By David Mendell
Date of Publication: December 13, 2000
Source: Chicago Tribune
Built to carry rail passengers to the 1893 World's Fair in Jackson Park, the Garfield Boulevard "L" station is on its way to becoming a protected city landmark.
The South Side station at Garfield Boulevard and Prairie Avenue likely will receive preliminary landmark status from a city advisory commission.
The station and its overpass, now a Green Line stop for the Chicago Transit Authority, was part of Chicago's original "Alley L" mass transit system, the beginnings of which were built in 1892.
It is one of the oldest--perhaps the oldest--intact public transit stations in the country, according to a report by the city's Commission on Landmarks.
Many early elevated rail stations in New York City and Boston were destroyed, and it is uncertain if portions of stations that remain in those cities are older than Garfield, said Jim Peters, a deputy city commissioner in the Planning Department's landmarks division.
"People around the world know about Chicago's elevated train system and this is the oldest surviving station," Peters said. "It's an interesting and valuable piece of Chicago's history--and it's still there."
Chicago's first rail lines, built in 1892, served the South Side. The earliest line ran from Congress Parkway to 39th Street and was operated by the South Side Rapid Transit Co. Just months after opening that route, the company extended service from 40th to 63rd Streets, parallel to Indiana Avenue, and then from Jackson Park to the Garfield station at 5500 south.
Designed by architect Myron Church, the Garfield station is the last example of the city's original, "bow-fronted," Arts and Crafts-style train station, according to the city report. While most later stations were utilitarian in nature, the report said, Garfield's steel overpass features decorative designs, and the station is adorned with rough-textured brick and rows of Classical-style brick moldings.
Today, the station forms the gateway to the Washington Park neighborhood, and new platforms for the Green Line are being constructed on the station's north side.
Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th) said she is delighted the city is recognizing a piece of history in her ward, an area that has seen little attention from preservationists over the years, she added.
"For too long, landmark designation-worthy buildings in Chicago's inner city were largely ignored, while downtown, Near North and North Side structures were preserved and protected, and their surroundings flourished," Troutman said. "But so much of the origin of Chicago's history emanates from its great South Side."
Preliminary landmark status would ensure that any significant changes to the structure would need approval A final landmark designation must be approved by the City Council and can take more than a year to complete.