Thursday, April 9, 2015

I met my friend Kevin... the old Chicago Board of Trade Building (now home to the CME Group) yesterday to get one last look at open outcry trading before all but one of the futures pits close at the end of June.

I spent the first 25 years of my working life on the trading floors of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, first at 444 W. Jackson (the "green box" above Union Station) until 1983, and then at 30 S. Wacker until 2005. The CME merged with the Board in 2007, after I left "the business," and moved its trading operations to the LaSalle Street location. So I never spent much time at "the Board" and certainly never appreciated the actual building.

When I walked up to the entrance from the Blue Line stop at Jackson I came upon these two statues which I had never seen before. (These are the only two pictures in this post that I took myself.) In between was a plaque with a picture of the previous structure that said:

The Chicago Board of Trade's Statues Symbolizing Agriculture and Industry

These two statues, one symbolizing agriculture and the other industry, once stood over the main entrance of the Board of Trade Building built in 1885. The statues greeted commodity traders and the public for 45 years. Thought lost forever when the building was demolished in 1929 to make way for the exchange's current Art Deco structure, in 2005 the statues were graciously returned to their origins through the generosity and goodwill of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.

Forest Preserve District officials uncovered the twelve-foot, five and one-half ton granite statues at Hidden Lake Forest Preserve near Downers Grove, Illinois in 1978. The forest preserve was the former estate of Arthur Cutten, a prominent Chicago Board of Trade speculator of the early 1900's. How the statues made the journey from LaSalle Street to the Cutten estate is a mystery.

Now a part of the LaSalle Street Plaza, the exchange's symbolic statues serve as daily reminders of the vitality and creativity that fuel the growth of the city of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Trade.

Rededicated June 9, 2005 by the Chicago Board of Trade

Here's another good picture of the old building from an excellent website I just found.

When my buddy arrived at ten o'clock he told me that either his grandfather or great-grandfather (I can't remember which) had had a printing business somewhere at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson. And I recalled that my grandfather and great-grandfather were both members of the Board of Trade. (I had always assumed they worked in the current landmark -- since it had been around forever -- but I guess they both must have started in the old building. It never occurred to me that anything preceded this Art Deco masterpiece.) Standing there really gave me a sense of my personal family history.

But what immediately struck me about the plaque was that date, 1929, the year of the stock market crash which ushered in the Great Depression. And it dawned on me just how many buildings I've noticed lately that were completed on the eve of the slump (click here and here). Now, that might just speak to my preference for the Art Deco style, but it's also a reminder (as if we needed one) of how wildly prosperous the go-go 1920s must have been ("Put up a new building? Sure!") and how truly dismal the subsequent decade was. (I think it wasn't until the 1950s that real estate finally recovered.)

Kevin and I spent an hour or so on the trading floor (too depressing to talk about here; could they at least turn the lights up a little?) and in the restaurant in the basement afterward for the obligatory fried fish sandwich.

Before we sat down to eat I had to find a bathroom and passed this sight on my way. (I meant to show Kevin but forgot.) It was some sort of vault, although much more dimly lit than in this picture. What the heck? I thought. This place is ancient!

There were so many good pictures both inside and out which I didn't take (but hope to in the future). We left around noon and I realized it would probably be my last visit to the Board, or the CME, or whatever they call it now. That chapter of my life is long over. But it's really a spectacular building -- one of Chicago's best! -- and I'll always appreciate it from the outside.

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