A view of 51st's new, modern platforms, looking south in 1999. Although the CTA sprung for the construction of a full-width canopy, only the sections over the platforms and part of the railcars is actually covered. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection)
51st Street and Prairie Avenue, Grand Boulevard/Washington Park
Green Line: South Side Elevated
Address: 319 E. 51st Street
Established: August 29, 1892
Original Line: South Side Rapid Transit
Previous Names: none
Status: In Use
The original 1892 51st Street station, now gone. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Charles E. Keevil, from the Walter R. Keevil Collection)
51st Street station was built as part of the South Side Rapid Transit's extension to the Columbian Exposition in 1892. The original station building was a grade-level structure that resembled other stations built as part of the extension, such as the building still at Garfield and those now removed from Indiana, 43rd, 47th, 58th, and 61st.
Designed by architect Myron H. Church and built by the Rapid Transit and Bridge Construction Company (under general contractor Alfred Walcott and engineer R.I. Sloan), the station house was designed with a Queen Anne-style influence. The building was constructed of brick with stone sills and foundation with polychrome brickwork along the top of the exterior in a latticed diamond pattern. Perhaps the building's most prominent feature was the bay that projected from the front elevation, with its broad half-cone roof. The building's bay and brick frieze display many qualities of the Queen Anne style, although the flat terra-cotta cornice and other elements show some examples of early Chicago School of architecture.
The dual side platforms, which were end-loaded at their north end, consisted of a wooden deck on a steel structure. The original canopies were humped-shaped, typical of the original South Side Rapid Transit designs, but were replaced early on with short canopies of steel posts supporting a flat tin roof.
51st Street became an AB station in 1949 and, with Garfield a B station (until 1982) and 58th an A station, 51st became the first transfer point (or last, depending on your direction of travel) between the Englewood and Jackson Park branches.
On April 17, 1961, auxiliary exit stairs were added to the southbound platform at 51st station, leading down to the north side of 51st Street, across from the station house. A month later, on May 19, auxiliary stairs to the northbound platform opened, which served as an auxiliary entrance during Monday-Friday rush hours only, with an agent's booth located at the top of the stairs. The auxiliary stairs were installed as part of the larger effort to improve passenger facilities and circulation at several South Side "L" stations -- similar auxiliary stairs were installed at 43rd and 47th -- and to improve the appearance, alleviate congestion, and speed boarding and alighting at 51st station, which was very busy during peak times. The auxiliary stairs to the northbound platform continued to function as a rush hour entrance until January 13, 1973, when it was closed as a result of service cuts. Both staird remained as auxiliary exits, however.
In 1990, 51st station closed to have its platforms renewed. The station closed on September 23 and reopened November 5. During the closure, the platforms were both rebuilt. Other improvements, including stairs and canopies, were to continue after the station reopened.
Green Line Renovation
The entrance to the current 51st Street station. Unlike the new, simple structures built at 35th, 43rd and 47th Streets, the 51st Street station is decorated in white tile with green highlights, denoting its place on the Green Line. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Linda Garfield)
On February 21, 1993, the South Side Englewood-Jackson Park service, formerly paired with the Howard service and forming the North-South Route, was repaired with the Lake Street service and formed the CTA's new Green Line.
On January 9, 1994, the Green Line closed for a two-year rehabilitation. All stations on the line, including 51st, closed for renovation.
It is unclear if the original 1892 station house still remained at this time (it seems likely it did not), but whatever station was here was demolished during the renovation and replaced with the current white and green tile station house and white steel and glass platform. When the Green Line reopened in mid-1996, the elevator shaft and most of the ground-level structure was still just a skeleton. The station was not complete until mid-1997, a year after the Green Line reopened.
The station house is a white tile building with a green stripe beneath the tracks, with an elevator shaft and open air stairs to the platforms. The platforms flank the tracks with a white steel canopy that spans the whole width, with an opening down the middle to allow in sunlight.
The North-South Route (Temporarily) Returns, Thrice
In 2013, the CTA launched the Red Line South Reconstruction Project, a track renewal project to rebuild the Dan Ryan branch tracks from the bottom up, excavating down to the bottom of the trackbed to rebuild the underground drainage system then installing new ballast, ties, and tracks. Some modest station improvements were also performed. In order to perform the work more quickly and cost-effectively, the CTA closed the Dan Ryan branch for five months while work was performed. During that time, there would be no 'L' service on the Dan Ryan branch south of Roosevelt station.
As part of the alternate service plan for Dan Ryan riders, Red Line trains were rerouted via the old 13th Street Incline from the State Street Subway to the South Side Elevated, where they operated to Ashland/63rd via the South Side Elevated tracks in a pattern reminiscent of the old Howard-Englewood "A" trains of the North-South Route days. Harlem-Cottage Grove Green Line trains continued to operate as well, but due to limited track capacity some Green Line trains from Harlem that would've gone to Ashland/63rd were turned back to Harlem downtown during the weekday rush periods (at Roosevelt in the morning rush and via the Outer Loop in the evening rush).
Red Line service to Ashland/63rd began on Sunday, May 19, 2013. Following the five-month track reconstruction and renovation work on the Dan Ryan, Red Line service to 95th resumed at 4am, Sunday, October 20, 2013. At the same time, Red Line service via the South Side Elevated and Englewood branch was annulled and Green Line trains resumed service to Ashland/63rd, alternating between the two 63rd Street terminal branches.
Red Line service between Howard and Ashland/63rd via the South Side Elevated returned temporarily in 2017, although it was only select trains and only during weekday rush periods; during most times, normal service via the Dan Ryan branch continued. The diversion was necessitated by the $280 million 95th Terminal Improvement Project to expand and greatly improve the 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line station -- as construction continued on the new terminal, including foundations and structural steel work next to the tracks, track alignment work, and platform construction, CTA needed to close both the east and west platform tracks (at separate times), severely constraining capacity during rush and requiring a reduction in the number of trains in and out of the station.
On April 3, 2017, CTA began rerouting some Red Line trains, primarily in the off-peak direction, for a few hours each weekday onto the Green Line to or from the Ashland/63rd station. Reroutes onto the south Green Line in the off-peak direction took place in the morning (7:56 to 9:14am) and evening (4:40 to 5:58pm) rush periods (times at Roosevelt, just north of the diversion point); there were also a small number of trains that operated between Ashland/63rd and Howard in the peak direction, though primarily for car-balancing purposes. CTA officials said the reroute affected less than 10 percent of all Red Line trains.
The diversion of select rush period Red Line trains to/from Ashland/63rd lasted for approximately six months, with the last Howard-Ashland/63rd trains running Wednesday evening, November 22, 2017.
The Red Line Ashland/63rd service resumed on July 30, 2018, to allow additional work in, over and around the platform tracks at 95th/Dan Ryan; the last day of this iteration of the service last ran on April 26, 2019.
Small Business/DBE Contractors Provide Station Improvements
In 2018, CTA made improvements at four Green Line stations -- 51st, Halsted, Cottage Grove and Kedzie -- benefitting Chicago's South and West side communities with improved transit facilities and new opportunities for small local business owners.
A variety of subcontractors completed the work on these four stations, some of which graduated from CTA's 2017 Green Line Small Business Initiative. Through this unique program, small businesses and disadvantage business enterprises (DBEs) from Chicago's South and West sides were provided training and assistance in order to help them compete for business opportunities on CTA projects.
The contract for improvement work on the 51st, Halsted, Cottage Grove and Kedzie Green Line stations was awarded to F.H. Paschen. Paschen then hired a number of subcontractors to meet the project's DBE goals, as well as some of the participants of the Green Line Small Business Initiative.
The DBE participation for each station included 35% at 51st Station, 40% at Cottage Grove, 40% at Halsted and 35% at Kedzie. Companies that worked on the Green Line stations included The Giant Painter, which painted the Kedzie and Halsted stations; R.E.A. Masonry, LLC, which worked on Halsted; Synergy Development, which provided their services at Cottage Grove and Halsted; Bartech Group, which worked at Kedzie and Halsted; and Alpha Phase, which worked on the 51st station.
Of the 24 small and local businesses that participated in the Green Line Small Business Initiative, four received DBE certification as a result of the program and six firms were able to secure improvement work on the four Green Line stations listed above, as well as the Garfield station.
Each of the four Green Line stations received the following improvements, which have significantly improved the safety of the stations and has extended the useful life of various station components:
On December 28, 2018, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. announced the completion of the improvements made at the four Green Line stations.
The cost of improvements to all four stations was $12 million, funded by 2017 CTA bonds.