Walter Metschke's memoir was originally written for his family. In 1997, it was given to the Chicago Architects Oral History Project and adapted for inclusion in this collection. His memoir serve as a useful complement to the information found in other oral histories conducted by the CAOHP.
Walter Metschke was born in Snyder, Nebraska, in 1912. He attended the University of Nebraska for two years and then transferred to Iowa State University, from where he received a B.S. in Landscape Architecture in 1935. After graduating, he was employed by the Works Progress Administration in Arkansas. During World War II, he was involved in the development of government housing projects in Washington, D.C., and Detroit. From 1942 through 1944, he worked with the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a site planner for the Atomic Energy Commission's Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He returned to work with SOM in the early 1950s as a site planner for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. From 1957 to 1962, Metschke was Director of Engineering for C.F. Murphy Associates on the construction of O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. He served as a consultant in engineering and construction for the Chicago Department of Aviation from 1968 to 1973 and for other private companies. He formed his own firm, Metschke & Associates, in 1975 and consulted nationally as an engineer and site planner until his retirement in 1988. Metschke resides near Chicago.
Metschke writes about early experiences that led him to a career in landscape architecture and engineering; studing at the University of Nebraska and at Iowa State; working for the Arkansas WPA; the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge, Tennessee; the Omaha, Nebraska, Parks and Recreation Comission, 1946-49; Strategic Air Command Housing; consulting on engineering for the United States Air Force Academy; O'Hare International Airport; working for H.S. Kaiser Company;consulting for the City of Chicago Department of Aviation; the proposed design for an airport in Lake Michigan; working for various Chicago suburban developments.
Terminal Two, O'Hare Airport; Chicago, 1963. Photograph courtesy of United Airlines.
"Opening O'Hare in January 1962 was a miraculous accomplishment. Of course, for a nine month period we worked every day.I was at the field each morning at 6:00 and left at 8:00 in the evening. Many operations were on two 10-hour shifts. During peak construction we were spending ten million dollars each month. That would be near one hundred million at today's construction prices. But it was Mayor Daley who was the driving force. He got things done and when necessary he would bend the rules, which he did for me on many occasions. The mayor interfered very little with the activities of his close associates. When they became involved in illegal activities, they were on their own." (p. 83)
Funding for this oral history was provided by the Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.