Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chicago Stuff You Don't Know #2: City Hall and the County Buildling

The County Building to the left, City Hall to the right.
     Things are not always what they appear in Chicago. The statue of Grant is in Lincoln Park, while Grant Park boasts a statue of Lincoln. If you're looking for the Wrigley Company, don't look in the Wrigley Building, Wrigley Field or Wrigleyville. It's now on the north end of Goose Island. Wacker Drive goes north, south, east and west. 
      It can get confusing. 
      When people say they're going to City Hall to get married, they're really going to the County Building—they're attached. The two buildings looks monolithic, a single structure comprising an entire city block, bounded by Randolph and Washington streets, to the north and south, and Clark and LaSalle, to the east and west.  
     But they aren't. They are actually two completely separate mirror image buildings, built at different times.
      Approach from the northeast and you'll see a cornerstone that says "ANNO DOMINI 1906" -- the County Building, built first, after its predecessor, one day in 1905, suddenly sank 10 inches, ruptured its gas lines and exploded, due to shoddy construction from corrupt, corner-cutting contractors. Its replacement was built and occupied before the City Hall was even begun -- you can see its cornerstone on the southwest, that says "ANNO DOMINI 1909."  Though identical, the County Building cost 50 percent more to construct.
     The whole often mind-boggling story is laid out in a surprisingly good book, Glory and Government: Chicago's City Hall 100, by Edward M Burke and Thomas J. O'Gorman (Horto Press).  Chicago's City Hall has been on that spot, at the corner of Randolph and LaSalle, since the 1840s. And while Burke—yes, that Ed Burke, the city's longest serving alderman—and O'Gorman can be entertaining about the scandals and corruption of years past, for some reason, when they reach the present day, a certain discreet silence settles over them.   To be expected, I suppose. 


  1. Burke and O'Gorman are to serious historians as Coughlin and Kenna are to honest politicians. Haven't read this one, but their book on cops killed in the line of duty (forgetting the title: End of Watch, I think) is an unsourced exercise in rampant Hibernophilia and misrepresentation of cops and criminals alike.

    1. Slow Eddie is the worst. I've been to several historical events where he shows up, and pretends to be the grand man of the city council.

      To be fair to Kenna, he never pretended to be anything than what he was. There's something revolting about how Burke presents himself.

      I love, love, love Chicago history, but Burke just turns my stomach. And I say this as a man who has been known to dress up like Bathhouse John Coughlin in public.

  2. I know Bill. And you'll notice the parts I took were verifiable in other ways. We've got the cornerstone, and there are photos of the County Building, done and City Hall yet to be built. But I'm not arguing with you. If Ed Burke told me there were four stars on the city flag, I would feel compelled to walk out into the street and count.

  3. Never met the man personally, but from what I've heard and read and seen about him over the decades, I have to wonder if he could even tell you what the four stars stand for.

    I fly both the pennant-shaped "burgee" flag of my adopted state (Ohio) and the banner of the city of my birth (Chicago) from twin flagpoles on my garage. Best moment ever was when my neighbor, a Kentucky good old boy, asked me where I got "that blue and white flag of Israel."


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