Architecture of Chicago Train Stations: Beyond the Commute

By Jenn Harrman on May 21, 2014

TOURSDAILY

Many of us commute via Chicago public transportation as a decent and fairly inexpensive way to get around the city. As a regular Blue Line commuter, I began to think about the varied architecture of Chicago train stations and what role they play in our communities. So I decided to look into a few of the train stations I have frequented over the years.

What first caught my attention was the subtle simplicity of the architecture of the Logan Square blue line station (and its sister station, Belmont). I go by this station every day as well as have spent many an evening waiting for the train here and am always impressed by the magnitude of its openness. The station has a seemingly-endless, column-less platform and the high ceiling make it unlike most CTA stations in the city. In addition, the ability to see the entirety of the station and platform at once creates a sense of calm and safety, somewhat unexpected in usually cramped CTA train station.

Logan Square blue line chicago train
Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed the Logan Square train station. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t taken notice of its modernist sensibility until now. The station was built in the 1960s when the CTA expanded and built two major subways to extend ridership in both far south and northwest neighborhoods. The CTA demolished the original elevated Logan Square station that had once served as the end of the line. Interestingly, this project was the first step towards growth of the CTA station after they had been eliminating el stations, el lines, and they had totally eliminated the streetcar system.

In efforts to streamline the CTA system over the years, many historic Chicago train stations and track lines have been abandoned and demolished typically because the neighborhoods had changed and not enough people were using them. William Gibb was Chicago public transportation’s first architect. Engineers designed the first elevated stations in time for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. With the expansion of the system around the turn of the century, the owners of Chicago’s first elevated tracks hired Gibb to design the architecture of new elevated stations. Gibb designed these stations to handle the volume of commuters, which had grown significantly. As the number of Chicago commuters has continued to grow, Gibb’s stations are now too small today, hence their disappearance. Only six of them are left, and all are on the brown line.

With the Fullerton station I found some more interesting architecture of Chicago train stations. If any of you remember the Brown line expansion project not too long ago, you might remember the controversy of the demolitions. Although Fullerton incorporated its historic Gibb station into the redesign on the north side of Fullerton Ave., other buildings were not so lucky. Demon Dogs, which was a Chicago hot dog stand located right under the El, was completely demolished to the dismay of locals and non-locals alike. The community rallied behind saving the dogs and fries, but in the end, it had to be eliminated for platform expansion.

wilson red line chicago train station
Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

The controversy over Demon Dogs is certainly not the first and not the last time CTA redevelopment has affected a community. More recently in the news is the Wilson Red Line stop in Uptown. The Wilson stop was my train station when I first moved to Chicago many years ago so it holds a special place in my heart. The neighborhood also has some cool history, which we explore on our Jazz, Blues and Beyond Tour by bus where we venture into Uptown and talk about its historic heyday as a mecca for Chicago jazz. So after doing additional research, I felt that Uptown Station was really worth a closer look in a Part 2 blog post of the architecture of Chicago train stations. Stay tuned!

–Jenn Harrman, Tour Guide