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Permanent Campus Site Selection, 1958-1963

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In August 1958, during his first term as Mayor, Richard J. Daley unveiled his design for redeveloping downtown Chicago. Quoting Daniel H. Burnham’s decree, “make no little plans,” he proposed erecting several new building complexes, expanding public access to the Lake Michigan beaches, and providing a location downtown for a new Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. Daley hoped to make space available for the University by consolidating railroad stations and using the land under railroad tracks south of the Loop. He told Governor William J. Stratton that locating the new University in Chicago was among his top priorities. When the University Board of Trustees announced it preferred a suburban location at Miller Meadows, Daley said that the city would pick up the extra costs associated with building the campus on an urban site. So the board agreed to put off a final decision.
The other key obstacle to establishing a permanent University campus in Chicago was funding. In 1958, a statewide bond issue was put on the ballot to raise money for higher education, including funding for a Chicago campus. The bond issue failed miserably, catching supporters of a new campus off-guard. A second bond issue was scheduled for 1960, when voter turnout would be better because of the presidential election.
 

Campaign rally in suppport of the second bond issue, 1960. Campaign rally in support of the second bond issue. UIC LHS photo.

The railroad track site Daley hoped to use for the permanent campus could not be made available. Another Chicago neighborhood, Garfield Park, which was undergoing economic decline and hoped to revitalize, made a bid for the campus. Northerly Island, home to Meigs Field, was also considered. Instead, in 1961, the city offered a 105-acre site at Harrison and Halsted Streets, then a federal urban renewal project, located at the center of the Hull House settlement on the Near West Side of the City. The University accepted the location, citing the “important plus factors of availability, accessibility and . . . the opportunity to contribute to a civic development in Chicago of major importance."

Women from the neighborhood protesting in front of City Hall, 1961. Women from the neighborhood protesting in front of City Hall, 1961. Photo courtesy Chicago Sun-Times.

In response to the area’s economic decay, residents created the Near West Side Planning Board, one of the first citizen planning boards in the country, which helped establish the district as a Federal Urban Renewal site. Unintentionally, this designation provided land clearance money for the new campus.

To insure the second bond issue would pass, legislators stripped the bill of everything unrelated to public higher education, and then promised to spread the money across the state – $50 million for the Chicago Campus, $25 million for an expansion campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and the rest to other universities throughout the state, for a total of $195 million. The state universities, Governor Stratton, and Mayor Daley all gave bipartisan support. Each Illinois university, for instance, sent torch-bearing runners throughout the state to raise public consciousness. Their slogan was: “Don’t Cheat Your Kids On Their Education.” In Chicago, Daley spearheaded a get-out-the-vote drive. Though he was keenly interested in helping elect John F. Kennedy to the presidency, the attention he paid to the bond issue during this campaign indicated that he was at least as interested (if not more interested) in securing the funds needed for the new Chicago campus. Voters ultimately approved the funding referendum.

Map of proposed campus sites.

Before 1961, the Near West Side was one of the few racially integrated neighborhoods in Chicago, though it was rapidly changing. Recent construction of the Chicago Circle expressway interchange had destroyed a significant section of “Greek town.” Beginning in the 1940s, African Americans moved into the Near West Side in large numbers. The Latino population in the area also grew. Jobs that had traditionally employed new residents, such as in manufacturing or at the nearby stockyards, relocated to cheaper labor markets. Many longtime residents moved to the suburbs. The construction of public housing, which began before 1950 and continued into the 1960s, did not alleviate the poverty that had resulted from the neighborhood’s declining economic base.

Construction site with Hull House in the foreground. The Hull-House complex, above, was one of the last to be demolished, after almost the entire site was cleared. UIC photo.

 
 

 

 
 
Members of the neighborhood, led by Florence Scala, protested extensively the plans to use Harrison-Halsted as the permanent home for the University. Because many of the husbands from the area worked for city agencies, mostly the wives attended the demonstrations to save the neighborhood. The protests eventually proved ineffective, so the women formed the Harrison-Halsted Community Group in order to oppose the site decision in the courts. The Community Group filed suit in both Federal and State courts. In May 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal, clearing the way for the campus’ construction. 
About eight-thousand people and 630 businesses were displaced to build the campus, leaving the many who remained in the neighborhood resentful of this unwelcome institution.
   
 
 
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