Monday, December 5, 2016

Maxwell Street 7th District Police Station on "Dead Man's Corner," Chicago, Illinois.

The 7th District Police Station, located at 943 West Maxwell Street, also known as the Maxwell Street Station was built in 1888 in response to the need for increased police presence.
Maxwell Street Precinct - Morgan & Maxwell Streets
Maxwell Street Precinct Restored - Morgan & Maxwell Streets
It was built during a period of tremendous growth after the Chicago Fire of 1871, as the city’s population exploded from 298,000 to almost 1.1 million. As late as 1850, the entire police force of Chicago consisted of just nine men, but the growing population, along with the social and economic changes, created the need for more law enforcement.  

The force expanded from 9 officers to 455 policemen assigned to 11 precincts in 1872, to more than 1,255 policemen in 20 district police stations by 1888. In 1906, the Chicago Tribune called the district “Bloody Maxwell”, and “the Wickedest Police District in the World”.

The neighborhood was termed “the terror district” by a newspaper reporter of the time. It was a changing melting pot of Irish, German, Italian and European Jewish immigrants and grew mightily in the years following the Chicago Fire of 1871. This densely populated area echoed with the sound of 50 foreign tongues, the clatter of the push cart wagon and the ragged vendors peddling their produce and wares in the market a block due east. There were thousands of ram-shackle wooden hovels (a small, squalid, unpleasant, or simply constructed dwelling) and airless worker cottages with the outhouse inconveniently located in the alleys of tenements pushing up against the police station.  
Between 1880 and 1920, the most violent spot in "Bloody Maxwell," the most violent neighborhood in Chicago, was the corner of 14th place and Sangamon, otherwise known as Dead Man's Corner. Conveniently near the Maxwell Street Police Station, Dead Man's Corner was continually the site of gun battles between police and criminals.
Very often the Maxwell Street police officer, bewildered by the old world customs and buzz of strange languages he heard on the street, thought he was the foreigner in the foreign land. In 1898, the city census taker counted 48,190 residents living in squalid tenement buildings along Taylor, DeKoven, Forquer, Loomis, Lytle, and other streets comprising Little Italy nearby. It was a tough assignment in a dangerous area of the city for a young officer learning the ropes. Poverty bred crime. In “Bloody Maxwell” there were an escalating homicide rate and the scourge of the Black Hand terrorists who preyed on the immigrant Italians living near Taylor Street in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. The term “Bloody” was loosely applied to many police districts and city wards in the old days, but it seemed to take on special significance along the Near West Side corridor, especially during the wild and woolly 1920’s when Taylor Street, located in the heart of the old 19th Ward, evolved into the production center for bootleg alcohol in the City of Chicago.  

It was a vast criminal enterprise controlled by the “Terrible” Genna brothers - Angelo, Pete, Jim, Tony and Mike from Marsala, Italy, who were graduates of the Black Hand. Their liquor warehouse stood at 1022 Taylor Street. It was rumored that at least half of the uniformed patrol working out of “Bloody Maxwell” in the early 1920’s received $15 every Friday from the Genna brothers by simply stopping by the warehouse for their weekly envelope.

Lieutenants and captains from neighboring districts were said to receive upwards of $500 a week - quite a sum in those days. Over the years, the legendary station played host to some of the nations most notorious criminals, including Sam Giancana and Al Capone.

The 7th District, anchoring the western end of the Maxwell Street market, quieted down considerably following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. After World War II, the district witnessed the slow exodus of its immigrant population - a process that greatly accelerated in the early 1960’s when hundreds of acres of residential property west of Halsted were bulldozed to make way for the University of Illinois campus.

The station itself is Romanesque in style and is architecturally significant as an example of pre-1945 police stations in Chicago. It was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. 

The Chicago Police Department vacated the station in 1998. After extensive renovation, the red pressed brick and Joliet limestone building with walls three feet thick at the base became the home of the UIC Police Department. The renovations were done in a manner designed to uphold the historic significance of the building’s architecture. The building’s original windows were sent to a company in Kankakee for restoration, the masonry cleaned and repaired, the roof replaced and parapets at the top of the station rebuilt using custom-made bricks, the exact texture and color of the originals.
The building is known in popular culture because the outside was used as the picture of the precinct house in the opening credits of the iconic television series, Hill Street Blues which ran on NBC from 1981 into 1987. The exterior was used for the television series Chicago P.D.
Hill Street Blues TV Show - Note Maxwell Street sign has been changed to Hill Street.

8 comments:

  1. Worked there as a young police officer. Once I was sent to the basement and to my surprise the original jail cells were still there. It was dimly lit, spooky and very dungeonesque.

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  2. I was assigned to Maxwell Street when it was Area 4 Detective Division Headquarters. During the 1970's it had the highest crime rate of all six Detective Areas especially homicides.

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  3. Rush Liquiors- Just east of the police station. The only building standing. Walked in and bullet proof glass on the front of the counter with FOLKS standing around . Myself and another white guy walked in ordered paid and walked out. I believe the FOLKS thought we were Police from down the street. Coaches at UIC couldn't believe that is where we went. (Also I believe the counter guy gave us the Police discount.)

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  4. I was assigned to the Maxwell St. Station as a Patrol Officer in Area 4 Task Force and then as a Detective in Area 4 Robbery from 1968 to 1980 when the Detectives moved to the new Area 4 at Harrison and Kedzie.
    The top corner of the building, the corner displayed in the first two pictures, was hit by lightning at least 3 times while I was assigned there. I was in the building for one of those strikes. When I went outside to see what happened, I found several pieces of the limestone capstone on the sidewalk. I picked up one of those pieces as a souvenir.
    Thirty plus years later I had a fireplace built in my retirement home. I had the mason add that piece of limestone to the fireplace.

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    1. A great reminder of times gone by..... !

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  5. I remember as a recruit in 1976 we would run from the "training academy" over to the field which was part of UIC campus. Many times the guys working at Maxwell stood on the stairs and watch the recruits doing jumping jacks and running in circles. Ah, the good old days.

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  6. Worked the 011th district for most of the 70's and spent a lot of time at the old Area 4 HQ. The place was always jumping. The good old days.

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  7. I worked there in the early 70's In Homicide. It was a unique building. Area 4 was called the Murder Factory back then. The shades on the windows were always down, so there were no exposed targets. You heard gunfire almost every day.

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