The entrance to the Belmont subway station, an International style structure surrounded by an intermodal bus terminal, is seen looking southwest on October 23, 2003. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Belmont (3200N/3400W)
Belmont Avenue and Kimball Avenue, Avondale

Service Notes:

Blue Line: O'Hare (Milwaukee-Kimball Subway)

Owl Service

Quick Facts:

Address: 3355 W. Belmont Avenue
Established: February 1, 1970
Original Line: West-Northwest Route, Milwaukee branch
(Milwaukee-Kimball Subway)
Previous Names: none

Skip-Stop Type:

Station (1970-1983)

Station (1983-1995)

Rebuilt: 2017-2019
(street-level entrance rebuilt, mezzanine and platform renovation)
Status: In Use

History:

The extension of the Milwaukee Line of the West-Northwest Route (the forerunner of today's Blue Line) reached its new terminal at Jefferson Park via a new subway and the median of the Kennedy Expressway. Two stations, Logan Square and Belmont, were built as part of the Milwaukee-Kimball Subway, the only subway stations built as part of the entire Kennedy-Dan Ryan ("KDR") project.

The rectilinear design of Skidmore's architecture -- the stainless steel agent's booth, the backlit sign box, the ceiling coffers -- is exemplified in the station's fare control mezzanine, seen on October 23, 2003. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

The design of Belmont station, like the rest of the KDR project, was carried out by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who developed a modern, functional form. Skidmore took the KDR project in a unique direction, designing all aspects of the new lines to harmonize in both shapes and materials. All windbreaks, dividers, and ticket booths were stainless steel. The shape of everything, from the buildings to the agents' booths, to the trashcans, flowed together into a seamless design philosophy, which perfectly captured the boxy, purely functional International Modern style for which Skidmore is so well known.

Another hallmark of the Kennedy and Dan Ryan extensions, reflecting a change in transit design and philosophy in the postwar era, was that many of the stations were designed to be intermodal. Designers no longer assumed that walk-in traffic from local neighborhoods and surrounding businesses would support the usage levels needed to justify a transit station, so many were designed to be intermodal, integrating a bus terminal into the design. Buses were also sometimes rerouted specifically to serve a station to enhance the station's ridership (although no reroutes were instituted to serve Belmont). Of course, having multiple modes connect at transit nodes also makes a system more effective and better integrated as a unit.

So, Belmont's street level entrance finds itself wrapped around on its south and east sides by an off-street bus terminal. The entrance itself is a simple International Style steel-and-glass enclosure around a set of stairs and an escalator leading down to the mezzanine were the fare controls are located. The enclosure is topped with a large box canopy supported by four I-beam corner posts that cantilevers out several feet on all sides from the closure. This covered space acts as a protected waiting area for bus passengers. The steel of the enclosure was painted all white. As built, the were no marks or signage that specifically identified the enclosure as a CTA "L" station. Rather, there was a pylon located to the northwest of the entrance, on the corner of Belmont and Kimball, topped with a sign that read "Use Rapid Transit". These were typical of KDR stations.

The fare controls are at a mezzanine level. The mezzanine is not enclosed, as in the State and Dearborn subways, but is cantilevered over the platform, and thus functions more as an open deck overlooking the track level. The rectilinear motif of Skidmore's design is reflected in the ceiling, signage, agent's booth, the original turnstiles (since replaced), and the simple tubular railings. The station has a concession at mezzanine level.

The island platform is spacious, with a column-free platform obtained by using a box-girder construction. The walls of the station mezzanine and platform areas were off-white brick (since discolored to a tan hue), with white concrete coffered ceilings and fluorescent lights recessed in the coffers. Further down the platform from the mezzanine, the ceiling lowers and becomes arched concrete. The platform was outfitted with amenities specially designed to coordinate with the station, including benches and pedestal-mounted box signs with station symbol signs and bus connection information.

In mid-2002, the station received some enhanced identification at street level. With the "Use Rapid Transit" pylon long since removed, the fascia of the box canopy over the entrance was repainted blue to denote the Blue Line and make it stand out more in the surrounding environment. Large white vinyl letters were applied that read "Blue Line - Belmont", preceded by the CTA train symbol. In some ways, this application presaged the modification of the standard station entrance signs to include the station name, the first of which was installed in 2004. This lettering was later covered in a repainting of the canopy fascia.

 

'Gateway' Entrance Renovation

Rendering of the 'community gateway' street-level canopy over the Belmont subway entrance and bus terminal. For a larger view, click here. (Rendering courtesy of CTA)

On October 17, 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. announced plans for an improvement project at the Belmont station that would infuse unique architecture into the Northwest Side neighborhood. The renovation project would include a 'community gateway,' architecturally enhancing the street-level entrance to the Belmont subway station, and improve the bus arrival/departure areas to speed bus boarding.

The most visible element is an architectural canopy above the Belmont station entrance. Designed by the Chicago architecture firm Carol Ross Barney, the canopy was intended to provide an expanded covered area for waiting customers, while creating a strong visual identifier for both the CTA and the community. Ross Barney, who provided another striking design for the "L" at Cermak-McCormick Place and designed Morgan as well, sought to provide a visually striking design for the site. Some have likened the canopy's look to a metal bird in flight,1 a bird's wing,2 and the top of a 1950s drive-in.3

According to architect Carol Ross Barney, when she was hired to design the new station, she thought back to the old Olson Park and Waterfall, a park built by the owner of the Olson Rug factory during the Great Depression, which became a very popular neighborhood attraction in Avondale before it closed in the 1970s. "For my five-year-old eyes, the idea of a waterfall flowing through the streets of Chicago was so extraordinary. So we wanted to create something that would be at least a memory of that, something almost a thought as exciting," she said. "So when we were working on this, we thought about it as a big blue waterfall; and I hope that children, riders, people of Chicago will appreciate it as much as I appreciate landmarks in the city."4

The gateway will also incorporate prepaid bus boarding, which CTA began testing in summer 2016 with a six-month pilot at the Belmont Blue station. Prepaid boarding allows customers at the station to prepay their bus fares ahead of boarding westbound #77 Belmont buses in the bus terminal during the weekday evening rush hours (3pm to 7pm). The goal of the pilot program was to study how permitting customers to pre-pay their fares in a designated area improves the speed and efficiency of bus boarding and overall bus service. Prepaid boarding at this location was subsequently made permanent. The improved bus terminal also included new LED lighting and additional overhead heaters, new digital screens, new sidewalks and driveways,5 and new signage.

Inside the rail station, improvements included new LED lighting and repainting throughout, new concrete platform decking,6 and some new signage. The project did not include elevators to make the station wheelchair-accessible and ADA-complaint, which resulted in some public objections.7 8 9 At the ribbon-cutting, CTA President Dorval Carter said the CTA simply didn't have the money to install an elevator as part of the project.10 It actually wouldn't be a matter of installing one elevator to make the station accessible but two -- an elevator from street level to the unpaid side of the station mezzanine and an elevator from the paid side of the mezzanine to the platform. In addition, once vertical access changes are made, other code requirements that have come into being since the station was built in 1970 would come into play, and a second exit at the south end of the platform to provide a second egress path out of the station to street level would also need to be built. Making the Belmont Blue Line vertically accessible is especially challenging because it is a subway facility, requiring costly sub-surface excavation and utility location. Because of these factors, the full Belmont Blue station accessibility project is estimated to cost between $68 million11 and $71 million,12 more than four times the entire renovation project. CTA intends to make Belmont station accessible as part of their Strategic Plan for All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP), a comprehensive plan to make our entire rail system 100% vertically accessible. The timing of when this can occur is dependent on future State and Federal capital programs.13

The Belmont Gateway Project also included streetscape and landscape improvements which, combined with the station improvements, will create a signature gateway to the Avondale community.14

On September 13, 2017, the Chicago Transit Board approved the award of a design/build contract for the rehabilitation and upgrade of Belmont Blue Line, as well as Jefferson Park Blue Line station. Walsh Construction Company II, LLC was awarded the $30.8 million contract following a competitive procurement process.

Construction began in autumn 2017, and was substantially complete inside the rail station by the end of 2018. The gateway canopy and other work in the bus terminal was substantially completed in spring 2019, with a ribbon-cutting taking place on Friday, March 29, 2019. Punchlist work in both the rail station and bus terminal continued into mid-2019.

The gateway project cost $17 million, funded by bond proceeds, and was part of the Your New Blue modernization program for renovating Blue Line stations, track and signals.15

In early February 2020, the American Institute of Steel Construction announced the nine winning projects for their 2020 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel Awards, which is regarded as the highest honor in in the U.S. structural steel industry. The awards competition distinguishes U.S.-based projects that demonstrate the exciting possibilities of building with structural steel. The canopy at Belmont won in the "Sculptures/Art Installations/Non-Building Structures" category.16

 

Belmont's platform achieves a spacious feeling thanks to its high, coffered ceilings and column-free environment. This view looks south on October 23, 2003 as an inbound Blue Line train leaves the station. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)


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The sleek, streamlined 2200-series railcars were used for the dedication trip of the new Kennedy Extension rapid transit line. Built by the Budd Company with aesthetics designed by the same architects who designed the stations -- Skidmore Owings & Merrill -- the six-car train led by car 2255 perfectly compliments the open, airy, modern Belmont station, seen looking down from mezzanine level on January 30, 1970. (CTA photo)

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The modern, open steel-and-glass station entrance at Belmont is located on an island surrounded by the two main cross-streets (background) and the off-street bus turnaround (foreground), seen looking northwest on October 23, 2003. At the time of the photo, the turnaround was only used by westbound #77 Belmont buses. Eastbound #77 buses stopped on the street alongside the entrance, while #82 Kimball-Homan buses stop on Kimball in both directions. (Photo by by Graham Garfield)

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This view looking north on the Belmont platform on October 23, 2003 shows the station's high ceilings and how the fare control mezzanine is open and cantilevered over the platform like an open deck, somewhat reminiscent of the Washington DC Metro's subway stations. (Photo by by Graham Garfield)

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On the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour, sponsored by Chicago-L.org, tour guide Graham Garfield discusses the unity of design and coherent philosophy behind SOM's modern Belmont station, as tour members listen and look on. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Tour co-guide John Craib-Cox points out relevant aspects of Belmont station's design to members of the 2003 Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Tour guide Graham Garfield, perched atop on the the station's custom-designed granite benches, discusses Belmont's architecture as an in-service outbound Blue Line train stops during the Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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This unique and dramatic perspective from the fare control mezzanine shows the participants of the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour walking down the platform toward the stairs and escalator, making their way to street-level to continue the tour of the station. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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The members of the 2003 Historic "L" Station Tour gather outside of the station entrance to hear about the design of the street level facilities on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Graham Garfield explains the history of Avondale and the context of the station in the surrounding community while standing on front of the eastbound Belmont bus stop in front of the station during the Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

Notes:

1. Wisniewski, Mary. "CTA plans $15 million upgrade for Belmont Blue Line station". Chicago Tribune, October 17, 2016.
2. Hinz, Greg. "CTA brings beauty to key el stops". Crain's Chicago Business, October 17, 2016.
3. Wisniewski, Mary. "New $17 million CTA Belmont Blue Line station completed." Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2019.
4. "New $17 Million Blue Line Belmont Station Finished." CBS Chicago, March 29, 2019.
5. Wisniewski 2019, ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Bloom, Mina. "Bold New Belmont Blue Line Station Makes Its Debut, But Lack Of Elevator Irks Some Riders." Block Club Chicago, March 29, 2019.
8. Greenfield, John. "Is CTA Excuse for Not Adding Elevators to Belmont Blue Legit? An ADA Advocate Weighs in." Streetsblog Chicago, March 11, 2019.
9. Manier, Miranda. "OPINION: Blue Line construction disregards disabled people." The Chronicle, April 15, 2019.
10. Bloom, ibid.
11. "CTA Statement Regarding Belmont Blue Line Accessibility Improvements." CTA website. April 10, 2019, accessed May 13, 2019.
12. Bloom, ibid.
13. "CTA Statement Regarding Belmont Blue Line Accessibility Improvements," ibid.
14. "Mayor Emanuel, CTA Announce Belmont Blue Station Upgrades to Feature Notable Architecture." CTA press release, October 17, 2016.
15. "Construction Project Briefing, April 10, 2019." Report to the CTA Board. April 10, 2019, accessed May 13, 2019.
16. D'Angelo, Madeleine. "AISC Announces Winners of 2020 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel Awards." Architect magazine, February 6, 2020.