In 1945, as WWII came to an end, Daley (then a state senator) introduced four bills calling for a university in Chicago. Following World War II, the University of Illinois increased its presence in Chicago by creating a temporary, two-year branch campus, the Chicago Undergraduate Division. Known as ‘Harvard on the Rocks’ by students and housed on the famous Navy Pier, the campus accommodated primarily student veterans on the GI Bill. The campus was not a junior college, but rather had a curriculum based on Urbana’s courses, and students who successfully completed the first two years’ requirements could go on to Urbana and finish their degree.
Classes at the Navy Pier Campus began in October 1946, and approximately 4,000 students enrolled each semester. As Chicago had no comprehensive public university at that time, most students were first generation college students from working families, who commuted from home. Demand for a public university education in Chicago remained high, even after the first wave of veterans passed, so the University made plans to create a permanent degree-granting campus in the Chicago area.
Naval Captain Charles Claire Caveny, administrative officer of the Navy Training Schools at Navy Pier, was appointed dean of the undergraduate division. Previous accommodations, once inhabited by his trainees, were restructured to meet the needs of new college students. Former Pier English professor Bernard Kogan wrote in 1954 that the Navy galley was converted into the cafeteria and “the Navy mess hall [was turned] into a giant library containing the ‘largest reading room in Illinois.’ One of the Navy brigs [jails]…provided space for the thousands of student lockers.”
In 1951, Daley succeeded in getting the state senate to pass a bill calling for a Chicago campus. Daley became mayor of Chicago in 1955 and pressed the University of Illinois to upgrade the Chicago Undergraduate Center to a full-fledged four-year institution. After a long and controversial site decision process,in 1961, Mayor Daley offered the Harrison and Halsted Streets site for the new campus.
In a report on August 28, 2008, by newsman Derrick Blakely, CBS TV reported that in 1963, the decision to build the University of Illinois decimated Taylor Street’s little Italy. Florence Scala, Chicago’s legendary Taylor Street activist and long time Hull House cohort, blamed the board of directors of Hull House for betraying the thriving, vibrant, tight knit neighborhood. They encouraged Daley to go ahead and destroy the neighborhood. Her challenge as to why the Hull House neighborhood and not the vacated and easily accessible Dearborn Station, resulted in the bombing of her home. In addition on November 10, 2003, WTTW Irv Kupcinet related a story about Mayor Richard J. Daley asking him what he thought was his most crowning achievement. Daley answered “Putting the school in the Italian neighborhood.” Meaning the old Taylor Street neighborhood being condemned to make way for the Chicago Circle Campus. Today, the University’s main academic library is named for Daley.