The war was over and young men in Paris, London, Berlin, and cities all over the world were clearing away the rubble and building anew. The young men of Chicago had clearing and building work to do, too. They needed a stronghold to protect the north side from the advancing threat of urban decay. And they had just saved the world from Hitler, so they were ready to fight.
It is wise to think the people are the city
It is wisdom to think the city would fall to pieces
and die and be dust in the wind … .
It is wisdom to think no city stood here at all
until the working men, the laughing men came.
It is wisdom to think tomorrow new working men,
new laughing men, may come and put up a new city—
Living lighted skyscrapers and a night lingo of lanterns
testify tomorrow shall have its own say-so.
—from “The Windy City” by Carl Sandburg
One summer afternoon in 1953, two men sat together in a garden behind one of their homes and talked about Chicago. Their wives talked together, as they did every weekend and many evenings while the men made plans for the city.
There was a lot to talk about. The city was in trouble. There were serious housing shortages, dangerously neglected slums, giant transportation problems. The parks and boulevards and civic buildings that Daniel Burnham had called for in his 1909 plan for the city had been built, and they were lovely. But now the houses were rotting and the apartment buildings were falling down and people needed places to live and park their cars.
The Depression had been hard on Chicago; massive immigration from Europe and the south had strained the city’s resources, and the government housing policies of the last 30 years hadn’t been much help. The Federal Housing Administration, which had guaranteed mortgages during the Depression years, had favored single family homes in the suburbs and outer edges of the city, and for years the people looking for homes had looked away from the gray city neighborhoods where they had grown up. There were public housing projects in the city, of course, but they hadn’t helped much either. Here and there families were able to escape the slums into newer, cleaner, duller buildings, with adequate heat and running water and reasonable rents, but there was no sense of life in these projects—they seemed designed mainly to keep poor people off the streets.
Chicago had tried earlier to come to grips with its problems. Before the war, in 1939, the Chicago Plan Commission was reorganized and plans were made for expressways and public transportation and for rebuilding city neighborhoods. Communities were classified and analyzed and areas of deterioration were pinpointed. The planners tried to look at the city as a whole, to track patterns of decay rather than bandage specific, isolated problems, but very little could be done during the war, and when the boys came marching home they had trouble finding places to live.
The men who talked that afternoon in ’53 were city planners: Ted Aschman and John Cordwell, respectively the executive director and director of the Chicago Plan Commission. They talked specifically about the near north side. It was going to hell, and the hell was spreading east.
Years before, in 1941, the city had to wipe out an area of north side tenements that was thought to be threatening surrounding neighborhoods, especially the Gold Coast to the east. Mayor Kelly had justified the demolition on sanitary grounds. “210 [of the units] had inadequate light and air because the buildings were built close to each other,” he said; “433 families had no bath-tubs at all … 43 toilets were shared by two families each; there were 29 yard toilets and ten under-sidewalk toilets; 480 of them had no hot water … .” At a cost of $3.7 million, 700 apartments were demolished and 586 new units built, in an area bounded by the alley north of Chicago Avenue, Oak Street, the alley west of Larrabee Street, and Hudson Avenue.
But in 1953, it was clear that the Frances Cabrini homes had failed to stem the spread of north side blight. The Gold Coast was still threatened, the shopowners on North Michigan Avenue were nervous, and the city planners were worried. Cordwell and Aschman talked of other cities where famous architects had been commissioned to build fabulous buildings in hopes of revitalizing failing neighborhoods; as in Chicago, those efforts had failed. They studied other planners’ plans and looked at patterns in dying cities, and as they studied and talked John Cordwell became convinced that these failures were not failures of architecture or design; rather, he decided, they were failures of planning strategy.
“You don’t,” he told Aschman, “drop a parachute into an area completely surrounded by the enemy. You can’t survive in a wagon completely surrounded by angry Indians. And you can’t build an urban renewal project in an area completely surrounded by blight. You have to have easy access to the area, be able to get in and out of it. You have to do ‘missionary’ work in the community you’re renewing, and you have to have a strategy for the whole area, not just the project you’re building.”
Cordwell and Aschman agreed that military strategy was called for in city planning. If Chicago were to be saved from the onslaught of deterioration, force would have to be mustered and renewal marched systematically against the blight. There would have to be a stronghold in the renewal area, an anchor from which the offensive could be launched. The Cabrini Homes could not stop the spread of blight on the near north side—the area was surrounded by the same poor, dilapidated housing that had been cleared for the project. Cordwell and Aschman decided that they had to start from an area of strength and move systematically outward. They had to invade an area, capture it, and fortify it before moving on. They had to create something strong enough and vital enough to set the renewal urge spinning off on its own. They had to, in fact, choose an area—an objective—and destroy it, level it, and begin anew.
Thus began the siege of Sandburg Village.
Chicago is not the same city it was 25 years ago. By some accounts it is more vital, more exciting, more fun to live in. The near north side, especially, where the young professionals and artists and theatergoers and art gallery patrons and trinket-buyers live, where the lovers of stained glass and sanded oak floors and Victorian gingerbread live, where the taxi riders and the bar hoppers and the night people live, is growing richer and livelier all the time.
There are those who are convinced that the near north side wouldn’t be as lively, that property values wouldn’t be booming, that the theater and art scenes would be as vital, if the area hadn’t been conquered for the young professionals who support the arts and the small shopkeepers … if a swath of blight running from Division to North Avenue, from LaSalle to Clark, hadn’t been bombed out and rebuilt and fortified … if an army of real estate generals hadn’t put together a project that displaced families, moved businesses, and leveled the area to build their fort.
There are those who are convinced that the growing racial integration on the north side would never have happened if the block-by-block expansion of the black community had not been stopped at North Avenue and at LaSalle … if Sandburg Village had not been built and rented as an integrated housing development, and if it had not interrupted the pattern of landlords jacking up rents in dilapidated buildings and filling the buildings up with blacks.
It is impossible to know what might have been. There are those who say that without Sandburg Village Chicago would be like Detroit today, a dreary, dying city, surrounded by frightened suburbs. And there are those who say that the people who built Sandburg Village stole the homes of poor people and build homes for the wealthy in their place.
But 25 years ago it was clear to the city planners that something should be done to save the city. And the men who were set on saving it had just saved the world from Hitler, so they were ready to fight.
John Cordwell, a British subject, learned his military planning strategies at Stalag Luft Three, a prisoner of war camp surrounded by a pine forest in southeast Germany. For three and a half hears, he devoured every stale scrap of war information he could get his hands on, plotting the movements of machinery and troops on a map that hung in his barracks. Even the Germans came to check his map from time to time.
He also studied architecture and took his degree, with the assistance of the Red Cross, while he was a prisoner. Cordwell’s son, Colin, is now 21, one year older than his father when he was taken prisoner on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Flight Lieutenant Cordwell flew twelve night bombing missions over northwest Germany, Holland, and Belgium before he was shot down. He remembers that at dawn, he and the other bomber fliers, returning to their base near a lovely little village in southern England, could see the farmers going out in the mist to milk their cows. He also remembers that he could sense which men wouldn’t be coming back from their missions, that he could gaze around the mess hall and know who was about to die. Once he looked up at the tense young faces around him and found that he couldn’t pick who the next one would be. Then he realized that fate had settled on him.
Cordwell wrote letters to his parents in London, and to his brothers, and he did all of his laundry, packed his bags, and paid his bills. That night, somewhere in the Valley of the Meuse in Belgium, splashed in the eerie glow of the searchlights he was bombing, his small Hampden twin-engine bomber caught fire, lost altitude, and slammed through an orchard. Cordwell and the three other R.A.F. men in the plane saw the houses, lit by the fire of the plane, and the trees careening on either side as the plunged toward the ground. When their plane finally came to rest, the wings and tail, and one of the men, were gone.
The men dragged themselves up a hill, knocked on the door of a small village house, and John Cordwell walked in to see himself reflected in the glow of oil lamps in the hallway mirror; he was covered with blood. A doctor was called, then a huge field policeman arrived. “For you, the war is over,” he said to Cordwell, who stared at the “Gott Mit Uns” engraving on the German’s army belt. From there the R.A.F. men were taken to a hospital, from there to a chateau where a night fighter squad waited. For several hours Cordwell sat near a roaring fire and talked with young men like himself—men, he said, who would have been his friends if they didn’t speak with German accents and if there wasn’t a war.
It would have been easier, he said, to have met those men at the end of the war, instead of at the beginning. It would have been easier not knowing the enemy as bright young men with futures.
Cordwell spent three and a half years and counted four Christmases in Germany, imprisoned for most of the war with 5,000 other British officers, professional men like himself: architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians, painters. The Great Escape was made from his camp. Eighty-three men escaped on the 24th of March, 1944. Eighty were recaptured. The S.S. took over the camp then, and while Hitler argued with Goering about whether or not to exterminate the camp, the S.S. stood the prisoners naked on parade, trained machine guns on them, and screamed at them that they would never leave Germany alive.
“Finally Hitler and Goering struck a deal,” said Cordwell. “They picked this nice, round, Germanic number and took 50 of the men who tried to escape back to the places where they had been captured and murdered them. Very systematic.”
Cordwell lived with five men in a sixteen-by-sixteen room, and by the last year of the war, he said, they hardly needed to speak. A noise, a flickering light, a casual comment would spark a train of thought yhat clattered from mind to mind.
One Sunday morning in April of 1944, before the Allied invasion, Cordwell was walking with a friend near the huge fence that encircled the camp. Sunlight sifted through the forest and the scent of pine needles rose from the dewy ground. The men talked of what they’d be doing back in England—wobbling back from a pub crawl, perhaps, having breakfast after a night of carousing. Two women walked out of the trees, a mother and her daughter wearing babushkas, on their way to church. The younger woman looked at the two men. She smiled at them. She said, “Good morning, gentlemen.” In English.
John Cordwell said that was the worst thing that happened to him during the war. The whole society outside the camp, the world of two sexes, where people were making love, dying, giving birth, being heroes and cowards, ripped into the men standing near the fence like an emotional grenade, shattering the world they had built for themselves. “We had deceived ourselves,” said Cordwell. “We pretended that the world didn’t exist.”
In January 145 the Russians came within eleven kilometers of Stalag Luft Three, and the men were marched out. It was twenty below zero and they marched for days, collapsed in snowdrifts, were roused from dying dreams, and marched again. They marched across Germany, through military towns where people dressed in black-and-silver uniforms lined the roads and cried when they passed, through cities of rubble, to gates of concentration camps. Berlin fell and they marched. Hitler died and they marched. Leaflets fell from the sky saying the war was nearly over. And they marched.
Finally, the day the war ended, May 7, 1945, the German officer in charge handed his gun to the ranking British officer, and Cordwell waited with the others, camped at a huge Bavarian cattle ranch, for planes to fly them back to England.
John Cordwell was just 25 when the war was over. He married shortly after returning home, and he began to study planning at England’s Architectural Association. The marriage went badly, but the studies went well. “I was the top man in my class,” Cordwell said. “There were two girls ahead of me.” Within six months after taking his degree, he was made a partner in the firm of Maxwell Fry, an internationally respected architect. He was sent to Nigeria to see what was wrong with a university college the firm was building, and there he met a brilliant young American woman doing field work in anthropology. They came to the United States together, married, and Cordwell worked on projects in Minnesota and Michigan until 1952, when the took a job as planning director for the city of Chicago.
“At first,” he said, recalling his early days on the planning job, “it was like the Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dike, just trying to stop things from getting worse. The City Council, Mayor Kennelly, and the people were suspicious of city planning then. It seemed vaguely communistic, the government trying to tell people what they could and could not do with their land.” But Cordwell worked with Ted Aschman, who spent the war in North Africa, to develop a master plan and atlas for the city of Chicago, a fluid plan that could be constantly updated and changed as the city changed.
And they were not the only planners planning for the city in 1953. There were city plans and state plans and federal plans. And there were developers planning apartments and shopping centers who needed plans for streets and sewers. And not since Daniel Burnham had cautioned against the making of little plans had any developer in Chicago failed to make a big one.
In 1953, Arthur Rubloff, real estate magnate and manager, was making plans like crazy. He was meeting with city officials, architects, civic organizations, and businessmen about his plans for the near north side. Rubloff was calling his secret plan “Project X.” It was a very big plan, designed to fight the blight on the near north side and save the city.
Arthur Rubloff liked to do things big and splashy. He didn’t care if the big plans took a lot of time and trouble and money. It hadn’t been easy for Rubloff to get to the top, and he didn’t expect it to be easy once he made it.
Rubloff as born in 1902 and grew up in a little town in Minnesota, the oldest of three boys and two girls. His father, Solomon, was a traveling jeweler whose territory included Mesabi iron range country, where John Cordwell first worked when he came to the U.S. When Arthur was one year old, the family moved to Virginia, Minnesota and Solomon opened jewelry and dry good stores in neighboring Buhl, Chisholm, and Hibbing. In 1905, he was wiped out. A fierce forest fire raged through the area and the Rubloff family joined the townspeople in putting up tarpaper shacks to get through the winter. Later they opened a boarding house and gradually they pulled themselves out.
By the time he was seven, Arthur was selling the Dutch Herald and the Chicago Night Blade on the streets of Chisholm, shining shoes and setting pins in the local bowling alley,and driving the town’s truant officer nuts. When he was ten, he ran away for the first time; his father persuaded a fireman friend with a truck to help bring him back.
At twelve, Arthur tried again. This time he climbed aboard a railroad boxcar headed for Duluth, buddied up with a fellow named Gluck who knew the ways of the world, and laid low for two days until they hit the bit city. It was a lake port town, crowded with sailors and dock workers, and the boys ran into a couple of sailors who staked them to a meal and told them where to apply for work on the ships. Rubloff got a job as a galley boy on the ore boat John S. Stevenson, which plied between Superior (Duluth’s twin city) and Buffalo.
Within a year young Rubloff had saved $100, but it didn’t last long. One of the sailors stole $83 of it, and Arthur headed out for Cincinnati, Ohio, arriving broke, hungry, and looking for work. Somehow he learned that his family had moved to Chicago; he was able to contact his father, who sent him a railroad ticket so Arthur could rejoin them. Solomon had opened a ladies’ ready-to-wear manufacturing business, and Arthur worked for him awhile before getting into the real estate business. Or something like that. Arthur Rubloff seems to tell his life a little differently each time he tells it, but then, he can afford to.
In 1919, at the tough and tender age of seventeen, Arthur Rubloff went to see a man named Mr. Miltenberg, a friend of his father’s who was a partner in a real estate firm. Mr. Miltenberg told young Arthur to go out and find a renter for a space in an old building at 535 S. Wabash. Arthur did what he was told, first stopping to ask directions to 535 S. Wabash.
He was frightened. He didn’t know anything at all about real estate, and the building on Wabash was old and smelly. It was hard to imagine anyone wanting to rent space there. But Arthur found the janitor and together they went down and inspected the basement, and though Arthur had never really looked at a furnace before, this one looked OK. So Arthur went out and found a firm to rent the space.
That was his first job in Chicago and he got 10 percent of the $4,800 for lining up the tenant. He decided the real estate business was all right. He was still a green kid, but he was learning. Sometimes he’d get a lead on a tenant, and the other agents would beat him out. Arthur figured it was partly because they had cars and he was still schlepping all over Chicago on foot and streetcar. But he kept at it. He figured he had to see more people than anybody else, that he had to work harder than anybody else.
Rubloff worked for Miltenberg for a year and a half. Sometimes when he talks about that first year in Chicago he says he made $16,000. Sometimes he says it was $8,000. But it doesn’t really matter, it was a long time ago.
Next Rubloff worked for Robert White & Co. as a real estate salesman, and there he really started making money. He roared through the twenties buying horses and cars, wining and dining and spending everything he made. But then he started thinking that it was kind of silly for him to be bringing in $100,000 year and only taking home $50,000. He figured he could pay himself his own commissions and forget about the split.
So in 1930, when the out-of-work working stiffs of Chicago were standing in line for soup, and a lot of businessmen were eating it at home, Arthur Rubloff rented himself a little office for $65 a month at 22 W. Adams. Times were tough, and later Rubloff was forced to get himself cheaper offices—$40 a month at 300 W. Adams—but he jut kept seeing people and more people, more people than the competition. He found tenants for the 24-story Merchandise Mart, the world’s largest building at the time, which, like Rubloff, had the misfortune of opening for business at the beginning of the Depression.
Soon Rubloff was making plans for his own buildings: suburban shopping centers and downtown office buildings. Chicago grew during the war, and Arthur’s business grew with it, and when the boys started coming home and looking for places to move their families, the real estate business boomed. So by 1947 Arthur Rubloff was paying $12,000 a month rent for considerably more space at 300 W. Adams, and his plans were getting bigger. In 1948 he unveiled his “Magnificent Mile” plan, a strategy for revitalizing Michigan Avenue, and then “donated” the plan to the city of Chicago as a civic contribution.
But there was a problem with the Magnificent Mile plan, and if Rubloff didn’t know it in 1948 he learned it soon afterward. It was the same problem John Cordwell would address a few years later in the backyard garden with Ted Aschman. You don’t drop a parachute into an area surrounded by the enemy. You can’t build a magnificent mile in the middle of a wasteland. The northern stretch of Michigan Avenue, like battlefields everywhere, was not a self-contained, isolated entity—it adjoined other area, the Gold Coast and the blighted near north side. If it were to be captured and held, the entire area would have to be subdued.
So Arthur Rubloff started working on Project X. During the next three years he and his team spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours making plans for 151 acres north of the Chicago River to Ontario Street, from Rush Street on the east to Wolf Point on the west. The plan included “a magnificent setting to house all of the agencies of federal, county, city and state government, overlooking the Chicago River and flanked to the east, north and west by several thousand fine living units and high rise apartment buildings including a 33 acre university campus … .” Project X, later called the Ft. Dearborn Project, was a plan to “anchor” the Loop and the north side and to stop the northward spread of blight.
After the war, Chicago, like many cities, had begun to rebuild itself, installing new sewage and water filtration plants, public transportation, and expressways. The city was looking at its own poor, slummy, dilapidated areas as bombed-out wreckage. They were clearing rubble in Dresden, in Cologne, in Berlin, and soon they were clearing rubble in Chicago, too. But first they had to move the people out.
In 1947 the Illinois legislature passed the Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act and Chicago created the Land Clearance Commission, an agency charged with acquiring slum and blighted property and clearing it through use of public authority and public funds.
Ira Bach was named director of CLCC. He had grown up in Hyde Park, studied city planning at M.I.T., and had served as a special assistant in housing during the war. He had spent the war in the U.S., planning new towns and housing projects near uranium mines in Colorado, Wyoming,and Utah. He says he came out of the military with an appreciation for open space, for green, for community amenities like schools within walking distance and nearby shopping centers.
The CLCC began Chicago’s Marshall Plan on the south side. By the early 1950s, 100 acres had been cleared for the Lake Meadows project; 3,416 families had been relocated, streets and utilities had been rerouted, zoning changes had been made, and the school board and the Park District were busy planning for new educational and recreational facilities. In the adjoining Prairie Shore project, just north of Lake Meadows, the city spent over $6 million to clear the land for private developers. In Bach’s own old neighborhood, the Hyde Park-Kenwood project was underway. The Dan Ryan and the Congress expressways were being planned and built, more families were being relocated, and Ira Bach was busy as a general overseeing the resettlement of refugees.
Meanwhile, Arthur Rubloff had become increasingly active in the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, and the group of businessmen along the Magnificent Mile didn’t like what they saw tot he west of their fancy salons. According to the 1950 census, 7.1 percent of the people in the near north area were receiving some type of public aid (compared to 3.12 percent for the city as a whole); 40.5 percent of the buildings had no bath, running water, or were dilapidated.
And blight was moving in. Or, the blacks were moving in, which meant essentially the same thing to city planners (although they’ve always been politely vague about whether the appearance of blacks is a cause or an effect). Since 1940, the population of blacks in the near north side neighborhood bounded by the Chicago River on the south and west, by North Avenue on the north, and by the Lake on the east had risen 245.3 percent. There were 5,148 blacks living on the near north side in 1940, and 17,813 by 1950. During the 1952, in the city as a whole, three and a half city blocks changed from white to black every week. And the North Michigan Avenue Association didn’t like it. They didn’t want a “belt of bleak, barren, soot-begrimed physically deteriorated buildings” west of them. They didn’t want what Harvey Zorbaugh described in The Gold Coast and the Slum (1929) as a “jungle of human wreckage,” an area of cheap lodging houses and blighted tenements people with “the worst of foreign tongues and cultures.” They didn’t want that area “foreign” and they didn’t want it poor and they didn’t want it black.
No, the North Michigan Avenue Association wanted shoppers to live west of Michigan Avenue. And they were ready to stake their claim.
Cordwell and Aschman, the city planners, had studied the near north side since 1953 and determined that the area between North, Division, LaSalle, and an alley east of Clark was blighted. And the North Michigan Avenue Association, headed by Arthur Rubloff, wanted the Chicago Land Clearance Commission to tear those buildings down and move those blights out.
Ira Bach was busy with the south side projects and the west side projects and the expressways, but he agreed to take up the north side question with the CLCC board. The board agreed that CLCC should investigate, and some preliminary studies were launched.
But the launching didn’t lift high enough or most fast enough for Arthur Rubloff. In 1956, members of the NMAA went to see the new mayor, Richard J. Daley, and complained about the CLCC’s delay. And the mayor rang up Mr. Bach and asked him to drop by for a chat.
“They need a plan,” said Daley.
“We’re too busy,” said Bach.
“Could you give me a definite report in the near future?” asked Daley.
“In twelve months,” said Ira Bach.
“In one month,” said Daley.
“In six months,” said Bach.
“In three months,” said Daley.
“OK,” said Bach.
And the CLCC got busy studying at the near north side, a neighborhood in which the rich and the poor, the silk-stockinged ladies and the silk stockinged whores, the Irish and the Swedish and the Persians and the Japanese and Chinese and Germans and Italians and Negroes had lived together for nearly as long as the city was a city. They studied areas that had been known as Kilgubbin, the Patch, Swede Town, the Sands, the Fifty Acres, Smoky Hollow, Little Sicily, Little Hell, the Gold Coast, and Streeterville. It was an area that grew up after the great fire to be one of the most densely populated areas anywhere, where workers’ cottages and factories ran into the lake’s marsh until 1882, when Potter Palmer filled in the swamp and built himself a mansion and then started building fancy apartment buildings on the Drive for his rich friends.
One day Arthur Rubloff called up Ira Bach and asked if he could take him for a little ride, and Bach said OK. Arthur Rubloff’s chauffeur pulled his big, black limousine up to the old Chicago Title and Trust building at 69 W. Washington, and Ira Bach climbed in. The chauffeur headed north into the blight. “Arthur damned this and he damned that and he handed out a few four-letter words about the whole area,” said Bach. “It was dilapidated, it was slummy, it was just God awful.
Bach told Rubloff that he had already completed his study of the area and would soon be reporting to Mayor Daley, and, of course, the would let Rubloff know what happened.
So CLCC reported to the Mayor and the Mayor reported tot he City Council and asked them to approve the clearance of an area between Clark and LaSalle, North and Division. The motion went to the planning and housing committee to be studied, and it ended up in the lap of 43rd Ward Alderman Paddy Bauler, the man who spoke the immortal words, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.
Bauler didn’t like the proposal one damn bit. They boys in City Council had an unwritten rule (well, they had several, of course, but in this case one specifically applied): You couldn’t just wipe out a chunk of one of the other boys’ wards unless he wanted it wiped out. And Paddy Bauler said he’d be damned if he’d let the city clear out all of his voters and leave him with a bunch of silk-stockinged Republicans on the east side.
So James Downs, the Mayor’s Housing and Redevelopment coordinator, went to see Ira Bach, and together they went to see Mayor Daley to try to convince him to talk to Paddy Bauler.
“Have you been to see Alderman Bauler?” asked Mayor Daley.
No, they said, they hadn’t.
“Well, I think you should pay him the courtesy of a visit,” said Mayor Daley. “I’ll see if I can arrange an appointment.”
When the Mayor called Alderman Bauler, he was apparently told that Bauler’s office hours were from seven to midnight Wednesdays at his saloon, and if the fancy prancy planners wanted to see him they could drop by just like everybody else.
So Downs and Bach drove up to the north side, stopped for dinner at the Red Star Inn, and arrived at Paddy Bauler’s North Avenue saloon promptly at 7 PM. Ward night was already in full swing. Around 70 people were gathered at the bar, at tables, at benches, laughing, drinking, passing the evening together. The two planners edged their way to the back where a sign proclaimed “Private Office.” They knocked, and waited. “Who’s dere?” bellowed the voice of the alderman deep in his work. The planners called their names. “Youse guys will have to get in line like everybody else,” bellowed the voice, and the city planners bellied up to the bar for a beer.
About 9:30, when there were still about 25 people waiting to see him Paddy Bauler stuck his window out of his private office and bellowed again to the boys from City Hall. “Whatsa matter with youse guys? Why’ont ya buy a round of beer for da guys in da bar?” And the city planners bellied up to the bar again and bought a round.
Toward midnight, when the bar was clearing out and only ten or so of the regular Democrats remained in line, Bauler stuck his head out again and again exhorted the city planners to buy a round of beer.
When he finally admitted Bach and Downs, Bauler told them he’d be damned if he’d let the city tear down his voters’ houses and leave him a ward full of silk-stockinged Republicans.
The planners reported back to the Mayor and the Mayor laughed so hard he cried. He found the notion of his City Hall innocents being conned into buying rounds of beer for Paddy’s boys rather pleasing. The Mayor said he’d talk to Alderman Bauler. And he did. And the committee passed the proposal and the City Council stamped its approval. Paddy Bauler’s feelings were no longer hurt.
The Illinois State Housing Board also approved the proposal, along with the development plan of the CLCC, which specified approximate amounts of land to be devoted to residential, shopping and parking, and institutional purposes as well as streets an alleys and properties not to be acquired.
The Illinois State Housing board also approved the plan, and in August of 1958 the commission made its first purchase of land. Over the next three years the Chicago Land Clearance Commission spent $10,548,230 to buy the property, relocate 854 families, and demolish 1,053 dwelling units. It was the highest price every paid by government for a slum clearance tract in Chicago, and the highest percentage paid by the federal government for such a project. Under a new deal, a section of the Housing Act of 1958, the federal government paid for 75 percent of the urban renewal project.
The cranes came in and the cranes came out, strange creatures from beyond the neighborhood eating saloons and antique shops and dark corners where dirty things used to happen. Eating squalor and scum and earthiness. Eating the poor people’s homes that artists used to paint. Eating the artists’ homes. At night speedy burglars pillaged the site, carting off stained-glass windows, mantelpieces, ornate doors and shutters left among the rubble of the old blighted buildings. And by 1961 the site was nearly cleared. The “jungle of human wreckage” had been moved a little west and a little north and a little south, and the city prepared to take bids on the land.
Several hundred developers expressed interest in the project, 90 sets of specifications were taken out, and by may 12, 1961, CLCC, now under Phil Doyle (Ira Bach had gone over to head up the newly created Department of Urban Renewal), and received twenty bids on the land. It was one of the hottest pieces of real estate in the country—minutes from the Loop, close to the lake, adjacent to swanky Dearborn Parkway and the Magnificent Mile. It was clear that whoever got the property stood to make a bundle.
Some of the largest and most prestigious development and architectural firms in the city bid on the project, submitting elaborate brochures and drawings, four-color folders, and tables of projections.
Park City Associates bid $2,700,000 for the residential portion of the land and presented plans by architects Lowenberg and Lowenberg and Harry Weese, who had designed townhouses and apartment buildings in the Hyde Park-Kenwood project. A syndicate headed by Harry Chaddick bid $3,00,000. Jack Witkowski bid $3,725,000. Metropolitan Structures with architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, bid $3,712,000. John Baird of Baird & Warner bid $4,090,961 for the 16.1 acres of land.
And Arthur Rubloff, real estate broker and chairman of the board of Arthur Rubloff & Company, with George H. Dovenmuehle, investment banker, and Louis R. Solomon, president of L.R. Solomon-J.D. Cordwell & Associates, architects, with Lloyds Builders Inc. and Robin Construction Company, contractors—bid $6,411,000—$9.16 a square foot. It was an unheard-of price for urban renewal land, but a fair one, according to Cordwell, and, as it turns out, a wise one. Rubloff’s planners had arrived at it after estimating the rental income from their apartment units they would build. Their estimates might have looked outlandish to the other planners who bid on the project, but they certainly don’t look that way today.
The City Council had determined to study the plans submitted, to award the bid to the best plan, and to consider the amount of money offered as a secondary matter. But they couldn’t very well reject Rubloff’s bid unless there were something terribly wrong with is plan, and, of course, there wasn’t.
John Cordwell had left City Hall in 1956, unhappy about the Chicago Tribune‘s plans for McCormick Place on the Lake, and had joined Jon Solomon, an architect and old friend of Arthur Rubloff, in a new firm. Cordwell was assigned the planning job for Arthur’s new project, which was being called Carl Sandburg Center. And his plans were super, a mix of high and low buildings on a lot of open land. Cordwell had studied the area for eight years, and he was familiar with the strategy involved. He knew what was needed, and he designed his stronghold well.
He planned four 27-story apartment buildings, three 24-story apartment buildings, and 94 townhouses for a total of 1,932 units. Buildings would cover only 27 percent of the land, leaving 73 percent open space. There would be decorative moats, walled parks, elevated pedestrian walkways, a performing arts center (containing a theater), an adult recreation center, and a “little school” (K-2) that would be lease to the Board of Education. The plans called for a six-grade elementary school, elevated plazas over streets, a restaurant over Clark Street near Division, and an underground parking garage for 1,200 cars. Rentals would be $115-$125 for efficiency apartments; $133-$170 for one-bedroom apartments; $167-$240 for two-bedroom apartments; and $215-$275 for three-bedroom apartments.
On June 2, 1961, when all the bids were in, Metropolitan Structures, the development firm that submitted the second highest bid ($5.13 per square foot for the 16.1 acres designed for new residential buildings), asked the CLCC to reject Rubloff’s bid. Metropolitan Structures charged that the high bid was faulty for eleven reasons. They charged that the Rubloff group had attached so many qualifications to its offer that “the bid represents nothing more than an offer to buy.” They charged that Rubloff had offered to buy the land in three sections over an unspecified period of time, while the city’s specifications called for the sale of the land as one transaction; that the Rubloff group asked for the right to pull out of the project entirely if the development of the first three stages did not prove profitable: that the Rubloff plan called for 376 more apartments than permissible under density specifications. They pointed out that Metropolitan Structures had already offered to change its bid price i the commission were o change its specifications.
Nevertheless, on June 6, 1961, the Rubloff project was approved by the Chicago land Clearance Commission—with three conditions.
1. That Rubloff develop the land irrespective of the value attributed it by any mortgager. This would prevent Rubloff from backing out if the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure a 90 percent mortgage on the land at Rubloff’s bid price.
2. That Rubloff take the land in three sections, pay taxes on all three from the purchase date of the first, and purchase all of the land within eighteen months after being formally notified that he bid had been accepted.
3. That if the Rubloff group defaulted on purchasing the second and third sections, it would be required to pay taxes on the land until the commission sold it to someone else for development.
And Rubloff agreed. Phil Doyle, the new head of CLCC, pointed out that the developers were not required to submit a final plan showing the exact arrangement of buildings until their bid was accepted, so the density problems noted by Metropolitan Structures would be “worked out.”
On January 30, 1962, it was reported that Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company (Chicago’s biggest bank) would be making the Rubloff syndicate two mortgage loans totally $19,878,000—the largest loans ever made by a Chicago financial institution for an urban renewal project in the city involving the demolition of blighted property and construction of new residential buildings. It was a pretty good deal. Rubloff borrowed the money at 5.25 percent plus 0.5 percent FHA insurance, amortized over a 40-year-period.
On a damp, cold Thursday morning, May 11, 1962, ground was broken for the first of the Sandburg buildings, and Mayor Daley, one of the six men holding the nine-handled shovel, proclaimed:
“We can look forward to the time when Carl Sandburg will write a new poem about this kind of living and this kind of Chicago—which represents the real Chicago of the future.”
And Carl Sandburg, who had agreed to let his name be used, sent a telegram praising the project’s concept.
Soon a multicolored army of hard-hatted tradesmen were clamoring over the vacant land, pouring concrete, girding steel, building towers to defend against the blight. The carpenters wore gold hats, the Iron workers, red, the laborers, green, their supervising sergeants, white. There were 950 employees on the project, representing 30 different crafts and trades. Twelve huge concrete trucks rotated delivery every hour and ten minutes, and the workmen pushed to set records, pouring nan average of 550 yards of concrete each day. Giant cranes were swinging two-ton buckets of cement across the lot all summer and fall of 1962. Crews steadied buckets, poured cement blocks; steelworkers followed them, lugging their reinforced steel to the site, binding 100-pound spears into clusters of eighteen, fashioning their spears into columns, mounting them in concrete so the cement men would pour more concrete. One day they poured 1,000 yards of concrete and erected 50 tons of reinforced steel.
Each of the 36 reinforced steel columns they build would shoulder 81,000 pounds of weight in the 264-foot-high structures they were building, and the workers were proud. They were pouring so much concrete so fast that they dreamed about it. They put up a floor per building every two to two and a half working days.
And when they were finished the plumbers and electricians came in. The plumbing and heating contracts for those first four buildings went for $2,400,000; the electrical contract for $1,000,000. And they broke records, too. During one week the electricians installed 27,000 feet of metal conduit for wiring.
It was a big, big project, and housing and construction experts from all over the world came to the site to watch. By December 9, 1962, Arthur Rubloff announced that the first 129 tenants had been signed up for April 1963 occupancy. “We’ve got the start of a real city within a city—just the concept we wanted!” exclaimed Stanley Goodfriend, Arthur Rubloff’s vice president and project coordinator.
The developers were pleased: 93 percent of the new tenants would be coming in from the surrounding neighborhoods; 74 percent had incomes between $7,000 and $10,000 a year; 18 percent were between $10,000 and $25,000 and the remainder were evenly divided between those earning less than $7,000 and those earning more than $25,000; 10 percent were in their twenties, 36 percent in their 30s, 41 percent in their 40s, 13 percent in their 50s and 60s.
But there were those who were not pleased. While Arthur Rubloff’s contractors were pouring cement, community and civic groups were pouring criticism on the Sandburg project. First of all, the whole notion of a government being able to take people’s land away from them, make them move and tear down their houses, and sell the land to somebody else who stood to make a lot of money off of it was kind of hard to take. It was one thing when expressways were involved. It was easier, then, to see the public good. But selling the land to private developers didn’t seem right.
Then there was the question of the rents. By the time the first four Sandburg buildings were up it was announced that the rents would be from $15 to $73 higher than the scale cited when the Rubloff bid was accepted. Critics said that Sandburg was obviously not “moderately priced housing,” that the people displaced by the project would not be able to afford to live there.
Arthur Rubloff said his syndicate paid $9.17 a square foot for the land and that was the highest bid and he didn’t owe anything to anybody on the project. “We’re not obligated to the city, the state, the federal government or anybody else,” he said. “It’s a middle income project … ” he said.
In fact, Sandburg rents were higher than other urban renewal projects in the city, and just a bit lower than the “luxury” high-rise building Rubloff was putting up at 336 W. Wellington. The rents were considerably higher than in the run-down neighborhoods to the west, lower than the exclusive Lake Shore Drive and Dearborn Parkway apartments to the east. The average room rent of $38.25 was under the established F.H.A. ceiling of $40.68 for the development. But Arthur Rubloff wasn’t building Sandburg Village for working class tenants. There was nothing in the awarding ordinance or in any of the agreements preliminary to the award that provided for control of the rentals, Rubloff knew and Cordwell knew, and the men in City Hall, at the State Housing Authority, and at the F.H.A. all knew that Sandburg Village was being built for young professional people who would “revitalize” the city with their disposable incomes. Sandburg Village was being built for shoppers and theater-goers and film buffs, for people who shopped at Crate & Barrel, not at Community Discount.
Later there were complaints about the proposed shopping center adjoining the Sandburg project. CLCC had promised displaced merchants that they would have first rights to the property designated for commercial use, but no shopping center was ever built on that urban renewal land.
In 1964, the Department of Urban Renewal, which replaced the Chicago Land Clearance Commission, recommended that more buildings adjoining the Sandburg site be razed, buildings originally spared by Cordwell because of their uniqueness, including the Red Star Inn and the Germania Club. And by 1964 some of the new tenants of Sandburg Village were organized into more serious organizations than bridge and exercise clubs. They had formed the Sandburg and East Area Council, and they were fighting for the Red Star Inn and for the other old buildings, including townhouses on Burton and Schiller, that were originally spared but now were in Sandburg’s way. The Red Star Inn, a late-nineteenth-century brick Teutonic-Gothic restaurant, was a lovely old building that Cordwell’s original plans called for saving. The Rubloff people said they would make space for the Red Star Inn and the Germania Club in the new recreation center if Rubloff got the land. Arthur Rubloff said he heard the food at the Red Star Inn wasn’t that great anyway. And after years of fuss the Inn finally closed and was torn down, though the Germania Club, the Village Theater, and several other buildings at North and Clark remained.
Over the next five years the Rubloff syndicate acquired more of the urban renewal land adjoining the Sandburg site and built ore apartment buildings and townhouses, bringing the total investment in the project to nearly $100 million. No one was ever found to finance the theater for the project, or the recreation center; the Board of Education vetoed plans for the schools; and the moats that John Cordwell envisioned running around the atrium townhouses were finally scratched from the plan. But Sandburg Village today is pretty much the way it was designed by Cordwell, and it is serving the purposes for which it was built.
It is an anchor for the north side, a fortress against the spread of blight. Nearly 8,000 people live in Sandburg Village, in eight high-rise apartment buildings and 82 townhouses and artist’s studios. And they are not poor people they are able to afford the $250 to $300 for studio apartments; $315 to $420 for the one-bedroom and $445 to $570 for two-bedroom apartments. They are able to afford the townhouses, which Rubloff practically had to give away back in the 60s and which by now have doubled in value.
The people who live in Sandburg think of themselves as living in a village within a city. They can swim and play tennis and racquetball in their village; use the “hospitality” rooms for camera, bridge, and exercise clubs. They can attend Catholic mass there, shop for groceries there, visit the village’s dentist, barber, and florist. They can stroll along the well-tended malls, park their cars in convenient underground garages, park their bikes in locked rooms. And at night when they curl up in their Marimekko comforters, they can feel safe and secure, for the village spends nearly $500,000 a year for private security forces to protect the fortress.
That’s a lot of money for security, but security is very important to Sandburg residents. They know the blight is out there still, and that even if the siege of Sandburg Village is over, the war continues.
The Plan Commission and the Department of Urban Renewal have their strategies pretty well set now: there are the Lincoln Park campaigns I and II; the Clybourn-Ogden foray; the Evergreen-Sedgwick battle; the Chicago-Orleans and the Larrabee townhouse maneuvers. In the late 60s, North Avenue was turned into a demilitarized arterial zone, widened from 66 to 100 feet, and all the frontage on the north side of the street from Clark west to Hasted was demolished and renewed. There are now cul-de-sacs and one way streets all along the zone, effectively preventing the combatants of either side from crossing inadvertently to or from the quiet little streets of $200,000 houses. The front is quiet for the most part, but not entirely: This summer there was guerrilla warfare in the zone, as kids from Cabrini Green sauntered out on purse-snatching skirmishes and harassed mild-mannered middle-class drunks.
For all the millions of dollars spent by the city and state, by the feds and private developers, in many ways the near north side is still the same as it was in 1929 when Harvey W. Zorbaugh wroteThe Gold Coast and the Slum. The same kinds of people still live there, side by side in their separate worlds.
“Into this area all the young and adventurous people, who come to the city to seek their fortunes, tend to drift … . The Lower North Side is for young women in particular, a kind of Latin Quarter, where students of art and music find places to live in close proximity to the studios. It is this region that supports most of the little theaters, the smart book stores, and the bohemian and radical clubs … . It is a childless area, and area of young men and young women, most of whom are single, though some are married, and others are living together unmarried. It is a world of constant comings and goings, of dull routine and little romance, a world of unsatisfied longings … .
“The Near North Side shades from light to shadow, and from shadow to dark. The Gold Coast gives way to the world of furnished rooms; and the rooming-house area, to the west again, imperceptibly becomes a slum. The common denominator of the slum is its submerged aspect and its detachment from the city as a whole. The slum is a bleak area of segregation of the sediment of society; an area of extreme poverty, tenements, ramshackle buildings … of high rates of birth, infant mortality, illegitimacy, and death … .”
Today the slum is anchored by Cabrini-Green, a project John Cordwell calls a “hideous symbol of poorness,” a project that has been the stronghold of the “enemy” for 35 years, and an objective that must eventually be taken if the north side is to be truly liberated from the threat of blight.
The men who developed and planned and built Sandburg Village have moved on to other campaigns. John Cordwell is involved in planning new sites in Nigeria. Ira Bach now heads up the Illinois-Indiana Bistate Planning Commission. Arthur Rubloff is involved in a plan for a new “North Loop,” remnants of the Project X he has been working on for 30 years.
Younger men are making the plans today, and they find it much more difficult to look black people and brown people, prostitutes and street people, in the eye and label them as blight. They have turned away from the massive urban renewal strategies of their fathers, are reluctant to tear down houses, are earful of fortresses for the poor. It is becoming clear to them that you can’t tear down blighted areas and expect the poor people to just disappear; they’ll just go somewhere else and “threaten” some other middle-class neighborhood. And it is clear to them that it is madness to build huge, dismal projects that pile the blighters in and expect such a camp to have a positive effect on the community.
Newer strategies against blight—smaller, less expensive, and perhaps less optimistic strategies—seem to be replacing the old tactics that give birth to Sandburg Village. Perhaps the young men who are now doing the planning know that the enemy is not always easy to identify, and that money and might do not always add up to victory. Perhaps they learned their lessons from a different kind of war, one fought not in Europe or the Pacific but in the jungles of Southeast Asia.