MEMORIES CHANNELED: WBBM building falls, and the past loses another place to call home

Buildings are always falling down or going up, the city's face in a constant state of rearrangement. And so, another nip and tuck, and down came the large building that had the formal address of 630 N. McClurg Ct. and a vast number of memories.<br>
<br>
Few go back as far as the building's opening as the Chicago Riding Club with a Dec. 17, 1924, exhibition of horse jumping and a polo match. In attendance were all the city's swell and socialites, among them the club's president, Tribune publisher/editor Col. <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEHST002291" title="Robert R. McCormick" href="/topic/economy-business-finance/media-industry/newspaper-magazine/robert-r.-mccormick-PEHST002291.topic">Robert R. McCormick</a> and his wife.<br>
<br>
The building later became an ice skating rink and a bowling facility before being transformed into radio and television operations of <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORCRP002841" title="CBS Corp." href="/topic/economy-business-finance/cbs-corp.-ORCRP002841.topic">CBS</a>, locally known as WBBM.<br>
<br>
It was in this building, of course, that <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEHST000115" title="Richard Nixon" href="/topic/politics/government/presidents-of-the-united-states/richard-nixon-PEHST000115.topic">Richard Nixon</a> and <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEPLT003488" title="John F. Kennedy" href="/topic/politics/government/presidents-of-the-united-states/john-f.-kennedy-PEPLT003488.topic">John F. Kennedy</a> squared off in the lopsided 1960 presidential debate, the first ever televised. But it was also the scene of thousands of smaller and quieter events and dramas, office politics and romances.<br>
<br>
The plan is to construct a residential complex on the site, and for the last few months we have walked over every once in a while and watched the building be eaten by giant machines and beaten by men with hard hammers.<br>
<br>
We watched it fall down and the ground become a carpet of bricks and debris surrounded by a chain-link fence hung with grass-green tarp.<br>
<br>
Standing on the corner one sun-splashed afternoon, we decided to ask people walking by what they remembered about the building and about the people who populated it.<br>
<br>
The names, if not specific memories, flowed: <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB004165" title="Gene Siskel" href="/topic/entertainment/movies/gene-siskel-PECLB004165.topic">Gene Siskel</a>, Johnny Morris, Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. A couple of people remembered weatherman P.J. Hoff and his charmingly self-proclaimed title, "vice president in charge of looking out the window."<br>
<br>
I worked at WBBM for a couple of years in the mid-1980s, and even then the building was getting a bit shabby. Understandably perhaps, no one remembered my reports as an on-air entertainment reporter, though many remembered a couple of people who started at the station around the same time: Linda MacLennan, now happily a mom and photographer living in the suburbs, and Lester Holt, a prominent national <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="ORCRP004494" title="NBC (tv network)" href="/topic/economy-business-finance/media-industry/television-industry/nbc-%28tv-network%29-ORCRP004494.topic">NBC</a> anchor.<br>
<br>
Having gotten our fill of television nostalgia, we were about to wander away when Osgood looked up at the street sign and asked a very good question, "Hey, who was McClurg?"<br>
<br>
Gen. Alexander McClurg was a Civil War veteran and founder of A.C. McClurg & Co., a publishing house and bookseller that at one time, that being the 1880s, ran the largest bookstore in the city, with a section of rare books called "Saints and Sinners Corner."<br>
<br>
At the time of his 1901 death, a Tribune editorial predicted that McClurg's "name will have a permanent place in the literary history of Chicago."<br>
<br>
Well, not so much, though the bookstore in the Newberry Library carries his name.<br>
<br>
And so we were reminded again: It is not machines that destroy the past. It's time.<br>
<br>
<a href="mailto:rkogan@tribune.com">rkogan@tribune.com</a>
chi-sidewalks-071209

( July 12, 2009 )

Buildings are always falling down or going up, the city's face in a constant state of rearrangement. And so, another nip and tuck, and down came the large building that had the formal address of 630 N. McClurg Ct. and a vast number of memories.

Few go back as far as the building's opening as the Chicago Riding Club with a Dec. 17, 1924, exhibition of horse jumping and a polo match. In attendance were all the city's swell and socialites, among them the club's president, Tribune publisher/editor Col. Robert R. McCormick and his wife.

The building later became an ice skating rink and a bowling facility before being transformed into radio and television operations of CBS, locally known as WBBM.

It was in this building, of course, that Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy squared off in the lopsided 1960 presidential debate, the first ever televised. But it was also the scene of thousands of smaller and quieter events and dramas, office politics and romances.

The plan is to construct a residential complex on the site, and for the last few months we have walked over every once in a while and watched the building be eaten by giant machines and beaten by men with hard hammers.

We watched it fall down and the ground become a carpet of bricks and debris surrounded by a chain-link fence hung with grass-green tarp.

Standing on the corner one sun-splashed afternoon, we decided to ask people walking by what they remembered about the building and about the people who populated it.

The names, if not specific memories, flowed: Gene Siskel, Johnny Morris, Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. A couple of people remembered weatherman P.J. Hoff and his charmingly self-proclaimed title, "vice president in charge of looking out the window."

I worked at WBBM for a couple of years in the mid-1980s, and even then the building was getting a bit shabby. Understandably perhaps, no one remembered my reports as an on-air entertainment reporter, though many remembered a couple of people who started at the station around the same time: Linda MacLennan, now happily a mom and photographer living in the suburbs, and Lester Holt, a prominent national NBC anchor.

Having gotten our fill of television nostalgia, we were about to wander away when Osgood looked up at the street sign and asked a very good question, "Hey, who was McClurg?"

Gen. Alexander McClurg was a Civil War veteran and founder of A.C. McClurg & Co., a publishing house and bookseller that at one time, that being the 1880s, ran the largest bookstore in the city, with a section of rare books called "Saints and Sinners Corner."

At the time of his 1901 death, a Tribune editorial predicted that McClurg's "name will have a permanent place in the literary history of Chicago."

Well, not so much, though the bookstore in the Newberry Library carries his name.

And so we were reminded again: It is not machines that destroy the past. It's time.

rkogan@tribune.com

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