Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1937
From a muddy, narrow, unkept and little used dead-end street to one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares is the remarkable metamorphosis brought about in less than two decades by the erection of an eight million dollar bridge over the Chicago river. A glance back from present day North Michigan avenue, which now ranks with the great shopping streets of metropolitan cities, to its drab predecessor—Pine street—reveals one of the most startling changes in city history.
The building of the Michigan avenue bridge, which was opened May 14, 1920, did more than transform a lane into a boulevard. It opened to development a large area on both sides of Michigan avenue, many square miles in extent, and resulted in the erection and remodelling of buildings costing an estimated two hundred million dollars.
Put Millions Into Buildings.
Along North Michigan avenue alone, from Randolph street to Lake Shore drive, thirty-three good sized fireproof buildings costing approximately $70,000,000 for actual construction alone, and involving many millions more for land investment, have been erected since the Michigan avenue bridge was opened.
In addition, many millions of dollars have been poured into old buildings to modernize them into structures suitable for a great thoroughfare.
Every street leading from North Michigan avenue, between Randolph street and Lake Shore drive and nearby parallel thoroughfares, have felt the stirring growth of motor and pedestrian traffic on the avenue and reacted to it to the tune of millions of dollars in new construction.
Large Areas Affected.
From the lake to Clark street and from the river to North avenue great projects of all kinds—educational, religious, commercial and civic—have come to life as a result of linking the north and south sides with a modern bridge and the resultant development of North Michigan avenue.
One year later the Tribune plant in the rear of the present Tribune Tower, and the Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank building were completed. In 1922 building activity developed at the south end of the bridge and the London Guarantee building was erected.
Three Built in 1923.
The following year, inspired by the success of the Wrigley building, the Wrigley Building Annex was erected, and also the Allerton hotel and the Central Life building, recently renamed the 720 North Michigan Avenue building.
In 1924 Michigan avenue construction developed south of the bridge and the Bell building was erected.
Five big structures, involving a total investment in buildings of approximately sixteen million dollars, and many millions more for land, were completed during 1925. They were Tribune Tower, the Michigan-Ohio building, the Tobey Furniture building, and the Illinois Women’s Athletic club.
Two Climb Skyward.
During the next year, 1926, only two big structures climbed skywards on North Michigan avenue—the Lake-Michigan building (recently renamed Harvester) and the 840 North Michigan building at Chestnut street. The following year only one tall structure, the 333 North Michigan Avenue building was completed.
But during the next year—1928—all building records for the avenue were broken and ten large structures, representing a total investment in construction alone of nearly twenty-one million dollars, were completed.
These were the Palmolive building, Drake Towers, (not actually on Michigan avenue, but at that time virtually an annex to the Drake hotel), Woman’s Athletic club, the Farwell building, the 700 North Michigan Avenue building, the 733 North Michigan avenue building, the Medinah Athletic club, the McGraw-Hill building, the Decorative Arts building, and the Carbide and Carbon building.
Build During Market Crash.
Although the slowup in building throughout the city was more apparent, three North Michigan avenue buildings were completed during 1929—the year of the great stock market crash. They were the Michigan Square building, the 430 North Michigan avenue building, and the building at 669 North Michigan avenue, later occupied by Saks Fifth avenue store.
Then came a six year lull in building everywhere, broken, so far as North Avenue was concerned, in 1935 when The Tribune erected the W-G-N studio building adjoining Tribune Tower, and Saks Fifth Avenue store doubled its capacity by building an annex.
This photograph, taken in April, 1922, from the Wrigley building, discloses a scarcity of skyscrapers, automobiles, and pedestrians along North Michigan avenue between the river and Lake Shore drive. The Tribune plant is shown in the right foreground, reached from Michigan avenue by a pedestrian bridge. Tribune Tower wasn’t completed until three years later—in March, 1925. The Wrigley building and the Drake hotel were both finished in 1920—the year the Michigan avenue bridge was opened to traffic.
Street Has Many Changes.
The foregoing list of new, fireproof buildings frails, of course, to include several million dollars’ worth of moderate sized buildings and modernization of may others.
Few important streets have had as many building changes as North Michigan avenue. Widening Pine street (from the river to Ohio) and Lincoln parkway (from Ohio to Lake Shore drive) into modern North Michigan avenue, necessitated slicing off the front of many buildings and removal of others. The result was many rebuilt structures, many enlarged buildings, and a number of medium sized entirely new structures.
If space allowed, one could make an imposing list of skyscrapers erected adjacent to Michigan avenue as a result of it being made a major entrance to the north side. The Pure Oil building, the Mather tower, the Chicago Motor Club building, and a number of hotels and office buildings, both east and west of North Michigan avenue north of the river, might be named.
Business Moves North.
A significant factor in the further development of North Michigan avenue is the definite trend of business northward. The International Harvester company bought the Lake-Michigan building and moved northward. The Crane company contemplates moving to a new building at East South Water street and North Michigan avenue.
This northward trend got under way when the Michigan avenue bridge opened. The opening of the new outer drive bridge, it is predicted, will encourage it.
The late Ernest Graham of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, one of the best known architects in America, once said:
- The Michigan avenue bridge is going to cost about $800,000 according to preliminary estimates; actually it cost eight million, and it’s been worth more than eighty million dollars to the public of Chicago.
Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1947
Plans for a 200 million dollar development of upper Michigan av. from the river to Oak st. were presented yesterday to business leaders and property owners of the district at a luncheon in the Continental Hotel sponsored by Arthur Rubloff, Chicago realtor.
The program, requiring the cooperative efforts of property owners, business operators and the city, envisions a series of office buildings, smart shops, hotels, and apartment buildings, as well as extensive underground parking facilities and park beautification. It was described as a plan to turn this stretch of Michigan av. into the “most modern mile in the world.”
Associated with Rubloff in the program is the New York real estate firm of Webb & Knapp. Architectural details and designs were worked out by the Chicago firm of Holabird & Root.
10 Million Building Planned.
Among new projects already planned is a 10 million dollar office building to be located on the east side of Michigan av. between Chestnut and Pearson sts., said Rubloff. This property, consisting of 54,000 square feet with a Michigan av. frontage of 214 feet, recently was purchased by Webb & Knapp from the Potter Palmer estate. Rubloff said that the upper floors of the building would be occupied by radio and advertising offices, while the lower floors would be given to shops.
Sale of the southwest corner of Chicago and Michigan av. by the Lumbermans Mutual Casualty Company to Webb & Knapp also were announced by Rubloff. He said that a lease for 55 feet of the corner of this property had been made with the Walgreen company, which, he said, plans to construct a new, modern drug store.
View of Rubloff’s model of Michigan av., looking north past the Tribune Tower, showing architect’s plans for commercial and civic building.
Lease Negotiations Pending
Negotiations also are pending for leasing the south 90 feet of the property for a national institution for construction of another large retail establishment, Rubloff said. The entire property consists of 16,500 square feet and has a frontage of 150 feet on Michigan av. and 110 feet on Chicago av.
Rubloff also disclosed that John Mack, owner of the Continental Hotel, plans to build a 22 floor, 500 room addition on the southeast corner of Grand and Michigan av. Rubloff said the addition would cost approximately $4,500,000.
25 Millions Committed.
The realtor said Bonwit-Teller, Inc., of New York would spend approximately 2 million dollars to construct a new store at the northwest corner of Michigan av. and Pearson st. He also recalled that Saks Fifth Avenue recently purchased 57,000 square feet on the east side of Michigan av. between Delaware pl. and Chestnut st. as the site of a new six story structure expected to cost about 6 millions.
Reviewing other building plans which already have been announced, Rubloff emphasized that the development program no longer was in the “conversational stage.” He added that 25 million dollars of private capital already had been committed to the program.
Wants 25 Millions from the City.
Rubloff also said the plan also called for an expenditure of 25 million dollars by the city for improvements that would insure the area “against deterioration and traffic congestion.” The plan provides that the city improve the intersection oat Michigan and Chicago avs., razing the pumping station at the northeast corner.”
The plan also proposes for this area the construction of of an underground parking area on two levels, with a capacity for 1,500 automobiles at one time.
“On the street level property, east of Michigan av. between Chicago av. and Pearson sts., the city could lay out a plaza, which would include a skating rink, lending a smart recreational aspect to the area,” said Rubloff.
Civic Music Hall Suggested.
For this area, it was suggested that the city build a civic hall of music on its property fronting on Seneca st. According to the plan, the armory east of Seneca st. on the north side of Chicago av. would remain, but the city would would construct a two level parking area under the Lake Shore playground, extending eastward to Lake Shore dr. Such an area could take care of 3,000 cars at one time, it was said.
Extension of the double deck levels of Michigan av. from Grand av. to Chicago av. also was suggested as another part the city could play in the program.
Architect John W. Root said the plan would limit new store and office buildings fronting on Michigan av. to about seven stories in height. Landscaped shopping promenades would cut through the center of the blocks at the rear of the buildings, paralleling the avenue. Root added that these long plazas would provide a “tremendous amount of additional store frontage.”
Mr Root said:
- We have though of the avenue as a thoroughfare two blocks wide, reinforced with the two auxiliary parallel streets of Rush st. and St. Clair. Such an architectural pattern would loosen up the block, give the avenue a magnificent spaciousness, and permit plenty of sunlight and air thruout the area.
Upper Michigan av. has been destined to become one of the great streets of the world. However, its potentialities to date have been only partially recognized. With the development of this plan, it can fulfill its destiny and become one of the world’s most beautiful streets.
Root suggested that the improved intersection of Michigan and Chicago avs. should be “Water Tower Square,” inasmuch as the old water tower, a Chicago landmark, will remain.
EVOLUTION OF MICHIGAN AVENUE
1904 Proposed Plan for Michigan Avenue Bridge
Pine Street, Lincoln Park Blvd
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
The widening of Pine Street in 1910.
An aerial view of the new boulevard bridge showing traffic between 8 and 9am in the morning in 1922.
North Michigan Avenue
The Allerton Hotel is on the right
Looking North from Ohio Street
Land Use in Chicago