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Daley vs. Daley

For much of the past half century, a mayor named Daley has towered over Chicago. We compare the reigns of father and son, assessing their triumphs and failures, their impact on the city—and what their enduring dominance at the polls says about us

(page 7 of 11)

“Dick the Builder” at the groundbreaking for McCormick Place in 1968

From Concrete to Wrought Iron

The 94th-floor observation deck of the John Hancock Center affords one of the best views of Chicago. At 1,000 feet high, it also offers a bird’s-eye view of some of the greatest hits from the two Mayors Daley. Peer down due east, along the shoreline, and you’ll find the James W. Jardine Water Purification Plant (Daley I) located next to a revitalized Navy Pier (Daley II). Looking south, there’s the Aon Center and the Sears Tower (both Daley I), and the glistening new Trump International Hotel and Tower (Daley II), currently 90 stories high, but rising to 92 by the time it’s completed next year. Also visible is a sliver of Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion (Daley II). Beyond the Loop, there’s the new Soldier Field (Daley II), as well as McCormick Place (Daley I) with its baby sister, McCormick Place South (Daley II).

From the southwest windows, there’s more—including IBM Plaza (Daley I), Chase Tower (Daley I), the United Center (Daley II), and the Stevenson and Dan Ryan expressways (Daley I). Looking north, you’ll see the Kennedy Expressway (Daley I) and, off in the distance, O’Hare (Daley I), which seems like just a speck from the top of “Big John,” as the Hancock (Daley I) is affectionately called.


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Few mayors in America have physically changed the face of a city as much as the Daleys have done. Daley I kept Chicago broad-shouldered and brawny with new steel and concrete buildings. Daley II’s legacy is the equivalent of a face-lift—beautification projects that have improved the quality of life in the city. As the Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin puts it: “Richard J. Daley is the classic modernizer. He’s the guy who builds the bones of the city—expressways, bridges, O’Hare. Richie is essentially adding a new layer, Martha Stewartizing the city. His Chicago is a ‘City That Plays’ rather than just a ‘City That Works.’”

And while the Daleys are most closely associated with big projects with high wow factor, they also made sure to focus on the practical nuts-and-bolts of the city—its infrastructure. They knew that if streets weren’t cleaned, if potholes weren’t filled, if the sewers flooded over, if the water wasn’t drinkable, voters would hold them responsible on election day. Their attention to nitty-gritty municipal housekeeping has perpetuated the belief among many Chicagoans that, under the Daleys, the city runs smoothly.

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Daley I unveils a public-works plan in 1973.

When Daley I took over City Hall, the new 41-story Prudential Building was the city’s tallest. By the time of his death, Chicago had three of the nation’s five tallest buildings: Sears, Standard Oil (now Aon), and Hancock. During his time as mayor, public and private construction in Chicago advanced at a pace of about $400 million a year, reaching an estimated total value of more than $8 billion by his sixth term—the biggest building boom since the Great Fire of 1871. Some of the city’s most iconic buildings, including the Inland Steel Building, Marina City, and Lake Point Tower—not to mention all of the Mies van der Rohe-designed modern masterpieces—were built under Daley I.

“The golden age of building happened under Richard J. Daley,” says the Chicago architect John Vinci. “Some really good buildings came out of it, some of the best buildings in America.” Vinci adds, however, that the city paid a steep price. In Daley I’s zeal to remake downtown, he didn’t interfere when private developers tore down some of Chicago’s prized architectural treasures, including four railroad terminals, a dozen movie palaces, and, most regrettably, the Garrick Theatre and the Chicago Stock Exchange, both designed by Louis Sullivan. “He wanted to show that the city was new and fresh,” says Blair Kamin, of Daley I. “The priority was not on saving the old.”

Daley I realized that the city had to change to keep up with the jarring shift from a manufacturing to a service economy. He knew that airports were replacing railroads. That office buildings were replacing factories. That commuters were replacing residents. And he built accordingly. McCormick Place secured Chicago’s status as the nation’s convention capital. The University of Illinois Chicago Circle Campus, which Daley I called his “greatest accomplishment,” gave working-class Chicagoans a low-tuition state school near downtown, and in the process, though displacing a large number of residents, revitalized a decaying neighborhood. The opening of the Hancock in 1970 and Water Tower Place in 1975 pumped new retail-shopping life into the stagnant “Magnificent Mile.” And O’Hare (1962) brought Chicago a modern airport, ensuring the city would stay the transportation hub of the nation’s midsection.

His interest in building large and small—he also built the city’s first bicycle paths and neighborhood health clinics—turned out to be good politics. More civic projects meant more patronage and jobs for his labor union supporters. Most of all, says Bob Crawford, when the city looks good—at least, its prominent public places—so does the mayor. “There’s a saying that Chicago has a clean face and a dirty neck,” says Crawford. “There’s a lot of truth to that.”

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Photography: (Image 1) Chicago Tribune photo by Jack Mulcahy, (Image 2) Chicago Tribune file photo



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