Friday, January 13, 2012

Haymarket Square Map Chronology

Last year I put together a map chronology of Haymarket Square for AREA Chicago.  Normally they publish a small-format newspaper on local issues related to arts and political activism.  I'd contributed illustrations previously, and even an article a few years back.    This edition was to commemorate the 125 year anniversary of the Haymarket Tragedy (otherwise known as the Haymarket Riot).  The graphic was only intended to show how the area changed over the years, and it wasn't presented with any analysis.  But there's no reason I can't remedy that here, right?
Des Plaines and Randolph looking North, 2011

In a nutshell, the Haymarket Tragedy refers to the events of May 4, 1886, where a crowd of workers were demonstrating at Des Plaines and Randolph for an 8-hour day.  As the speeches were winding down 176 police officers marched to disperse the crowd.  At that point someone threw a bomb, killing a police officer.  The police then opened fire.  Sixty officers were wounded and eight died.  It's not clear how many in the crowd were killed or injured. The person responsible for the bombing was never found.  The Haymarket organizers were arrested, and after one of the most unjust trials in American history four of the defendants were hanged.  Another committed suicide in prison.  You can read more about it here and here.

There hasn't been much in the way of commemoration of this area, although there is a plaque, a sculpture, and a Chicago Landmark designation for a portion of Des Plaines and part of the alley to the east.  Nearly all of the buildings associated with that night have been demolished.

A lot has been written about the Haymarket Tragedy, but not much about the physical characteristics of the area where it occurred.  There were five of these open-air markets in Chicago at the time, where workers went to buy food directly from farmers.  You can see that Randolph St. widens to accommodate the market.  The speaker's wagon was north of Randolph (1), in part to avoid interfering with the market and attracting a police presence.  And the police weren't far away.  Their station was just south on Des Plaines (4). 

You can see the vitality of the area in the number and configuration of the buildings. Most of these would have been two or three-stories with commercial uses on the first floor and residential above.  Many of the lots have rear buildings with alley access.  These were often coach houses or businesses.  At that time alleys were much more important in the life of the neighborhood.  And this was a real neighborhood.  There was a complex mix of commercial, retail, industrial and public uses all swirled together. 

By 1906 several of the smaller buildings have been demolished and replaced with larger structures taking up two or more lots.  Many of the rear lot buildings have been removed.  Construction is masonry, as required by Chicago building codes.  The scale of the neighborhood begins to change.

By 1950 the consolidations have continued.  Buildings have been demolished but not replaced.  The Haymarket has fallen on hard times.  There's a more homogenized feel in the area.  Commerce has moved away from the street, and the residential quality of the area has declined.  The map doesn't show it, but the expressway cuts through the Haymarket to the west, severely limiting it's ability to regenerate.  The area is becoming part of Skid Row.

By 2011 surface parking has eaten up large swaths of land.  The lots are empty from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., giving the intersection the feel of a ghost-town during the after-work hours.  But at the southwest corner is a new 40-story condo building, replacing the second wave of replacement buildings and dwarfing those that remain.  Some of the nearby light industrial buildings have been converted into condos as well.  A high-end restaurant has located on Randolph.  There's a sense that the area's proximity to the downtown may finally be attracting some investment. 

The shouts and gunshots of a cold May night in 1886 feel very far away.

Des Plaines and Randolph looking West, 2011

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