the top surface of the hard pan and the sawing off.
Excavations to a depth of 30 feet below street grade verified these borings to that depth. The material is a blue, plastic clay, weighing 136 pounds per cubic foot. It contains some pockets of coarse sand and a few boulders of various sizes.
The piles driven with square ends without sharpening are cut off 26½ feet below street level or 12½ feet below low water level of the lake. The thickness of the caps 14 inches added to that of the platform resting on them 12 inches thick, brings the top of the platform 2 feet 2 inches above the tops of the piles and 10 feet 4 inches below lake surface at low water, insuring perpetual immersion of the highest timbers in the foundation and hence ever lasting durability.
The foundations would have cost considerably less if the piles had been cut off eight feet higher and the timbers would still have been 2 feet 4 inches below lake surface and so perpetually wet. But in view of the possible disturbance of the foundations by the construction of subways in the streets, or by any other deep excavations in the immediate neighborhood made for any purpose, it was deemed best to cut the piles off at the lower level determined upon.
There are 5087 piles, including 59 under the foundations for sub treasury vaults. (See general plan of south half of foundations Fig.441.) They are of Norway pine, not less than 16 inches in diameter at the butt, and 10 inches at the point. They were driven by a steam hammer, the falling part of which weighs 4700 lbs. and drops 42 inches. The hammer frame and engine weigh 4,500 lbs. They were driven until it required from 6 to 8 blows of the hammer to drive the pile one inch.
We find that the extreme load that one pile will sustain is 136.75 tons. This, without any allowance for the effect of the insistent load of four thousand five hundred pounds resting on the pile while it is driven, allows a factor of safety of about four and one half, as the piles will sustain about thirty tons each.
A space 144 feet square in the middle of the lot was excavated to a depth of 3½ feet below cut off grade, and the piles within this space, 1340 in number, were driven by drivers running on cribbing on the bottom of the excavation, and required no follower. The remainder of the lot was excavated in trenches or pits, and the drivers ran on top, the cribbing resting on the surface of the ground or the tops of piles partially driven. The piles were “followed”from the surface to the bottom of the excavations, and in some cases, where the excavations were not completed, the piles were followed several feet into the earth.
LENGTH OF PILES.
The length of piles after being cut off, varied from 42½ to 47 feet, and agreed well with the borings. The greatest variation was at the S. E. corner of lot, where the piles were 2½ feet shorter than the borings would indicate, and where the driving was extremely hard for the last few feet. In the center of the lot the piles were two feet longer than the borings indicated, but as none of these were made in that vicinity, this could not be called a variation .
The displacement of material by the piles was found by adding the amount of material that would have to be removed to leave the lot at“finished grade,” and the amount of all material (other than piles) put into the foundations, and subtracting the sum from the amount of material actually removed from the ground.
This displacement took effect in the direction of the least resistance, generally raising the earth in the bottom of the trenches and pits from two to five feet.
Piles already driven were heaved or lifted by driving other piles in the immediate vicinity. This heaving amounted in some cases to 4 or 5 inches. Levels taken on test piles showed results as below; observations taken Sept. 21st, 1897. (See Fig.442.)
This shows a maximum heaving of 438 in.in pile No.3, but it is
probable that it was raised some by the driving of the piles south east of it before the levels were taken.
Piles which stood four rows or 12 feet back from the driving were heaved from ¼ in.to ½ in, and those 18 or 20 feet back were not affected perceptibly. These observations were taken where the driving was very heavy, that is the whole area was filled with piles at distances of 3ft. by 3ft. 6in. Where the piles were not so numerous, as in trenches containing two or three rows, the effect was not so great, as piles 6 or 8 feet back were not heaved.
As a test to determine whether the heaving made the piles any less secure for a foundation, the hammer was placed on one which had been raised and it was struck 30 blows with the following result:
Taking ¼ in.as the penetration for last blow, Trautwine’s formula gives an extreme load of 131.28 tons, which shows that the pile is practically as safe as one requiring 5 blows for last inch.
Piles which were driven partially down, and allowed to stand for several days before following (as those on which the cribbing was placed for supporting driver) were found to be much harder to drive than those which were driven clear down at once. This may have been because the surrounding piles compacted the material below it, or because of the friction of the earth settling around it as it stood.
The follower used in driving the piles consisted of a 10 in. wrought iron pipe about 15 feet long, into which was driven a tight fitting cylinder of hard maple. On the lower end was bolted a cast iron hood,in the under side of which was a socket to fit over the head of the pile and on the upper side one to receive the 10 in. pipe. On the upper end of the follower was shrunk a 1×6 in.iron ring, forming a socket in which was placed a hard maple plug about 12 in. long. This plug was the only part that was injured by the force of the blow, and consequently the only part that had to be renewed.
Along one side of the follower was a one inch iron pipe, which screwed into a hole running down to the under side of the hood. This was originally intended to admit air under the follower to get rid of the “suction” when pulling the follower out, but it was afterward connected to the boiler by means of a rubber hose, and the steam pressure used to assist in pulling the follower.
Plate—Another improvement in the pile driver was a steel plate 1½ inches thick and of sufficient diameter to fit in the hammer. This was placed on top of the pile, and was a great protection against splitting or brooming. Later on a new casting was made for the lower part of the hammer and this contained a slotted “recess”to hold the steel plate in the proper position, so that it was not necessary to handle it when moving from pile to pile.
Timber Capping—After the piles were sawed off at the proper grade, white oak caps 14×14 in. were placed on top of them , cross wise of the trenches, and bolted to the piles by means of one inch wrought iron drift bolts, 24 inches long, one in each end of every timber.On top of these caps was placed a solid platform of 12 in. X 12 in. white oak timbers, the outside timbers of each platform being bolted to each cap timber by a drift bolt 20 inches long. The caps and platform timbers were all planed and sized to the dimensions given, to insure good bearings.
Concrete—On top of the platformswasplacedalayerofcon crete 3 feet thick , composed of one part Portland cement,two parts sand and five parts crushed stone.
The cement was required to show a tensile strength of 250 pounds in 7 days, mixed in a proportion of 1 cement to 2 sand. The concrete was all mixed by hand and the amount put in varied from two to three cubic yards per man per day of 10 hours, depending on the distance of wheeling material and concrete.
The cement and sand were first mixed dry, then water was added, and the stone was spread on top. The whole mass was then turned by shovels two or three times, and then shoveled into wheel barrows or directly in to the piers, where it was spread in layers about 6 inches thick, and thoroughly tamped. .
Test holes about two feet square and two feet deep were sunk in two piers to determine quality of concrete. The concrete was taken out in chunks as far as possible, and the sides of one hole were brushed with a steel brush and the other was washed with water from a hose. No voids were found, and the concrete was very hard, considering the short time it had been in place. There are 5,122 cubic yards of concrete. The cement used at the beginning of the work was Alpha, but later it became impossible to obtain the Alpha and Atlas was substituted.
Masonry—The masonry was built of Joliet and Lemont lime stone.
The stone used varied in thickness from 10 inches to 30 inches, and was dressed so as to make the joints not more than one inch. The outsides of the piers and walls were left rough and in some cases extended several inches beyond the neat size of piers.
The mortar used consisted of one part cement to two parts sand,the cement requiring the same test as for concrete.
The stone was all laid by derricks. In the central part was a system of four boom derricks, located on the axes of the building, 85 feet in each direction from the center. These derricks had 80 feet masts and 75 ft. booms, and laid all the stone for foundations for dome and the greater part of the lines of piers running out under the walls of the main wings of the building. The corners and outside walls were laid by four traveling derricks. Each derrick is supported on a turntable, revolving on a circular track of railroad iron. This track is on a platform ,which is moved on rollers in the same manner as a pile-driver. The engine is placed on the rear end, and balances the weigh handled. This derrick will lift several tons, and is much more convenient than a guy derrick, as it can be moved so readily from place to place. On account of delay caused by lack of material, it was difficult to estimate the amount of work that one derrick can do, but from 1,000 to 1,500 cubic feet is a fair day’s work (8hours) when the material is on hand ready to put in without any dressing. This requires a force of 4 masons, 4 laborers, 2 hookers, 2 engineer and 1 fireman.
The total quantities of materials handled and entering in to the construction of the foundations and the unit prices were:
The contract time for completion of the work was April 15th, 1898 could be so promptly furnished that the masonry could be completed before that date. In order that this might be done it was necessary that the stone should nearly all be quarried during the summer and early fall of 1897, so that might be sufficiently seasoned to prevent cracking by freezing and thawing during the following winter. It turned out that the stone ran short during the winter, and a large portion of it had to be quarried during the spring and summer of 1898. Strikes of the quarrymen occurred and the delivery of the stone was so retarded that the masonry could not be completed until September 26,1898.
The character and capacity of the plant provided by the contractors for doing the work were such as to make its accomplishment easy and certain within contract time, if the materials had been delivered as contemplated, and the plant handled with skill and energy. The rapidity with which pile foundations can be put in under the circumstances which exist in Chicago, is a strong consideration in their favor in this city of hurry and push .
A careful estimate of the cost of the foundations if wells. filled with concrete, had been employed showed that it would have exceeded the contract price of the pile foundations by at least one hundred thousand dollars, and the excess of theesti mate for the steel and concrete platform plan over the actual cost of the pile foundations would have been at least twenty. five thousand dollars.
None of the circumstances pointing to the use of either of the
other two plans existed in this case, and there was, therefore, no room for doubt as to which plan should be adopted.
The reasoning herein presented has been fully confirmed by all the facts developed during the progress of the work, and we feel that the pride and confidence that we have in this typical example of pile foundations for this locality are fully justified.
Chicago Tribune, February 7, 1960
By Walter Olesky
Chicago’s granite octopus, the Federal building, survived a bombing, gun battles, and even a sinking foundation, but it will not survive redevelopment plans for the Loop.
By 1970, Chicago will have a 105 million dollar federal center in the heart of the Loop, with expansive landscaping and atomic fallout cellars if they are’ deemed necessary.
The first unit to be built will be a 52 million dollar United States courthouse on the western half of the block bounded by Dearborn, State, and Adams streets, and Jackson boulevard. This is just across the street from the existing courthouse.
After completion of the courthouse late in 1963, the present building will be razed to make way for 53 million dollar postoffice and federal building, which is expected to be completed in seven to 10 years.
There was much national fanfare when the courthouse was being built at the turn of the century. The gray granite building with its four wings and impressive dome was the first structure erected to house all of a city’s federal agencies.
Log Cabin Its “Ancestor”
A Washington delegation headed by President William McKinley took part in the cornerstone ceremony Oct. 9, 1899. The need of additional funds and an unsteady foundation, however, prevented the courthouse from being completed until 1905. The 120,000 ton building was supported by 50 foot wood pilings driven 72 feet into the soft ground.
The first federal building, was a 29 by 45 foot log cabin built in 1832 on the southwest corner of Franklin street and old South Water street (now Wacker drive).
A later federal courthouse was opened in 1860 at Clark and Monroe streets. President-elect Abraham Lincoln, who as a lawyer used to try cases in other early federal buildings here, visited the courthouse soon after its opening. On Oct. 9, 1871,. the building was burned to the ground 1n the Great Chicago fire.
Another early federal courthouse was doomed to a short life. A five story post office and customs house, which included the courts, was erected on the site of the present building, in 1879. it was demolished in 1896 because of an inadequate foundation, and work on the present building was begun.
The present 14, story courthouse is Corinthian in style, and contains elaborate water fountains, marble staircases, open grille elevators, and many other old world charms. The architect’s plans for the new building are not expected to be completed before January 1961, but it is certain that the old world will make way for the new, in design, anyway.
Inside the sixth floor courtrooms are murals which depict great moments in the history of law.
The courthouse has had some great moments of its own. One such event was a bomb explosion in the building on Sept. 9, 1918. The Adams street entrance was blown out, a mail carrier was killed, and a woman employe was seriously injured.
The bomb was planted by members of the radical Industrial Workers of the World, known as “Wobblies,” 100 of whom had just been sentenced to prison terms for espionage. Another bombing was prevented Oct. 31, 1921, when a time bomb was found and disarmed.
A gun battle occurred in the courthouse on Aug. 29, 1957. A crazed ex-postal employee, James B. Jennings, 32, of 4239 South Park way, opened fire on several building guards from a second floor railing. He was captured in a washroom and later committed to a mental hospital.
The building also has provided an ideal place for suicides because of the rotunda and railings which ring the rotunda on each floor. More pleasant occasions in the rotunda are the Christmas programs, when a 35 foot tree is erected and building employees sing carols.
A famous court case in the building was Al Capone’s conviction of income tax evasion in 1931, when he was sentenced to serve 11 years.
Another major event was a 1907 decision by District Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, later baseball’s first high commissioner. He fined the Standard Oil Company of Indiana 29 million dollars on a charge of accepting rebates in violation of federal law. The decision was reversed, however, on appeaL
Samuel Insull, once Chicago’s financial wizard, faced a federal jury after the stock market crash in 1929, on charges of using the mails to defraud, but was acquitted.
There will be no room for federal ghosts in the Loop after 197O.
1Richard Henry Park of Chicago died yesterday (November 7, 1902) at the Battle Creek sanitarium after a prolonged illness. He was 68 years of age, and had been a resident of Chicago for the last twenty years. He was a sculptor by profession, and spent many years studying in Europe. Florence, Italy, having been his favorite haunt while a young man.
When Mr. Park settled in Chicago he devoted his time to designing and executing orders received from state, county, and city. One of his commissions was for a group of statuary in front of the Illinois building at the world’s fair. Perhaps the most important order he received however was from John Medill for the Benjamin statue in Lincoln Park. This statue was unveiled June 6, 1896. The figure is massive, being 9 feet 6 inches in height on a pedestal 21 feet 6 inches high. He executed a number of private orders for statuary, several commissions being given by Mrs. Philip D. Armour.
When the Globe Savings Bank failed, Mr. Park lost $12,000. Other reverse followed this until all his savings were swept away. Two years ago he had the misfortune to fall and break his hip, an accident from which he did not recover entirely. He gave up his studio at 3845 Michigan avenue and moved to the Hotel Woodruff, and from there went to the Battle Creek sanitarium, where he remained until his death. He will be buried from the undertaking rooms at 1722 Wabash avenue.—Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1902.
Walt Disney worked at the post office in the building from July until September 1918
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