403 N. WABASH 



Philip S Kaplan


Although this story is fictional in nature it is quite conceivably possible that it could become a reality. The main characters in this story are Martha and Edward Stonecipher, who were looking to move to Chicago from Bubble Bee, Iowa. Both in their sixties decided to live a life of leisure in their golden years in a City that they always loved and would visit whenever possible.


Since they no longer needed their ten-room house or 100 acres of land, they sold and settled for a free and clear profit close to $950,000.00, although they were aware they would have to re-invest very soon for tax purposes. Their other concern was that they felt that with their children grown they were too old to be cutting grass or bothering with any of the other chores one would do with owning a house. Thus their most logical solution was to find a place they could afford, without having to find a job, but rather live off their savings and be happy with the location, and most of all no “grass to cut”.


As stated their desire was to live, not roll over and take the “big sleep”, and be in a city they loved more then any other. After checking out many places they thought it would be best to go with a new development rather then one that had been converted to a condominium development from apartments. Of course no one told them to check out the developers themselves, and they never thought of doing that either. Furthermore being from Bumble Bee, Iowa, they for the most part trusted everyone, and even in they’re wildest imagination could never or would suspect someone of cheating them.


At around this time a relatively new company was starting up called SOL Construction Company, who had two main partners.  The partner’s names were Robert Horsts, and David Mendelssohn who for the most part had only been in Condominium development for two years. They were of the impression they came upon a great deal when they figured out a way to build a twenty-story building above a pre existing structure. However the main problem was although they had been told there was only a fifty, fifty chance that the structure would not support their building they decided to take the gamble anyway because they got the property on the cheap.  Furthermore the structure (a garage) was not designed to support any structures at all. Another point to take into consideration was they were not buying land, but rather the air rights above the garage.


In the meantime Martha and Ed had heard about a building being built with a prestigious address of 403 N. Wabash, which would be next to the new Tiffany Tower at 401 N. Wabash. Besides the address it was the location of the building that intrigued the Stoneciphers. Easy access to the river as well as a short walk to Michigan Ave, and best of all the building allowed dogs. Although they did not have a dog at the time they were planning on getting one.  The building was considered to be a boutique type building since it would only contain about 57 apartments. One main problem with that is the fewer owners there are, the greater the expense will be for the owners in terms of paying for maintenance, and day-to-day expenses. High assessments do not help when trying to sell your place. Although initially the developers showed the assessments to be very low, and considering this was a new building it was possible that could happen.

This fantastic building they were planning on buying into was the same building that the SOL Construction Company was in the process of building. Furthermore the developers of this company although only in business two years had already established a reputation for shoddy workmanship.  Problem was that the Stoneciphers were not familiar with any developers in the area, and did not have anyone to consult with in advance. Instead they found out about this building via a television ad that was being shown in their area. Martha even remarked that she thought that Robert and David seem like a couple of nice young men that she would look forward to doing business with. To show how trusting Martha and Ed were of Robert and David they sent their deposit in, which was for $10.000.00, Air Express. Construction was to start in about three weeks for which they could expect a move in date of March 8, 2007.


Although the building was going to have twenty floors and be elevated the Stoneciphers choose to be on the third floor because Martha had a slight fear of heights. However by taking into consideration the lobby and one floor for the mechanicals they were almost on the fifth floor. The Stoneciphers thought it would be best to stay in Bumble Bee until they were ready to move into their new Chicago Residence. They were planning on paying cash to pay off their unit when they came to Chicago, which would be a few days before they would move in. The total amount due at closing which was minus their deposit was for $440.000.00 yet still leaving them with a fair amount to live on. Their new quarters were not as big as the house they left, but yet felt that 1800 square feet would serve them very adequately.  This way they did not have to concern themselves with a mortgage payment, and besides they both still had a pension fund to live off of. All in all one could say that they were set for life. Their only payments would be their assessment payment, and their tax payment both of which they could afford very easily.




However prior to their move in date they actually arrived in Chicago on March 3,2007, and they stayed at the Four Nations Hotel. By coming in ahead of time it gave them time to do some shopping for various supplies for their new place including new furniture. Also before they could actually move in they had to close on their property at a Title Company in Chicago. 


The big day March 8 2007, also known as move in day had finally arrived and the Stoneciphers were ecstatic about what was to be their new home. Of course there were still some minor details that needed to be taken care of, such as delivery of their new furniture. Martha and Ed thought it would be easier to move to Chicago with just their basic trinkets, and of course with their cloths and then to simply buy new furniture, which they did prior to move in day. To a certain basis they felt like a couple of young children who were about to unwrap a new toy. As for the interior that was all planned out in advance of the move in day. To keep it simple they went with all the walls being painted white, and basic amenities for the kitchen and bath. Of course there was still one more minor detail and that was to buy groceries for their new place. Thus to keep it simple and to help in the transition they ordered pizza and cola for the first night in their new home.




By now all the units in the building had been sold so the building was 100% occupied, and in celebration the owners were having a party for themselves in the party room, that was one of the amenities in the building. Martha and Ed figured it would be a great idea to attend, to get to know the neighbors and see how they felt about their new purchase as well. For the most part Ed and Martha were very happy except for the slight cracks that were starting to form in their walls although only in a few spots. The developer told them it was normal in a new building, and that if they wait a few months he would send someone to fix them for no charge, thus they waited.  However at the party they heard about how other owners were experiencing cracks in their walls as well, and one woman stated that her kitchen window cracked for no apparent reason, although fixed by the developer and told the same story about the building settling since it was new construction and told that it was common. By the same token Martha was starting to get slightly concerned because it was happening to so many people, although Ed insisted there was nothing to worry about. A couple of the owners stated they heard mysterious sounds in the walls like something was moving in there, and they were experiencing problems with their lights, for every so often they would flicker. 


Two weeks after the party almost to the day Martha and Ed and a few other people got stuck in the elevator, and it turned out the reason was that the foundation shifted causing the elevator to come out of it’s track. Fortunately no one was hurt, and all the people were removed from the elevator without a problem. Since the building was already signed over to the new owners they had to use their reserve fund and insurance to pay to have it fixed.

As more time went by more problems seemed to develop although initially minor in nature, such as with the plumbing.  The Stoneciphers as well as other owners in the building were noticing that it was taking longer than usual for the water to go down, in their sink, and far to often there was an insufficient amount of water pressure to take a shower. Other neighbors such as the O’Brien’s who lived on the tenth floor had noticed their walls becoming rather moist in the bath area, which they thought to be condensation. However the Dugan’s who lived one floor below the O’Brien’s were also having the same problem.  The O’Brien’s decided to investigate with their up stair neighbors and after doing so it turned out the Jackals who lived on the top floor were also having this problem. Their conclusion to this was that it was either coming through the roof, or there was a pipe in the wall that sprung a leak. The next day a plumber was called to investigate this matter as well as the water pressure and drainage problem.


The first thing the plumber did was to get a copy of the blue prints to see exactly where the pipes were at, and to see the type of material that was used for the piping. According to the blueprints only cast iron was used. To play it safe the plumber whose name was Jake although not important was a bonded and licensed plumber for over twenty-five years. Step one was going to the roof to see if it was at all possible for the water to get in that way. There was a slight possibility it could be coming in from the vent pipe although very doubtful. Jake took a friend of his with him who was a professional roofer to get his opinion as well. After carefully examining the entire area and even dumping water there it was concluded that it would be impossible to have water come in through the roof. This meant that starting at the top floor it would be necessary to go into the walls starting at the top floor. Of course there was the possibility that the problem originated at the top floor so the expense might not be as great as the owners might be thinking.  So here it was just a year and six months later since the building was opened for move in and it was necessary to bust through the walls to find out why the walls were wet.


Utilizing the blueprints to get the exact location of the pipes in the walls a section of wall was cut out from the unit of the top floor. To the surprise and amazement of the Jackals, Jake the plumber and the building engineer a discovery was made that no one was expecting to find. The pipes were actually a combination of copper and plastic and where they were connected with two different materials was the cause and reason for the leaking. When the owners found out about this they were horrified that they were lied to by the developer and called an emergency special meeting to discuss this matter.


The first item on the agenda for the meeting was what action to take pertaining to getting their building brought up to code, and the conclusion was to first hire a competent engineering firm as well as an attorney to take action against the developers. Furthermore they felt that a complaint should be filed with the city building department since according to the plans submitted to the city they were grossly misstated. The owners felt if the developers lied about the pipes it was possible they lied in other areas of the building.


After all reports were in from the engineering firm, as well as the plumber for costs, the entire matter was turned over to their attorney. It was decided to take action against the developer, although in the interim the repairs had to be made. It seemed that not just plastic and copper was used for the pipes, but in some cases a rubber tube was used instead.  Rather then tearing into all the walls they took a sampling and found or concluded that the only area to be fixed or corrected was the area that was causing the walls to become moist. To correct all damaged floors the cost came to $800,000.00 that was not presently in their reserves and the insurance refused to cover because it was the fault of the developer. Thus it was necessary to do a special assessment to be divided by the owners until they recovered their money from the developers. Before actually filing any type of suit the owners elected to study the report from the engineering firm they hired. The only other problem the engineering firm had found was that the foundation was developing stress cracks in numerous areas. The owners of the garage also had an engineering report done as well, because they were noticing far too many cracks through out the garage. The conclusion was that no definite answer could be given at this time although they felt the building being built on top of it was not helping matters.


In the interim the Stoneciphers as well as all the other owners were getting a very uneasy feeling about their property and were trying to decide if they should try and sell although probably at a loss, or repair everything and hope that nothing else went wrong. Not being experienced condominium owners they were in somewhat of a quagmire trying to decide on a plan of action.  Finally they decided to pay their portion of the special assessment, which came to a little over $1400.00 and just hope and pray that nothing else major went wrong. Besides there was a strong chance they would recover their loss or at least a portion of it from the developer in the form of a settlement.


On November 8, 2008 the developer was contacted and asked to pay to have the repairs made at his expense, however both developers refused to do so stating it was not their responsibility, but rather the contractor who did the actual plumbing work. Three days later the homeowners filed suit against the developers, and asked to have their accounts frozen. However before the ink was dry both developers declared bankruptcy for themselves as well as their company. This action meant that for the most part the homeowners would be stuck with the bill for the plumbing as well as any other problems that could develop. The way the homeowners were going to get any money from the developers would be to seize as much of their property that they could. Since the bank accounts of the SOL Construction Company were cleaned out, as well as the personal accounts of Robert Horsts, as well as David Mendelssohn (the developers) an investigation was started to see if they hid their money.



                                                          THE NIGHTMARE


More then a month had gone by without any bad things happening to the building or any new discoveries. Christmas eve was just around the corner, and the Stoneciphers decided to have their children come and visit with them for the holidays. Yes, life indeed was becoming more peaceful for the Stoneciphers as well as everyone else in the building.


The temperature outside was hovering around 28 degrees and there was a strong chance of heavy snow for that evening. Although it was the 23rd of December it would and could turn out to be a white Christmas in a couple of days. Ed and Martha decided to stay up for a bit, too see if they would be able to see the snow falling and fixed themselves some hot chocolate. Perhaps it was a combination of the hot chocolate or the fact that they were both up early today, they decided to go to bed and watch the snow another day. 


Two hours or so after falling asleep they heard some strange noises that almost sounded like a bad set of brakes. Shortly after that the next sound was from they’re living area and it was glass breaking. They though it best to check out just what it was, however concerned for Martha, Ed told her to stay in the bedroom.  The first thing Ed noticed when he walked into the living room was that the drapes were blowing in the breeze as if the window was left open. However there was broken glass all about so Ed was able to know that it was his window that shattered to explain the sound of breaking glass.  By the same token he had no idea as to why his window shattered the way it did, unless someone somehow tossed something through it or a very large bird flew into it. He was aware that both of his thoughts were wild, and doubtful if either was the reason, which only caused him to feel even more concerned. Ed returned to the bedroom to discuss the matter with Martha and to decide what their next course of action would be.


They thought they would just cover up the window to keep the apartment from getting to cold, and deal with it in the morning.  A few seconds later they heard another strange sound that was difficult to describe, and then another window in their place shattered. Martha and Ed were not certain as to exactly what was going on but thought it best to call the doorman to see what was going on. When they picked up their phone they discovered that the phone was dead, so they tried using their cell phone instead. When doing so they received a message saying that at the present time all circuits were busy. Ed put the phone on automatic redial, and after twenty frantic minutes that almost seemed like a lifetime, he was able to get through. He told the doorman his problem, however only to find out that many other owners in the building were having the exact problem. Realizing there was nothing that was going to be accomplished at that point in time, he decided to see about checking into a hotel to try and keep warm. Again Martha, and Ed heard the sound of breaking glass and this time the window in their bedroom shattered.


Ed instructed Martha to pack a bag for the both of them, and they changed their cloths to get out of their pajamas. Ed went and located all their papers that he felt would be the most important, to include all cash and credit cards. He then went into the medicine chest to make certain that he and Martha had all their medicines. As calm as Ed might have seemed to be, in actuality he was very scared considering the situation.  Ed told Martha to check and make certain they had everything that would be necessary to have and especially their cell phone. Shortly after Martha and Ed put their coats on, they heard a very loud thunderous sounding crash from just outside their front door. They then noticed dust, smoke or steam permeating under their front door.  At this point although as to why they did not do it sooner is anyone’s guess they decided to call 911, however the response they received was, “sorry all circuits are busy, please try your call again later” was not what they were looking for. They tried two or three times again and placed their phone on automatic re-dial. They now felt it was time to see what was on the other side of their front door.


The first thing Ed did when he went to the door was to place his hand on it to see if it was warm to be certain it was not smoke that came under his door in case of a fire. Thus he very slowly began to open his door trying to hear anything he could, when he heard other people (his neighbors) screaming in terror. Ed then opened his door a little wider to discover that most of the corridor floor was gone as well as the floors above, thus he was certain he would not be able to get out that way.


By this time they were able to hear sirens near the building as well as see red flashing lights. The emergency speaker system had someone announcing that the fire department was on the scene and that someone would get everyone out as soon as possible.  In the interim another window shattered in their apartment and they were able to feel movement of their actual unit as if it were an earthquake. The ceiling above them was starting to form a large crack in it, thus Martha and Ed went and stood in the doorway of their bedroom hoping for more support that way. Of course both were praying and hoping for the best for they did not know exactly what was going on.

The ceiling in their bedroom was also forming a large crack, and once again they could hear another window shatter. They were unaware that the reason for the crack was that their ceiling was supporting the weight of chunks of concrete that had cracked off the units above them.  After standing for a time in the doorway, they were developing a chill since by this time the heat was off, and cold air was blowing into their apartment. They thought it best to go an additional ten feet and stand in their closet, and put on additional coats to try and keep warm until they were rescued. A wise decision because about ninety seconds after they stepped into the closet the doorway along with most of their floor in their apartment caved in. Other than for the wall behind them and their closet door they were in many aspects standing outside since the majority of the building had caved in. Ed tried his best to keep Martha calm and to stay calm himself, although at this point he was not certain if he or Martha would survive. When he glanced down he could see bodies trapped in the concrete slabs for which he was certain they were dead. 


It was now close to 8:00 AM the next day and Martha and Ed were trapped in their closet, although at least they were able to use all their cloths in the closet to cover them up. They both sat in the corner of the closet huddled up with each other to hopefully stay warmer. Fortunately they were able to keep much of the wind out by keeping the door closed, because the temperature had dropped to twenty degrees above zero. Their new fear was that no one would know they were in the closet with the door closed, so Ed would periodically open the door and yell down until he got someone’s attention.

Ed could see some of the rescue personal pointing in his direction and one of them announcing that they would get them out as soon as possible.

 By 8:30 AM Ed could see there was a large crane in the street by their building and numerous pieces of rescue equipment. The rescue people hooked up a large steel box to the hoist on the crane and three rescue people were in the box. It was now being raised up to the height where Ed and Martha were trapped. The crane operator had to be incredibly careful so he did not bang into the portion of the building still standing, and this was not an easy task with the wind blowing at gusts of 25 miles or more.

The people in the box were now level with the Stoneciphers who were trapped in their closet. Using a megaphone they called to them to open the door, and as the door started to open they moved closer. They barely tapped the building in the process and to play it safe they got close enough for Ed and Martha to step into the box.   Once safely in the box it was safely lowered to the ground where there was an Ambulance waiting for them to rush them to the hospital.  Just as they stepped into the ambulance they looked up one last time to see the final portion of the building were they were at, when with out warning it collapsed.  Ed and Martha stayed over night at the hospital to be completely checked out and other then for a few bumps and scratches they were both fine.  Unfortunately thirty of the residents were not as lucky and had died in the tragedy, and others were seriously injured...


After removing all the slabs of concrete and twisted metal they were able to see the extent of the damage, which included the garage roof caving in, and damaging about 15 automobiles. Fortunately no one was in the garage at the time of the collapse, however it was estimated it would take at least six months to repair everything. The first priority was to find out the cause of the building collapsing.

After all the pieces of concrete were removed they brought in a very high tech x-ray machine that could actually look through concrete 12 inches thick., and that was when they discovered one of the main problems. However before they would submit their report they needed to run some other tests. One was to take a better look at the wall of the collapsed building, and after doing so they discovered just how devastating the problem was. First of all the new building mounted their columns onto the ones already in the garage, which were, not fit to have anything added to them.

To go back a little it seems that the location where they started the building, was infested with a few thousand rats that were living in the concrete. Turns out Norway rats or brown rats have made Chicago their home. Many of the rats were called super rats and were capable of eating through 12 inches of concrete in a 24-hour period, and so desperate for food they even worked their way into the new building. (Explains the sounds that wear heard in the walls).

These rats with their families or colonies were living on the upper portion of the garage where the new building was built, and as a way of revenge were slowly and methodically eating their way into the new building to cause it in time to cave in, which it did.   As many times as the exterminator tried to poison them it got to be a waste of time and energy after a while.  Furthermore it was discovered that the developer of the garage had lied about the original engineering report on the garage.  By coincidence the garage developer was in partnership with the building developer. There was an additional investigation done on the building by the State of Illinois building department, and that report led to the indictments of the developers of this so called boutique building. 

                                             TO BE CONTINUED      

If any names or places are similar to actual names or places it is just a matter of coincidence.This story is being published and has a copyright date of 9 December 2003. No copies or duplications can be made without the author’s permission. (Philip S Kaplan)