Four trains running
but only in our memories
10/16/2010 9:46 AM
Yesterday evening, train, “L” and Chicago Tunnel expert Bruce Moffat took a group of neighborhood sightseers from neighborhood organizations such as the South Loop Historical Society, Near South Planning Board and South Loop Neighbors to the site of four train stations in the South Loop. Each bespoke the heyday of the railroad industry in Chicago history.
We began at Dearborn Station at Dearborn and Polk, a station that at one time collected and dispersed famous travelers on famous trains from the east coast to the west coast and vice versa. If you were a movie star going coast to coast, you had a layover in Chicago, and may have eaten dinner at Blackie’s while you were wiling away the time. While all the tracks are gone that at one time emanated from the station--all the land is covered by condos, townhomes and single families to the south--the building has been nicely renovated and is certainly a beacon in the neighborhood. Is there anything better than grabbing coffee from somewhere and sitting in the station’s “newly” constructed atrium? Or getting your hair cut at European Touch? Or making a deposit at the friendly Chicago Community Bank, among other people to see and places to go in the station?
Next, we traveled to the site of the Grand Central Station at Harrison and Wells, at one time considered too out of the way from the Loop to attract many travelers (go figure). The site has sat barren for decades, with many a developer making no small plans, but there is only a vestige now of two train platforms and the memory of an impressive tower that loomed over the station.
Then we were off to the LaSalle Street Station, torn down in recent years and replaced by new financial district buildings, one of which skirts right over the Congress. There is still a small Metra station inside, but Metra is not allowed to advertise itself elsewhere in or around the building--so if you want to travel to Beverly, let’s say, you have to know the station is there. Regular commuters do know, of course, and they skulk in and out of either side of the building complex during two daily rush hours. They take escalators up and board trains which quickly wave bye-bye to the receding lofts of the South Loop.
Last but not least Moffat got us over to the site of the old Illinois Central Station, which, until the 70s, was right there on Michigan Avenue at 11th street. The station’s entrance was just about where those rusted legs of art now stand. If you go east of the legs, there is a valley-like depression which signals that at one time there were far more tracks there than what remain: tracks for commuters using the Metra Electric to the south suburbs, and the South Shore Line to places as far as Michigan City and South Bend. Also within the depression of grass at the site are two mysterious lone boulders that were at one time part of the structure of the station.