The Wilson Shops, as seen looking north from Montrose Avenue. The Lower Wilson Yard can be seen at grade in the background. Just about everything in this view - the wooden cars, the upper and lower yards, the shop building, the North Shore Line parcel dispatch building in the lower left - are gone today. (Photo from the Charles E. Keevil and Walter R. Keevil Collection)
Wilson Yard &
Sunnyside Avenue and Broadway, Uptown
Red Line: Howard
Address: 1036 W. Montrose Avenue
Shop Area: 39,205 square feet
Yard Area: 105,200 square feet
Status: Burned, Demolished
Like the other three main "L" companies, the Northwestern Elevated planned to build its chief maintenance facility and storage yard at the end of its line at Wilson Avenue. To maximize storage capacity on what was a relatively small space, the Northwestern built a two-level complex between Montrose and Wilson. A four-track brick shop (whose upper stories also housed the company's offices) and small storage yard were built on an elevated steel structure, at track level. Below, a second "lower" yard was constructed, connected to the elevated main line by two ramps.
By mid-1900, the Wilson Yard had been completed, but work was just beginning on the massive four-track, three-story shop building. By the end of the year, the complex was mostly complete. The shop opened in 1901.
A loop track was added to the lower yard in 1907 and a small stucco station was added, acting as an auxiliary to the main Wilson station. The loop was laid out such that train leaving the platform could go all the way around and proceed southbound for another trip, or enter the yard. Express trains utilized the lower station.
The Wilson Shops continued to be used for over 90 years, through many changes in services. In 1906, the Ravenswood branch opened, followed by the Evanston extension in 1908 and the Niles Center branch in 1925. Although some small yard and shop facilities were built at Kimball and Linden, followed by a small yard at Howard in 1919, Wilson remained the main maintenance and storage facility for the North Side Division. In 1949, the Lower Wilson station ceased to the used for revenue operations, but the lower yard remained in use for some time. But by the mid-1970s (through probably a good deal earlier), the lower yard had been demolished and the connection severed.
In 1949, the practice of ending some runs at Wilson ceased and all trains were run through to Howard. This made the mid-line location of the Wilson Yard and Shop less than ideal, besides the fact that the facility was rapidly aging.
In 1960, the shop received a $36,500 improvement project, getting a facelift of sorts. The upper row of windows on the exterior were bricked in. The original small-paned window sash along the lower trackside part of the exterior was removed in favor of glass block windows with a single row of clear windows along the bottom. Supposedly, the new windows would allow more daylight into the shop and make the interior less drafty, cutting down on the amount of heat that escaped through the old windows. A new heating system was also installed under the project in 1959.
By the 1990s, the facility was cramped and ill-suited to the performance of some maintenance on the more sophisticated modern "L" cars. As part of the impending through-routing of Howard service with the Dan Ryan (it has previously been run south to Englewood-Jackson Park), a plan was formulated to expand and modernize the Howard Yard and build a new, state-of-the-art Howard Shop.
The new Howard facility opened in 1993 and the main maintenance and storage functions for the North-South Route were moved from Wilson to Howard. Wilson continued to be used for auxiliary purposes, but the shop building fell victim to a fire and burned down on October 26, 1996. The site was cleared soon thereafter. Today, only a few sidings from the north end of the yard remain.
Wilson Yards Redevelopment
As Uptown began to redevelop in the late-1990s, private development schemes were quickly contemplated on the former shop and yard site, a sizable piece of property. The Wilson Yard Redevelopment Task Force was established in 1997 to discuss the feasibility of the development of the yard site, for which a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district was created circa 2001 to help spur and fund development on and around the property. A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the Purchase and Redevelopment of the site was issued in April 2002 and the City of Chicago designated a partnership between Chicago developers Holsten Real Estate Development Corp. and Kenard Corp. as developer for the Wilson Yard site in Fall 2002. 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller presided over a four year community planning process in which residents advocated for widely-diverging ideas of what the former yard site should be used for. Ultimately, Holsten developed a mixed-use development project for the site, including a "big box" store, a cinema, affordable and senior housing, a new Aldi store, ground-floor retail, and offices on upper floors.
On December 16, 2004, the Chicago Transit Board authorized the sale of property at the former Wilson Yard to the City of Chicago at the market rate price of $6.6 million. The City of Chicago will, in turn, sell the property to Holsten to develop the property. In addition to the sale of the property, the CTA® agreed to pay up to $750,000 for environmental remediation of the property. The money will come out of the sale of the property and be held in escrow to assist the City and the developer. The $6.6 million sale helped add revenue to the CTA's® operating budget which, at the time of the sale, was facing a deficit due to an imbalance in regional funding.
At the time of the sale, the 164,000 square foot property still contained a CTA® maintenance shop and outdoor storage areas. The maintenance shop and storage areas will be relocated to other CTA® properties. As part of the terms of the sale, the CTA® will retain permanent easement rights necessary in order to have access for activities related to operations and maintenance of Red Line service and track structure.
In mid-January 2005, the City Council approved a zoning change for the entire site of the long-debated, $113 million mixed-use Wilson Yard development project. The project was to be introduced to the City Council Finance Committee in February 2005.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Holsten plans to begin construction of a new Aldi grocery store at the north end of the site on vacant land that is just south of the McJunkin Building. Aldi operated a store in the middle of the development site, which needed to be demolished so other parts of the project could be built. Once Aldi has relocated, Holsten planned to demolish the existing Aldi building and a vacant building to the south of it, and begin building three structures:
In February 2006, Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres LLC dropped its plans to open a 12-screen movie theater in the Wilson Yards development, stating that construction costs would be too high. "Whenever you build up, it's a lot more expensive," said Tony Kerasotes, the movie chain's CEO in Crane's Chicago Business. The movie theater would have cost about $24 million to build, but Kerasotes' financial projections would only justify a cost of about $18 million, said Holsten President Peter Holsten.
So, Holsten Real Estate Development Corp. is moving forward without a theater. Without a theater, Holsten will be able to add about 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space to the project. Target Corp. may also put parking on top of its store instead of underground, as it originally planned.
Chicago-based FitzGerald Associates designed the Wilson Yard development project. Holsten aims to begin construction by the end of 2006. Holsten's first construction phase will be a new Aldi grocery store on vacant land just south of the McJunkin Building (4554 N. Broadway, at the north end of the development site). After moving Aldi's from the McJunkin, the developer will begin the rest of the construction.
Inside the Wilson Shops, the 1900-vintage facility services its fourth generation of rolling stock. In this October 22, 1991 view, cars 3001-3002, 2919-2920 and a pair of 2000s are being serviced. (Photo by Art Peterson)
CRT car 1005 (formally Northwestern car 5) is on a hoist at Wilson Shops. (Photo from the CTA Collection)
Wilson Yard is seen looking northeast in 1967 from the North Side Main Line south of the shops, seen on the left. The tracks in the foreground originally provided a south entrance to the yard from the main line, but were severed in the years after the CTA® assumed control of the "L". By the 1960s and early 1970s, Wilson Yard mostly houses equipment for Evanston Express and Ravenswood tripper trains. (Photo by Miles Beitler)
Car 6003 is seen here on November 29, 1977 at Wilson Shops, already out of service and awaiting to go to Skokie Shops. The shop building, now gone, can be seen in the background. (Photo by Peter Vesic)
Car 6212 sits in the Wilson Yard between assignments on May 28, 1978. (Photo by Ed McKernen, Collection of Joe Testagrose)