Ghosts of the 'L' stations past
Morgan Street, Cermak Road once had elevated train stops
03/14/2012 10:00 PM
As the Green Line leaves the Loop, it rides above West Loop without stopping until it reaches Ashland Avenue. The same thing happens on the other end of the line. Once it leaves Roosevelt station, it passes above Prairie Avenue Historic District and Motor Row, not stopping until it reaches 35th Street.
This will change in the few years. The Morgan Street ‘L’ station is scheduled to open at the end of spring in West Loop, while the Cermak Road ‘L’ station is scheduled to open in the Motor Row some time in 2014.
But what many Chicago residents don’t realize is that neither station is technically new. Stations existed at those locations before, only to be closed down due to low ridership. The new stations represent a new opportunity to prove that those locations can generate traffic.
And, with all the demographic changes that took place in West Loop and South Loop over the past 20 years, the odds are in their favor.
The original Morgan Street station opened Nov. 6, 1893 as part of what was then known as Lake Street Elevated Line. It looked similar to the Ashland/Lake station — two side platforms, each with a picturesque Queen Anne-style station house right above the intersection.
At the time, the neighborhood around it was a largely industrial area, full of manufacturers and wholesale retailers. The ‘L’ line picked up and dropped off workers at all major intersections.
Along with Morgan, the West Loop had three stations — at Halsted, Racine and Loomis.
The Cermak Road station opened Jan. 2, 1892. It was one of the first 10 stations to be built as part of the South Side Rapid Transit Line — the first ‘L’ line in the Chicago. The station had two side platforms.
Originally, the station house was at the ground level, but a new station house was built at the mezzanine level, above the street and below the tracks. Unlike Morgan Street station, it was a simple metal structure with a few ornamental touches. At the time, the Near South Side was growing increasingly industrial, but the areas around Cermak were still residential.
The Morgan Street station never had much ridership, and it only kept losing it as the Great Depression took a toll on the local economy.
When the Chicago Transit Authority took over all Chicago elevated lines in 1947, it started pruning the system of little-used stations to make it more efficient. Morgan was the first West Loop station on the chopping block, closing in 1948.
Over the next three decades, the ridership continued to decline as the neighborhood fell deeper into poverty and local manufacturers and wholesalers closed down. The West Loop stations closed one by one until only Halsted/Lake station remained.
Cermak, on the other hand, remained open after the first round of CTA cuts. The ridership remained steady, surging dramatically during conventions and other events. In 1960, CTA considered launching an express bus service between the station and recently opened McCormick Place, but for reasons lost to history the plan never came to pass.
The ridership noticeably dropped in the late 1960s as neighborhood population dropped. In 1969, the Cermak-Chinatown station opened three blocks west, causing the ridership to drop even further. After a series of service reductions, Cermak was closed for good on Sept. 9, 1977.
Since the original Morgan and Cermak stations were shuttered, West Loop and South Loop saw an increase in population as new residential and commercial development revitalized the communities.
Riders who get off at the new Morgan Street station would find themselves between the Fulton Street art district and the cluster of restaurants and other businesses along Randolph Street. And, according to the 2006 Chicago Department of Transportation study, the area around this station saw greater population growth than any other possible Green Line West Loop station location.
The situation with Cermak is more complicated.
Most of the community support has been for a new station closer to the 18th Street, which experienced greater population growth than the area around Cermak Road.
But, as the Chicago Journal reported on Oct. 14, 2011, CTA officials told Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) that building a station at 18th Street wouldn’t give the trains enough room to accelerate or stop.
The area around the new Cermak station does have a few clubs, including the Violet Lounge and the Shrine. With Fioretti and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) committed to turning the Motor Row into a bigger entertainment destination, more businesses may emerge by the time the station is actually built.
The proximity to the McCormick Place should also work to its advantage, especially if it adds shuttle service during events.
According to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Scales, the new Morgan Street station is scheduled to open in May.
The new Cermak station is currently in the design stage. According to a City of Chicago press release, the station is scheduled to open some time in 2014.