Tour Gives Riders "L" of a Good Time
Another Angle on City Views


By Jon Anderson

Date of Publication: September 22, 1999
Source: Chicago Tribune


"If anyone is too tired, and wants to take an afternoon nap, you're welcome to stay on the train," said tour co-leader Patricia Rose, as the 61 travelers approached the Sheridan Road elevated station and their third stop of the day, Graceland Cemetery.

Of course, no one stayed behind.

Nor did anybody skip the Albany Park walk, a chance to poke through ethnic bakeries.

Later, passing through "hot" neighborhoods, the on-board guides drew attention to the "sure signs" of urban rehabbing. Look for plants in windows, iron fencing, new glass windows, sandblasted stone fronts and, easily seen from the "L" elevation, tuckpointing.

It was a day for splendid views of the tree forts of northwest Evanston, though the feeling of suburbia was somewhat dimmed by the sight of a canal filled with blue-green algae.

There was also much talk of strange places, wondrous things.

"Jarvis, never heard of that one before," noted one rider, as the train edged through Rogers Park toward the Howard terminal, a tangle of rails the guides praised for having "a lot of switching and interchange--a `look-here' for those who enjoy railroad activity."

Indeed, it was an inquiring group that set out last Saturday for seven hours aboard the "L," an outing set up by Concordia University, in River Forest, as part of an adult education program for people who wanted to heighten their sense of community--by exploring it.

Like the Grand Tour of Europe, the Chicago day was composed of education and adventure, in roughly equal parts.

"It's mostly for people from the suburbs who don't go into the city much. We will talk about places they wouldn't get to if they went on their own," said the other guide, geography professor William Kammrath, as the train eased out, shortly after 9 a.m., from Oak Park, bound for the beetle-ravaged streets of Ravenswood.

"You're going to be on the "L" for hours. It's like a boat. Beware of motion sickness," warned Rose. Many in the crowd scribbled notes in journals as the lecturers talked of panic-peddling during periods of racial change and of land-use theories developed at the University of Chicago in the 1920s.

There was also time to check out local geological nuances, such as Graceland Spit, a sandy rise under present-day West Irving Park Road, created by water depositing sediment back in the days when the area was wet and wild, at the bottom of ancient Lake Chicago.

"I love the city. I love riding the `L.' I've been riding it since I was a child," said Diane Taylor, a legal secretary who lives in Oak Park and works in the Loop.

"There's a really neat block of row houses on Alta Vista," reported Manfred Boos, a math teacher, after one get-off-and-explore stop. The exterior patterns of homes on the street, he noted, were matched in a system of pairings "that was probably designed by a math teacher."

Kammrath, in turn, glowed when the travelers reached his favorite stretch of the CTA's elevated lines, the Brown Line run between the Merchandise Mart and Armitage Avenue, where rails "were built in the back yards of a lot of people, with lots of twists and turns."

"If you have out-of-town visitors, this is the ride for them, if you can take only one," he said, as the train glided past decors hard to see from street level. A few feet away were grinning faces carved in stone, tops of imitation Greek columns and decorative friezes.

Later, rumbling through Old Town, then Lincoln Park, the train passed within a splash of luxurious bathrooms in restored, million-dollar homes backing against four sets of "L" tracks.

"You should have taken this tour with your grandfather, say, 50 years ago, and bought property," Kammrath said, as the train roared on north, without stopping, past a crowd of mystified "L" patrons waiting at the Fullerton station.