“As the carvings over the main entrance say, the state built the armory for the 124th Field Artillery of the Illinois National Guard, which fought in World War I as part of the 33rd Infantry Division.
“In the 1920s, many of the men serving in the 124th were veterans. They resented the fact that there were new armories on the north and west sides, but none on the South Side, where 75% of the 124th lived. An armory stores arms and equipment, but it also provides classrooms, places to drill, athletic facilities and social spaces. The 124th also needed stables, as their guns traveled on horse-drawn caissons.
“In 1924, their officer, Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Hunter of 5470 S. Woodlawn Ave., met with South Side business leaders in the office of the Drexel State Bank to write a proposal. They wanted to build the finest armory in the United States and a true World War I memorial. The South Parks Commission agreed to transfer park land to the state, arguing that the memorial plaza and the arena would act as community centers. The state legislature agreed.
“With state funding in place, architect Dwight Perkins, famous for designing Chicago public schools and the forest preserves, created a design that included a memorial square at 51st and Cottage Grove Ave. In the plans, the 2,275 square-foot plaza included a towering column that would name the South Siders lost in the war. Though the legislature appropriated $150,000 for it, the plaza disappeared from the plans.
“In 1928, state architect Charles Herrick Hammond commissioned little-known sculptor Fred Torrey to carve panels for it. Torrey, who had studied at the Art Institute, was a Midway Studio Associate of Lorado Taft.
“Many of Torrey’s carvings celebrate the 124th Field Artillery with its insignia of a rampant lion and the motto “Facta Non Verba” (Deeds, Not Words). A stylized Fort Dearborn, part of an earlier insignia, marches along the roof line. A number of panels represent teams of horses pulling artillery caissons in battle. Torrey also embedded the 124th in the long history of war with the repeated motifs of Greek and ancient Egyptian warriors, conquistadors and doughboys. Above the main door, women hold battle axes.
“The armory opened in 1931 and, according to the Herald, won Perkins an award. He provided state of the art facilities—a gymnasium, club rooms and a memorial room for formal ceremonies—but the armory’s most famous feature was its size. The arena for drilling alone is 115 yards long, 50 yards wide and 94 feet to the rafters. ((Morse, Hyde Park Herald, 5/10/22)