Posts Tagged 'Railroads'

South Loop Story (9-4-1963)

Chicago’s Grand Central Station—201 West Harrison Street

Chicago had become a great city because it was a great railroad city.  Today the discussion topic was terminal consolidation.

During the 1800s, railroads from the east had extended their tracks into Chicago.  They curved around the lake and entered from the south, building four terminals on the fringe of the business district—Central, Dearborn Street, La Salle Street, and Grand Central.  As a result, much of the area below Polk Street was taken up by rail yards.

Funneling rail traffic into a single station would bring efficiency, and open up more land to development.  With this idea in mind, the first Union Station was built in 1881, to be followed by a larger replacement in 1925.  By that time consolidation plans were well under way.

Then the Depression hit.  Then World War II.  The rail yards stayed, along with the four terminals.  The University of Illinois had looked at the land as a site for its new Chicago campus, but chose to locate at Harrison and Halsted instead.

Still, city planners had ambitious visions for the area.  In New York, Rockefeller Center and a good chunk of Midtown had been constructed on air rights over rail yards.  The same thing could work in Chicago.

Ira Bach of the Chicago Plan Commission hoped the railroads would finally get moving.  Bach said that “city government stands ready to assist the railroads through planning, zoning, and the development of new streets.”  Then a spur from the Dan Ryan Expressway could be extended to the Loop along Franklin Street.

The railroads saw the benefits of consolidation.  But the city still expected them to pick up most of the tab.  Railroad revenue was declining.  Henry Large of the Pennsylvania railroad said he was “willing to sit down and talk with anyone about consolidation plans.”  Large thought that private developers should come forward, and make the railroads an offer for their land.

So it stood in 1963—as it had in 1953, 1943, 1933, and all the way back to the building of the original Union Station.  A lot of talk about railroad terminal consolidation, but very little action.

The public finally settled the matter.  They stopped using intercity trains.  Railroads went bust, or were taken over by Amtrak.  Today most of the old rail yards south of the Loop have been built over.

—30—

Clearing away the Dearborn Street Station rail yards (1978)