Chicago – December 2018 – Elevated Architecture: Downtown ‘El’ Train

Our final tour of this visit was one I was looking forward to – a tour of architecture of and from the El train. The tour would take us into a number of El stations, as well as checking out some of Chicago’s finest architecture from a view most don’t see – 20 feet up from the El platforms.

We made our way to our first station in the pouring rain. The group of 9 people were more than happy when we arrived at the Washington and Wabash Station. Rebuilt and opened just a year ago, this station is sometimes referred to as the Millennium Station as it is located just a block from the park (but to any Chicagoan it will always be Washington/Wabash).

The canopy is made of steel and glass, with waves that are to evoke the feeling of nearby Lake Michigan.





As you enter the station you are greeting by a significant amount of artwork.





A major portion of the tour was focused on the nearby buildings. We had seen the Sullivan Center previously, but on this tour we had the mix of the canopy of the station with the classic lines of the building.





This row of 5 floor buildings are survivors from the 1800s, and are classic buildings. All they need is someone to come along with $40-50 million to purchase and rehab them (perhaps into boutique hotels!)





We made our way clockwise around the loop to the stations at State and Van Buren, aka the Harold Washington Library Station.

While the station is a fairly typical El station, it has great views of the Fisher Building and the Monodnock Building.

The Fisher Building is an 1896 Daniel Burnham masterpiece. As with many buildings it was built in two phases. Note the bay windows on the portion closest to the camera, then a flat face just beyond that.





The building’s terracotta has numerous sculptures featuring fish and crabs, as well as mythical creatures.





The northbound view of Dearborn Street with the Monodnock on the left and the Standard Club on the right.





The rain and the Monodnock gave a basic light added character.





We had the good fortune of having the CTA Holiday Train roll through the station as we were checking out the sights. A Chicago tradition since 1992, the train is decorated by volunteers and corporate sponsor.

Prior to Christmas they will run open air flatbed cars with Santa on them (check out the blog posting on the CTA Skokie Repair shop for more details as it was being prepared when we were there in October).









Throughout our tour the CTA employees were more than helpful, holding the train briefly while we boarded en mass or letting us through the turnstiles without addition payment to check out the stations.

I am certain to them it is just a job, but how cool would it be to drive an El train around all day.





The Quincy Station was the highlight of the tour. It was opened in 1897 and is essentially the same as the day it opened (with a few additional safety features).





They even have a couple of the original (unused) fare boxes mounted on the wall





It is the only station in the system that does not have advertising, rather they have period correct ads from the early days of the station.

Interestingly the ad on the left for the South Shore could still be valid, as that commuter rail still runs down into Indiana.





The platform maintains the same look. Quite the contrast to the skyscrapers in the background (including the 1400′ high Willis/Sears Tower directly behind the platform).





Again the lighting adds to the overall look.





We continued around the loop, crossing Randolph Street past the Palace Theater.





We made a turn to the west at the northwest corner of the loop, giving a great view of the wood planking for the tracks as well as one of the control stations.





Our final stop was at the Clinton Station in the West Loop. With the recent construction of very tall buildings, and the rain, the views were diminished this day, but it still gave some great symmetry shots.





This station is next to Union Station. The building in the background was once a large warehouse but has been re purposed to condo’s.





The view back towards the loop. It is interesting how this 100+ year old transportation still works, skirting past the massive skyscrapers.





We were at a Metra Commuter Rail station and had the good fortune of seeing their Holiday Train as well! Talk about good luck (even with the pouring rain).

As always our volunteer docent was knowledgeable and personable. With so many tacky tourist hop on hop off bus type businesses in large American cities, the non profit, mostly volunteer Chicago Architecture Foundation is a real treasure. We are looking forward to returning for more tours.







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