While many of the claims that the fire had affected a major change in the architectural design of Chicago’s buildings are unfounded, similar claims can, and should be applied to the effect that the 1871 fire had on Chicago’s urban landscape. The rebuilt Chicago in 1874 was quite different in its overall urban pattern from the Chicago that burned in 1871 in at least ten ways:
1. the loss of Crosby’s Opera House would be a major blow to the cultural life of the city, notwithstanding the erection of the Inter-state Exposition Building. It would take over seventeen years to replace Crosby’s palace (i.e., the Auditorium). Its loss relegated Chicago to an inferior position vis-à-vis Cincinnati in the Midwest’s cultural ranks during this period,
2. the “temporary” City Hall was built four blocks farther south at La Salle and Adams and remained there for fourteen years while the post-fire replacement City Hall/County Courthouse was under construction. This meant that the city’s center of local politics had gravitated away from the northern portion of the business district to its southern edge,
3. the site of the U.S. Post Office and Custom House was moved two blocks farther south to the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn, again reinforcing the Adams Street corridor, and replaced by a monumental building that established a new urban square in the southern portion of the business district that provided badly-needed green space and daylight, that eventually would become a major real estate center in the city.
The Post Office Square will be even more important after it was completed, as the open space provided by the pre-fire Courthouse Square in the northern portion of the business district would disappear first from the post-fire demolition and second, from the design of the replacement City Hall/County Courthouse, as its huge size would almost completely fill the Courthouse Square, eliminating the only open space that had been available in the northern half of the business district,
4. the city’s Wholesale district was moved from North Wabash on the east side of downtown to Market and Franklin Streets between Madison and Monroe on the west side for two reasons: first, there was less debris to remove from the streets so construction could start sooner, and second, this area was much closer to Union Station where many of the western salesmen arrived and took their merchandise back home.
5. the debris left over from the fire was dumped into the lagoon between Michigan Avenue and the IC tracks, creating a large amount of new land along the lakefront that would force a decision to be made concerning what to do with this newly-formed, unoccupied land,
6. the Inter-state Exposition Building will be constructed, in response to both the loss of Crosby’s Opera House and the success of Cincinnati’s new Exhibition Buildings on this newly-formed land, thereby establishing a new center of gravity within the business district at Michigan and Adams,
7. the move of the City Hall and the Post Office to Adams Street, reinforced by the southern relocation of the wholesale district, in conjunction with the erection of the new Exposition Center, helped to establish Adams Street as a major urban east-west spatial corridor. This ran from the Expo Center’s central pavilion to its western terminus, William Ogden’s Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Station at Canal and Madison, that had survived the fire,
8. the few congregations that were still present in the business district prior to the fire, took the opportunity created by their church’s destruction to sell their property and move outside of the downtown (with the sole exception of the First Methodist Block at the southeast corner of Clark and Washington). There would be no steeples in the skyline of Chicago’s post-fire business district,
9. while the tracks of Chicago’s railroads had also survived that allowed traffic to continue unabated, riders coming into the city for the next eight to nine years aboard the MC, CB&Q, IC, or the C&NW got a rude introduction to the damage the fire had wrought for neither the IC nor the C&NW stations were rebuilt until after 1880, therefore passengers had to work their way around the ruins for these years. Because Cornelius Vanderbilt had only recently taken control of the Michigan Southern (see next section), his deep pockets could easily afford to rebuild the La Salle Street Station,
10. and less strategic, but still important, the fire’s debris will permit the City to finally complete the filing-in of the city’s streets to their final official elevations, and will also permit the completion of Potter Palmer’s plan to widen State Street so that it could finally provide an urban ambiance appropriate for the city’s rebuilt retail district.
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