Skokie Restores '20s Rail Station

Wright influence, bungalow style among features


By Ed Finkel
Special to the Tribune

Date of Publication: November 27, 2002
Source: Chicago Tribune


To save a piece of its history, Skokie is restoring the Dempster Station, a train building that captures both the influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the popular bungalow style that swept Chicago in the 1920s.

"Not every building is worth saving," said Dick Witry, vice president of the Skokie Historical Society. "But we have so little of architectural significance or attractiveness in Skokie, that you've got to preserve what you have."

The building at Dempster Street and Bronx Avenue should be open for retail occupancy by spring or early summer, said Tom Thompson, Skokie's economic development coordinator. A coffee chain and one or two other tenants, possibly a bank branch, are expected to move into the old station, officials said.

The village sold the building for $1 to the project's co-developers, the Taxman Corp. and Terraco Inc., both based in Skokie. A Taxman official declined to say how much the work would cost.

Built in the mid-1920s, the Dempster Station "signified the growth of the village of Skokie," said Joe Antunovich of the architectural firm Antunovich Associates, which is handling the design work for the restoration.

"That makes it very much a local landmark in Skokie, to those who can remember back years and years...That [station] was one of the village's lifebloods."

The brick building combined the Prairie style of Wright and the bungalow style popular in the residential development of the time, said Bill McMillan, lead architect on the project for Antunovich Associates.

It is one of nine station buildings designed by Arthur Gerber, a protege of Wright's, and one of only two that remains standing, he said. The other station is in Kenosha.

The Skokie station "is the largest and best example of that prototype," McMillan said. "It's special because it is architecturally unique. It was really a residential (bungalow) design that was used for a train station."

Used for CTA elevated trains and the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railway until 1963, the building had fallen into disrepair and had been slated for demolition in 1992, officials said.

But preservationists objected, and the village decided to try to restore the structure.

"We took away the years of neglect, and behind the drywall and behind the coverup, there was this beautiful brick work and beautiful windows," said Antunovich, who is vice chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Council.

The restoration will include cleaning the brick, installing duplicates of Prairie-style T-shaped windows where some had been bricked over, replacing the asphalt-shingled roof with the original green clay tile and adding copper gutters.

Witry hopes the restored station will help add new life to what he sees as a dowdy stretch of Dempster Street.

"I think this building will be attractive and will add a great deal to this area. Immediately to the east, it's the ugliest set of strip malls in the world," he said.

"The village has been trying to spruce up Dempster Street for ages, but they haven't succeeded. Hopefully, people will look at the positives generated by this building and start applying them to adjacent properties."