The Abandoned ‘L’ Line Over 63rd Street

I recently posted  a photo of the University station on the abandoned portion of the Green Line ‘L’ to Jackson Park.  Today I’m running some more pictures I took along that line.

Jackson Park 'L' Terminal at Stony Island

Jackson Park ‘L’ terminal at Stony Island (1978)

Chicago’s first ‘L’ line was extended to a terminal in Jackson Park in May 1893, just in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition.  Unlike the “alley ‘L'” further north, the final leg of the line was built directly over 63rd Street.

63rd Street 'L' Bridge over IC tracks

63rd Street ‘L’ bridge over IC tracks (1975)

Service continued on the line after the fair closed, with a new terminal (called “Jackson Park”) at Stony Island Avenue.  For a while in the 1930s, the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee electric interurban railroad operated trains along the South Side ‘L’ as far as Dorchester station.

Site of former Dorchester station (1974)

Site of former Dorchester station (1974)

The beginning of ‘L’ service on the Dan Ryan Expressway in 1969 cut ridership along the old South Side ‘L’ lines.  CTA closed the lightly-used Dorchester station in 1973.  Then, in March 1982, structural problems were discovered on the 90-year-old bridge over the Illinois Central tracks.  Service on the Jackson Park branch was immediately cut back to a terminal at 61st Street.

IC 'L' bridge, final service days (1982)

63rd Street ‘L’ bridge over IC, final service days (1982)

That December trains resumed running to a new terminal at University station.  The ‘L’ structure east of there was kept in place, while CTA decided what to do next.  The most-publicized plan was to forget about rebuilding the bridge over the IC, and restore the Dorchester station as the eastern terminal.

63rd and Woodlawn, under the 'L' (1975)

63rd and Woodlawn, under the ‘L’ (1975)

Nothing much was done for the next dozen years.  In 1994 the whole Green Line was closed for a two-year rebuilding project.  When the line reopened as far as Cottage Grove in 1996, trains on the eastern branch were signed for a terminal called “East 63rd.”

'L' at Woodlawn, just east of University station (1975)

‘L’ at Woodlawn, just east of University station (1975)

There was disagreement in the local community over the fate of the 63rd Street ‘L’ structure.  Some liked the convenience of the trains, and wanted to resume service all the way to Dorchester, or even Stony Island.  Others argued that the overhead tracks were a blighting influence, and said they should be torn down.

'L' looking east from Cottage Grove station (1978)

‘L’ looking east from Cottage Grove station (1978)

The final solution was a compromise.  In September 1997 Cottage Grove station was designated as the Jackson Park  branch’s official terminal, and crews immediately began dismantling the structure east of there.  So it remains today.




8 Responses to “The Abandoned ‘L’ Line Over 63rd Street”

  1. 1 Mike January 7, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks for posting these photos…even in its period of decline, the East 63rd of these photos was still more vibrant than it is now.

    I noticed the Kyros Restaurant sign in one, 63rd near Woodlawn Avenue. The Kyros family has owned Daley’s Restaurant to the west for decades, and it’s been Greek-owned since 1918. It’s the last vestige of the time when Greeks ran a huge number of businesses in Woodlawn, not the least of which was the Trianon Ballroom.

    Strange how the argument for tearing down the el was to prevent blight and bring new shops to 63rd, but the only shops along 63rd are still located under the el tracks.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt January 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      I believe the ‘L’ should have stayed. However, too many people thought it was more important to quickly develop the vacant land, and knew that builders were unwilling to spend the money that would effectively soundproof new residences in Woodlawn. Ironically, during the mid-1950s, there had been a proposal to extend the Jackson Park ‘L’ line to South Chicago, replacing the existing IC route via 71st Street and Exchange Avenue. However, when the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway line proved so successful, the powers-that-were shifted course and backed an ‘L’ line on the Dan Ryan.

      • 3 Merrill Payton March 2, 2017 at 10:44 pm

        Yes Mr.Schmidt, I agree with you! They tore down the tracks to revitalize the neighborhood but that hasn’t happened. There was an article in the Tribune about the Obama library being built in Jackson Park. The hope is that this will bring Woodlawn back to life. How unfortunate that they tore down the tracks. I grew up in Woodlawn and have so many memories of the neighborhood! It would be wonderful if they could extend the Green Line to 63rd and Stony Island again.

  2. 4 Richard Taylor June 7, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    There was perhaps no other place quite like Chicago’s 63rd Street in the 1940s and very early 50s. When we talk about a melting pot of cultures it was to be found under the L tracks for sure. I grew up there attending Scott Elementary and then Hyde Park HS and Tilden Tech. I worked as a paper boy on the Dorchester corners and in the IC tunnel. Worked also at 2 Greek grocery stores and Ray’s5 & 10. A good friend’s father owned his own shoe repair shop we visited often. My young life up and down 63rd Street from Stony Island to Cottage Grove was something I appreciate even more today. I often miss the gritty realities of those days.

  3. 5 JAMES F. O'NEIL September 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

    My blog about “Demolition” was picked up by a freelance writer from Chicago. The story about our being re-located for the Congress Expressway in 1948 was told on Chicago WBEZ Curious Chicago. That was a delight. Thanks you for keeping these memories alive.

  4. 6 Merrill Payton March 2, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I grew up on Marquette Road and attended Cathedral High School on Chicago Avenue in the early 70’s. I walked to the 63rd and University station to catch the “L” everyday to get to school. I remember the 63rd Stony Island station as well. I loved riding the “L” and still do today! I went away to college, started teaching, and got caught up in my life. I missed the whole tearing down and the re-routing of the whole “L” system. Now at the age of 62, I wish it were the way it was all those years ago!

  5. 7 ellde2012 June 28, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    The heart of Woodlawn has been ripped out and it can never be revitalized. My family go back to 1928 in Woodlawn, when the heart & soul is gone so is the neighborhood community!

    • 8 Richard June 28, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      It is truly a sad commentary. My comments here back in June 2016 express how deeply I agree with you. My grandfather was a carpenter that helped build White City and many of the wooden buildings along Stony Island leading up to the Museum. He was involved in constructing many of the fine Victorian apartment buildings nearby. His family moved to Woodlawn during that period and our family remained there until the mid-50s. Yes, no heart and certainly no soul! What a waste…

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