The historic Damen station, looking northwest on May 9, 2012. The station dates from the opening of the Metropolitan "L" in 1895, although the front bay was reconstructed, revealed by its brick being lighter than the rest of the station's. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Damen

(2000W/1600N) Damen entrance

(1600N/2000W) North exit

Damen Avenue, North Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue, Wicker Park (West Town)

Service Notes:

Blue Line: O'Hare

Owl Service

Quick Facts:

Address: 1558 N. Damen Avenue
Established: May 6, 1895
Original Line: Metropolitan West Side Elevated, Logan Square branch
Previous Names: Robey Street

Skip-Stop Type:

Station

Rebuilt: n/a
Status: In Use

History:

The interior of Damen station, seen here on October 26, 2003, has a number of historic features including hardwood floor, a historic agent's booth, and incandescent lights. The paint scheme is likely not historically accurate, but it nonetheless pleasing. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

Originally named Robey Street, Damen was built as part of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated's Northwest Branch (aka Logan Square Branch) in 1895. The station house is typical of Met designs on the Northwest and Garfield Park branches. Built by the Jonathan Clark & Sons Company for the general contractor, Alfred Walcott, the stations were designed by the engineering staff of the Metropolitan company. Constructed of red pressed brick with stone sills and foundations, their vernacular style might best be described as Queen Anne-influenced with some Romanesque features. The station's original design was highlighted by the semicircular bay/portico, a lattice pattern in the brick cornice, extensive terra cotta work including the word "entrance" above one door in the portico and "exit" above the other (although there is nothing to force ingress from one and egress from the other), dentals above the doors' story lights, and carved wooden beads flush with the building between the wooden brackets which support a wooden canopy over the portico. The stations has dual side platforms, with canopies and railings typical of all Met stations: Designed into the railings are larger cast iron square plates with a stylized diamond design. The stairs and platforms are constructed of wood on a steel structure. Each platform has a short canopy in the center of the platform, covering the stairs and a small waiting area. The canopy frame is iron, with arched latticed supports and bracketed rafters, and hipped roofs of corrugated tin.

Damen was an important station on the Metropolitan "L" for more than fifty years, located just before the junction of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park lines. Except during rush hours when through service to downtown was operated and owl service when only a single car was used, Humboldt Park trains pushed their trailers to Robey Street where they coupled to trains from Logan Square for the trip downtown. The introduction of multiple unit control (allowing each car to operate as a motor independently) in 1904-05 eliminated this awkward procedure. More through trains were eventually added, although coupling procedures continued at Damen in some form or another until 1950.

The Damen shuttle platform for Humboldt Park shuttle trains is seen looking west on June 27, 1957. The platform hasn't seen regular service for five years at this point. The track-level walkway connecting the shuttle platform to the main line's southbound platform is seen on the left. For a larger view, click here. (CTA photo)

An interlocking tower was installed just north of the station to monitor train operations at the nearby junction, though it was never actually used as such: by the time the tower was built, there were few if any movements between the Humboldt Park branch and the Logan Square line. By 1950, the CTA had targeted the branch for abandonment and with the through-routing of Logan Square trains into the new Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway on February 25, 1951, the nail was put in the coffin of the Humboldt Park branch. Effective on the same date the subway opened, Humboldt through-service to the Wells Terminal was abandoned and reduced to a Lawndale-Damen shuttle at all times. Humboldt trains also no longer discharged directly onto the inbound platform at Damen for a direct, same-platform transfer. A new platform was built on the branch itself, just west of the junction with the Logan Square branch. A long track-level walkway led from the shuttle platform, along the tracks, through the Damen Tower, and onto the north end of the inbound Damen platform. Thus, the Humboldt shuttle cars never conflicted with the through-routed Logan Square cars. The transfer between Logan Square and Humboldt Park trains now proved to be rather inconvenient. An outbound passenger had to go down the stairs from the northbound platform to the mezzanine, back up on the southbound platform, through the tower, and down the nearly block and a half long track-level roofless walkway to the shuttle platform. About the same time, the north end of the outbound platform was extended and a new exit stairway was opened at the end, with a bus stop added at the bottom of same, to facilitate transfers to the North Avenue trolley buses, thus further discouraging ridership on the Humboldt. On May 4, 1952, the Humboldt Park branch was abandoned by the CTA as hopelessly unprofitable and closed. Damen became a tranquil neighborhood station.

In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of electric "L" service in Chicago and of the Metropolitan Elevated, the Damen station, which is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, was renovated by CTA forces. Rehabilitation work was mostly concentrated in the station house, which received upgraded (but historic) lighting, striping of much of the interior's woodwork, laying a totally new oak floor in the station house and on the landings on the stairs up to the platforms, covering the walls of the walkways between the station and the stairs with new wall-to-ceiling tongue-in-groove paneling and a display of historic photographs of the station in the stairwell, as well as old fashioned (but inauthentic) signage in the station. The station's fare collection booth -- which may or may not be original, but is certainly old -- was moved from the middle to the east side of the interior to make more room for the fare controls. The exterior brick was cleaned, but the front bay was considerably modified, with most of the brickwork completely new and some of the original terra cotta removed. The station was rededicated on Sunday, August 20, 1995 and Blue Line management provided an 8-car train of historic 5-50 series PCC cars (like those pictured below, though not in their original paint scheme) to run special Damen-to-Morgan Middle round trips open to the public.

Some of the original graceful wrought iron platform railings were removed in April 1998 and replaced with square steel tube railings. Perhaps most significantly, some of the station's original ornate platform lights remain. These unique lights were once prevalent on the Metropolitan "L", now remaining only here.

Above: New sodium "shoebox" lights are seen at Damen on September 9, 2011, alongside the historic shepherd's crook incandescent lights they replaced. For a larger view, click here.
Below: Just a few months later, on May 9, 2012, newer lights are up at Damen -- a modernized version of the shepherd's crook poles. The poles from the short-lived sodium lights are laying on the platform. For a larger view, click here.
(Photos by Graham Garfield)

During October and November 2003, CTA Sheet Metal Department crews renewed the metalwork on the historic platforms at Damen and California on the Milwaukee Elevated, including the canopies, canopy supports, railings, and stairs. At both stations, crews stripped old paint from the canopy roofs, posts, and supports and from railings, then sanded the ironwork down to remove additional paint, rust, and corrosion. Patching and repairs were made as necessary. The metalwork was then primed and given a fresh coat of white paint. Renewal and painting was also performed in the stringers that support the platform decking. Work on the platforms at Damen continued though December 2003.

Damen is one of five CTA sites that were planned to provide access to vehicles belonging to I-GO, a car-sharing program. At their August 11, 2004 meeting, the Chicago Transit Board approved the agreement between the CTA , the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and its affiliate I-GO Car Sharing (I-GO) to promote the use of public transportation by providing additional options for public transit users. The agreement establishes a yearlong pilot program where members can access I-GO vehicles at locations adjacent to or near public transportation.

In Fall 2005, the CTA began replacing the 1980s KDR-style platform signage with Green Line Graphic Standard station name signs and symbol signs. On each platform, south of the stairs, reproductions of symbol signs for Damen from the 1950s and 1980s were also installed, creating a sort of homage to the lineage and evolution of the design of that particular sign type.

Damen was one of the last stations on the "L" system to retain its historic incandescent bulb-lit shepherd's crook lights on the platforms. (Wilson was the other; the fixtures at Quincy are reproductions.) In the summer of 2011, these lights were replaced with sodium "shoebox" fixture lights on new poles. When the new fixtures were installed and lit, the old shepherd's crook poles were removed. Fortunately, the three original light poles -- fluted posts integrated into the railing system, original to the station's 1895 construction -- at the north end of the station were left in place and not affected.

The sodium shoebox-fixture platform lights didn't last long, as they were replaced by May 2012 with entirely new poles and fixtures. The new lights were modern, but made a good effort to evoke the feel of the historic lights using new components. The poles are unpainted steel and bent into a shepherd's crook with a bend shape close to those of authentic historic "L" lights, though the poles are a bit taller to keep the light fixture further out of reach of passengers. The light is a single bulb enclosed in a glass cover surrounded by a metal cage-type protector, covered by a saucer-shaped white metal shade. The three original 1895 light fixtures remained through this renovation as well. At the same time, lights were installed on the exterior of the station house, with dark green crooked pipe mountings and top-color on the saucer shades.

 

Your New Blue: Station Improvements

On December 5, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn announced a comprehensive improvement plan for the Blue Line O'Hare Branch (including the northern portion of the Dearborn Subway), an overhaul that will provide faster travel times and updated stations while creating more than 1,300 jobs.

The $492 million plan, called Your New Blue, includes several track and station improvement projects along a 12.5-mile stretch of the Blue Line between the Grand and Cumberland stations, as well as upgrades to the signal system between the Jefferson Park and O'Hare stations. The overall Your New Blue program, beginning construction in 2014 and planned to last four years, is a package of several discrete projects ranging from station improvements to track renewal, signal replacement, traction power upgrades, and subway tunnel water mitigation efforts.

Damen is one of the stations planned to receive improvements under the program. The scope of these improvements includes work in front of the station at street level, to the station house, and to the platforms. Outside the station, planned improvements include repainting of the elevated track structure, installation of new lighting on the elevated structure to light the historic station house, replacement of sidewalk and plaza paving, and the installation of new bike racks. The historic station house is planned to be tuckpointed, have its flooring replaced with new terrazzo, replacement of windows and doors, replacement of the plaster ceiling and lighting, a new stainless steel Customer Assistant's booth, and the installation of public art. Behind the station house, the stairs to the mezzanine are to be replaced, and the bike storage room is to receive new flooring and lighting and a new bike storage system. The platforms are programmed to get repairs to the historic stairways between the mezzanine and each platform, painting of the historic canopies and railings, replacement of the decking, new lighting, and new furnatire.1 2 Historic features of the station will be preserved and restored.3

On February 5, 2014, the Chicago Transit Board approved the award of a $25.6 million design/build contract for the rehabilitation of the Damen, Western and California stations. F. H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen and Associates, LLC was awarded the station rehabilitation contract following a competitive procurement process.4

At the same meeting, the Board also approved contracts for artists to develop unique artwork for each station that reflects the neighboring community and will beautify the stations for customers' enjoyment. After reviewing 100 responses to a Call for Artists issued in December 2013 for artistic merit and related qualifications, the CTA awarded the contract to create public art for Damen station to Benjamin Ball/Gaston Nogues of Los Angeles, CA.5

The Damen station will close October 20 and reopen December 22, 2014 to allow construction to take place. The CTA will provide additional #56 Milwaukee bus service during the closure on weekday morning and evening rush periods. In addition, "owl'' service will be added during overnight hours to link Damen to the closest stations in either direction in place of overnight Blue Line service. The California station, receiving a similar rehab, will close before Damen, between September 4 and October 16, 2014.6

 

Damen station, seen looking northwest on May 9, 2012, displays a charming ambiance, thanks to its historic character and the surrounding attractive, trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. The station's original canopies and railings lend it a high level of design integrity, and while the lights are replacements their shape and design keep them in context with the station. In the background is the Art Deco-style Northwest Tower Building, popularly known as the Coyote Building. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)


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The long track-level walkway leading from the north end of the inbound Damen platform, through the Damen Tower, and along the tracks to the Humboldt shuttle platform is seen here looking west circa 1951. (Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection)

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The final variation of the PCC "L" car color scheme is represented here on cars 41 and 42 seen at Damen on June 26, 1960, while on a Central Electric Railfans' Association (CERA) fantrip. The cars are equipped with trolley poles for their impending assignment to the Evanston Line (which didn't switch to third rail until 1973). Single unit cars served the Milwaukee Line until 1970. (Photo by Ray DeGroote)

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Car 6516 leads a Congress-Milwaukee "A" train at Damen on August 21, 1970. Note the Identra Coil on the lower left side of 6516. A 2200-series train passes on the other track. (Photo by Joe Testagrose)

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Car 6600 trails a four-car Douglas-Milwaukee "B" train at Damen/Milwaukee on October 5, 1972. Compare this photo to this picture of it at Fullerton in 1993, shortly before it went to the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine the next year. Note the ornamental platform lights that date back to the station's opening in 1895. (Photo by Steve Zabel, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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Car 2635 trails a four-car Douglas-Milwaukee "B" train at Damen/Milwaukee on December 1, 1982. The 2600-series cars are brand new at this point and are still cutting their teeth in revenue service. (Photo by Doug Grotjahn, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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A four-car Douglas-Milwaukee "B" train is trailed by new 2600-series car 2660 at Damen on September 1, 1982. The route would not be extended from Jefferson Park for another year. (Photo by Doug Grotjahn, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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The Damen station is seen looking southeast towards downtown, with the Loop skyline in the background, in 1993. Damen Tower is in the foreground on the right, while the walkway from the outbound platform to the North Avenue auxiliary exit is on the left. The station has a tired appearance, with graffiti in evidence in several places. (Photo by John Smatlak)
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Commuters cross Damen Avenue -- probably having come off the bus that is just in view on the extreme right -- heading toward the Damen station house, looking west in 1996. While the historic Queen Anne-influenced station house is shrouded in shadow below, the original 1895 platform and canopy are bathed in sunlight above. (Photo by John Smatlak)
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The historic Damen station house is seen under the elevated structure looking northwest across Damen Avenue in 1996. The building had been refurbished the year before for the 100th Anniversary of the Metropolitan Elevated. (Photo by John Smatlak)

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The bay entrances to the historic Damen station, looking west on Damen Avenue in 1999. The bay was reconstructed circa 1995, with the brickwork significantly lighter and somewhat different than on the rest of the front facade. (CTA photo)

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Cars 2219-2220 pull into Damen/Milwaukee in June of 2000. Note that the hopper windows are open, indicating that the A/C is not working in that car. (Photo by Eric Zabelny)

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John Craib-Cox of the Chicago Design Consortium discusses the engineering of the historic elevated structure outside the Damen/Milwaukee station house on the 2nd Annual Historic Station Tour on November 19, 2000. (Photo by Linda Garfield)

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Graham Garfield explains a bit about the structure's history outside Damen as 2nd Annual Historic Station Tour tourgoers listen attentively on November 19, 2000. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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The 2nd Annual Historic Station Tour group looks around the northbound platform at Damen on November 19, 2000. The iron-frame canopy, with arched latticed supports, bracketed rafters, and hipped roofs originally of corrugated tin is typical of standard Metropolitan Elevated platforms. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The 2nd Annual Historic Station Tour group gathers for a few more words on the southbound Damen platform while waiting for the charter train to return for the trip back downtown and to the Paulina Connector. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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A Loop-bound Blue Line train, led by car 2993, pulls around Damen Tower and into Damen station on September 3, 2001. The long platform on the outbound side (right) leads to an auxiliary exit to North Avenue, with the small canopy over the rotogate. (Photo by Mike Farrell)

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An O'Hare-bound train, with rehabbed car 3125 at the rear, leaves Damen/Milwaukee station, heading around the small S-curve north of Damen Tower, on its way north on September 3, 2001. (Photo by Mike Farrell)

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A Forest Park-bound Blue Line train, with car 3138 trailing at the rear, stops at Damen on its way downtown, before continuing on to the West Side and west suburbs, looking southeast on September 3, 2001. (Photo by Mike Farrell)

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Unrehabbed 2600-series car 3151 leads a northbound Blue Line train stopped at Damen station on September 3, 2001. Up ahead, in front of the train, the short canopy over the platform's auxiliary exit at North Avenue is visible. The slatted gate can be opened for entrance, but is never used as such in regular service. (Photo by Mike Farrell)

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Rehabbed car 3046 brings up the rear of an O'Hare-bound Blue Line train stopping at Damen, looking northwest on Saturday, January 12, 2002. The new cars provide a sharp contrast to the old Wicker Park transit station. (Photo by Bob Fitzpatrick)

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The historic Damen station, looking northwest on October 23, 2003. The station dates from the opening of the Metropolitan "L" in 1895, although the front bay was reconstructed, revealed by its brick being lighter than the rest of the station's. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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CTA maintenance personnel grind and sand the canopy and support of the northbound canopy at Damen on October 23, 2003. The railing panels, with their diamond ornamentation, have already been stripped and primed. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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A sheet metal worker sands the old paint off a canopy post at Damen on October 23, 2003. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Although the front bay of the Damen station house was modified in the 1990s, most of the rest of the exterior remains in original condition. The east elevation, for instance, still has its rusticated brickwork, stone sills, decorative cornice, and double-hung windows, seen on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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One of the charming things about Damen station was that it was only one of a couple stations to still retain its incandescent gooseneck light fixtures. Although three original Metropolitan Elevated-style fixtures remain, most were the generic type seen here on October 26, 2003 that were popular on all the elevated lines. These were removed in 2011. Historic Damen station fits in well with the rest of the Wicker Park Historic District, including the Art Deco-style Northwest Tower Building -- popularly known as the Coyote Building -- rising in the background. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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The tour group assembles in front of Damen station as guides Graham Garfield and John Craib-Cox discuss the design of the station and the neighborhood during the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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The tour participants are gathered in front of the Damen station in Wicker Park while local residents in the neighborhood walk by during the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. The restaurant and bar behind the tour group, called The Blue Line, has an exterior design that references the steel elevated structure at its front door. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Tour guides Graham Garfield (left) and John Craib-Cox (right) discuss station design and history, neighborhood background, and the 19th century industrial design of the steel elevated structure over the group at Damen station during the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Tour guide John Craib-Cox talks about the industrial construction methods of the day on the platform at Damen station while under the light of an original 1895 platform light of the type that the Metropolitan Elevated used at its station during the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. By 2003, only three of these lights remained anywhere on the system; all three are at Damen station. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Tour guide Graham Garfield points up at the short canopy over the auxiliary exit to North Avenue at the north end of the outbound platform at Damen station at tour participants watch, listen and walk down during the 5th Annual Historic "L" Station Tour on October 26, 2003. Garfield explained how the canopy and exit were installed by the CTA to provide a direct transfer to the North Avenue Limited express bus service. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)

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Damen station, seen looking northwest on October 16, 2005, displays a charming ambiance, thanks to its historic character and the surrounding attractive, trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. A northbound Blue Line train is pulling out of the station, with its original canopies and railings and one of only two stations left with shepherd's crook lights with incandescent bulbs. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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An inbound Blue Line train is departing Damen station in this view looking southeast on October 16, 2005. Much of the original station fabric is still present. The canopies are original, although the roofing was renewed in Fall 2003. The railings are original, and one of the few original Metropolitan Elevated light fixtures anywhere on the "L" system is visible on the left. The station name signs had recently been installed at the time of the photo. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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In Fall 2005, the CTA began replacing the 1980s KDR-style platform signage with Green Line Graphic Standard station name signs and symbol signs. On each platform, south of the stairs, reproductions of symbol signs for Damen from the 1950s and 1980s were also installed, seen at left on October 16, 2005. These installations created a sort of homage to the lineage of the symbol sign, and demonstrated the evolution of the design of that particular sign type over a period of 50 years. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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A detail view of one of the new platform light standards installed at Damen in Spring 2012, seen on May 9. 2012. While modern in terms of materials and components, the fixtures make a good effort to evoke the feel of the historic lights. The poles are unpainted steel and bent into a shepherd's crook, and although the pole is taller and the bend slightly "square-r" than the ones they replaced, the overall impression is consistent with the historic poles. Rather than the two or three incandescent bulbs of the originals, the light is a single bulb enclosed in a glass cover surrounded by a metal cage-type protector, covered by a saucer-shaped white metal shade. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The three original 1895 light fixtures remain at Damen, two at the north end of the inbound platform -- seen here on May 9, 2012 -- and one just north of the canopy on the outbound platform. These light standards -- original to the station's 1895 opening and even older than the historic light poles removed in 2011 -- are identifiable by their design: integrated into the railing design, the light posts extended above the railing and formed a fluted pole with a decorative capital onto which a gooseneck light fixture with a porcelain saucer-shaped shade with two or three incandescent light bulbs was attached. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Notes:

1. "Your New Blue." CTA website, accessed January 11, 2014.
2. "CTA Selects Your New Blue Contractor for Damen, Western and California station renovations" CTA press release. February 5, 2014.
3. Hilkevitch, Jon. "Blue Line work means Damen, California stations to close for weeks in September and October," Chicago Tribune. August 11, 2014.
4. CTA (Feb 5, 2014), ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Hilkevitch, ibid.