The California station house, elevator tower, and island platform canopy are seen looking northeast on July 23, 2004. The station features a new, modern station house in the same location of the previous one and wider accessible island platform, all executed in a postmodern design. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

California (2800W/2100S)
California Avenue and 21st Street, Little Village (South Lawndale)

Service Notes:

Pink Line: Cermak (Douglas)

Accessible Station

Quick Facts:


2011 S. California Avenue (primary entrance)

2010 S. California Avenue (auxiliary entrance)

Established: March 10, 1902
Original Line: Metropolitan West Side Elevated, Douglas Park branch
Previous Names: none

Skip-Stop Type:


Rebuilt: 2002-04
Status: In Use


The Douglas branch of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad was originally planned to extend to 46th (Kenton) Avenue in its original stretch. The branch opened incrementally, however, and was only open as far as 18th Street on April 28, 1896 (long after the other Met branches were in service), while Western was activated August 7. Further extension to 40th Avenue (Crawford, later Pulaski) wasn't complete until 1902, when California was built and placed in service. Kenton wasn't reached until 1907.

The California station was typical of those that once populated the Metropolitan Elevated's lines. California was one of the last two to remain on the branch and had a high level of historic integrity. The paper taped to the front window is a City notice of the CTA's application to demolish and rebuild the station. This view looks east in August 2001. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

California's headhouse design was typical of the architecture for most of the Metropolitan Elevated's 1902 Douglas extension. The building, executed in brown brick and tan rusticated stone with wooden doors and window frames, had an eclectic mix of influences and styles, many of which were purely vernacular. The use of dark brick masonry, heavy, rough-cut stone in the sills and quoins, and the decorative brickwork and terra cotta along the cornice all suggest Queen Anne design with some influence of the Romanesque Revival style. The station was generally square except for a bay in front and was one story tall.

The side platforms had treated timber plank flooring, while the railings and balustrades were typical for the Metropolitan Elevated. Each platform had a short canopy in the center of the platform, covering the stairs and a small waiting area. The canopies were made of steel supports and latticework with a corrugated metal hipped roof. The railings, both on the platforms and on the stairs connecting them to the station house, had decorative twisted strap metal railings, cast iron newel posts, and wood handgrips. Added to the railing design at platform-level were larger cast iron square plates with a stylized diamond design in the center of them. The platforms had incandescent lights under the canopy and in gooseneck lamps that were integrated into the railing design. Certain railing posts were replaced with lampposts of a similar design. They extended up beyond the railing to about seven feet high, terminating in a decorative capital and topped with a hooked shepherd's crook and saucer-shaped shade with two or three incandescent light bulbs. Later, most of these were removed and replaced with simple, standardized gooseneck lights.

Above: The interior of California station, looking south in August 2001. The station still sported its original agent's booth, with decorative wood moldings and tongue-in-groove paneling. For a larger view, click here.

Below: California station, looking east in August 2001. The platforms were original, but the canopy was replaced in the 1980s. For a larger view, click here. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

Following a fire circa 1980, the canopies were removed and replaced with a utilitarian box-shaped steel and aluminum full-width structure. Although the date of its replacement is uncertain, the early 1980s is a likely period.

Kedzie and California, the next station to the west, were the last 1902 station houses to remain intact. California's historic integrity of headhouse remained high into the 21st century. The original station house, stairs, and platforms remained, although the canopies had been removed and replaced, and many of the railings and light fixtures were original until 2002, when the station underwent reconstruction.


Douglas Renovation Project

By the time of new millennium, the station was aging and in need of renovation. Over the years, the condition of the Douglas branch deteriorated to a point that permanent "slow zones" were present throughout more than 47% of track and many of the stations were in poor condition. After a long battle to secure funding from both the state and federal governments, the CTA decided it was time to embark upon a complete rehabilitation of the entire branch. The Douglas Rehabilitation Project was the largest single capital improvement project the authority had embarked upon up to that time. The project was to restore the branch so that it would be 100 percent ADA compliant with eight of the branch's 11 stations (six elevated and two at-grade) completely rebuilt and to allow for faster travel times from one end of the line to the other.

As part of the renovation project, California was replaced with an entirely new station facility. The new headhouse is a modern glass and steel facility on the east side of California Avenue, where the original station house was formerly located. The building exterior features quarry tile at the base, a metal-frame storefront on the front and side facades with large picture windows, glass walls and a band of art glass along the top, and capped by a large metal cornice divided into boxes. The interior features white ceramic glazed tile walls, a waiting area in the unpaid area with seats for waiting bus riders, fare controls, fare vending machines, a customer assistant booth, and various auxiliary equipment rooms.

The old side platforms are replaced with a new, wide island platform. The new canopies were designed as "showpiece" structures, with clear glazed roof sections that allow natural light on the platform alternating with triangular solid, three-dimensional metal wedges and clear triangular panels that led the canopies to be dubbed by some as the "flying triangles". "Honeycomb" paneling adorns the platform canopy fascia, as well as being around the various columns and poles at platform level. A new elevator provides ADA access, with the tall elevator tower cladded in white tiles with a blue band around the top and a steel "cta" on the north and south sides dominating the street elevation the facility. The platform amenities carry through the angled motif of the canopy, with benches, lights, windbreaks, and some signage angled off-axis from being parallel or perpendicular to the tracks. For customer comfort, the platform features benches, overhead heaters and enhanced lighting. In addition to the elevator, a wheelchair-accessible gate in the fare controls, TTY telephones, tactile edging and Braille signs offer accessibility for customers with disabilities. Audiovisual station signs and a public address system help customers navigate the station and receive travel information.

There is an auxiliary entrance and exit on the west side of California Avenue, across from the main station house. This farecard-only entrance is enclosed inside a small station house whose exterior design resembles a miniaturized version of the primary headhouse. Inside are two high-barrier gates (HBGs), a transit information board, and a customer assistant call button. The auxiliary entrance is connected to the platform by way of a platform-level pedestrian walkway bridge, which spans the width of California Avenue. The bridge -- with one side enclosed with a metal framed curtain wall with glass panels and the other with a decorative metal grille -- protects customers from inclement weather while providing convenient, direct connections to the southbound #94 California buses.

The official groundbreaking for the Douglas Rehabilitation Project -- also known as "Renew the Blue" -- took place at Pulaski station on September 10, 2001, but actual construction work did not begin at California station for over a year as crews worked on stations and structure farther west.

The temporary platform for California has the most refined design yet, looking west on October 21, 2002. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Early in the morning at the conclusion of weekday service on Saturday, October 12, 2002, the California station closed for reconstruction. Effective at 0400 hours, the station closed pending its demolition and replacement with new facilities.

While the work was in progress, a temporary California station served customers while the new permanent station was under construction. The California temporary station was placed in service at 0400 hours on Monday, October 14, 2002. Customers entered the temporary station on Washtenaw (2700 West), two blocks east of California, and exited the facility at either Washtenaw or at an auxiliary rotogate exit at Rockwell (2600 West). Customers continued making bus connections with the #94 California buses at 21st/California.

The temporary station featured temporary wooden dual side platforms, stretching from Washtenaw to Rockwell. These platforms fed from the fare control area at Washtenaw. The fare control area consisted of concrete and asphalt floors, chainlink walls, and a wooden agent's booth. There was also an auxiliary exit at Rockwell, with stairs down to a ground-level chainlink enclosure regulated by three exit-only rotogates. The rotogates were of the heavy steel Perry-made variety, which have not been newly-installed on the system for some time, suggesting these were salvaged from elsewhere on the system. The platforms had temporary signage largely relocated from the closed California station, wooden decking and railings, and wooden canopies. During the weekend between the old stations' closures and the temporary station's opening, after California station was closed and locked, CTA forces removed the fare controls and AVMs in that station and relocated them to the Washtenaw entrance to the temporary station. Removal of any additional auxiliary and HVAC equipment took place during the following week. The temporary station remained in use while the old station was demolished and new station built in its location over the following year and a half.

The interior of California station, seen looking south in the unpaid area on July 23, 2004, has a spacious interior. Note the rotogate at left for additional egress capacity. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

The new, accessible California station opened at 0400 hours on Thursday, July 22, 2004. Opening concurrently with the new Damen station a mile east, these two rebuilt stations were the last to open as part of the rehabilitation of the Cermak (Douglas) branch of the Blue Line. A modest press event was held in midmorning, after the station was in service.

"With the reopening of these last two stations today, the highly visible part of our work is done," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. Added Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown, "The $33.4 million CTA investment in these two stations is a clear contribution to the economic strength of the area."

Coincident with the new station opening, the temporary California station closed. The Washtenaw (2700W) entrance was locked and fenced off at 0200 hours on July 22 at the end of the previous service day. The temporary station was subsequently dismantled over the weekend of July 31-August 1, 2004.

The California station also had new original artwork installed as part of the Douglas branch renovation. Included through a unique partnership between the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs' Public Art Program and the CTA , the Public Art Program administered the selection, design, creation and installation of public art for the project. The California station includes a multimedia mosaic on an interior wall titled "Amor" by artist Christopher Tavares Silva. The CTA allocated $1 million for the Cermak Branch Art Project and retains ownership rights to all of the artwork created.

After conducting a West Side Corridor Study and holding public meetings during 2004 and 2005, the CTA began operation of a new service over the Cermak branch. Beginning Sunday, June 25, 2006, the new Pink Line began providing the primary rail service to the branch. Operating seven days a week during the same service hours as the Blue Line had operated, Pink Line trains operated on the Cermak branch from 54th/Cermak to Polk, then terminated around the Loop via the Paulina Connector and Lake branch of the Green Line. Service levels increased with the introduction of the Pink Line, with trains running more frequently including a 7.5-minute interval during weekday rush periods. To address community concerns, Blue Line service to the O'Hare branch from 54th/Cermak via the Dearborn Subway was maintained during morning and afternoon rush hours. The Pink Line and revised Blue Line services were instituted as an 180-day experiment, extended for additional 180-day experimental periods subsequently, while ridership and other effects were studied. As the experimental period continued, the CTA revised service on the Cermak branch to eliminate the rush period Blue Line trains, leaving the Pink Line to provide all service to 54th/Cermak. Although ridership had risen overall since the introduction of the Pink Line, Blue Line trains had consistently low ridership on a person-per-railcar-basis. The last day of Blue Line Cermak service was Friday, April 25, 2008.


Looking west on the California platform on July 23, 2004, one of the station's standard "showpiece" triangular canopies is up ahead. Freestanding light posts are covered in the same "honeycomb" paneling that adorns the fascia of the canopy wedges. Following the angled motif of the canopy, some signage like the station name sign seen here are also off-axis. To supplement the off-axis station name signs, signs are also posted on the outside of the tracks to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)


Old California (1902-2002) | Temporary California (2002-2003) | New California (2002-present)

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The two 2200-series 2nd Annual Historic Station Tour charter units pose side-by-side at the California station on the Douglas branch, with some members of the tour group watching the positioning. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The original, historic California station house had still not been demolished on October 21, 2002, a few days after closure. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Temporary California station

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The main entrance to the temporary station at Washtenaw, seen here looking east on October 21, 2002, has the fare controls and CA booth for the station. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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An auxiliary exit at Rockwell, looking east on October 21, 2002, gives a second egress option from the temporary station at California. (Photo by Graham Garfield)


New California station

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The design for the new Douglas stations, including California, have a decidedly modern design, with a simple box-shaped glass and steel building beneath the elevated structure and an angular postmodern canopy. This is an early design for California, whose details changed a bit before the final design was completed. (Drawing reproduced from the Chicago Sun-Times)

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The designers of the new station, McDonough Associates, Inc., incorporated several changes into their final design for California, seen here in an artist's rendering. These included more detail and a heavier cornice in the headhouse facade, a slightly redesigned elevator tower, and a platform-level walkway across California Avenue to the auxiliary entrance/exit for transferring bus passengers. (Drawing provided courtesy of the Chicago Transit Authority)

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The new California island platform is under construction, looking east on February 6, 2003. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Below the skeleton of the elevator tower, the framework of the new California station house started to be assembled, looking northeast on March 18, 2003. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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On June 24, 2003, the new California station has openly a framework for the canopy and a three-sided shell for the headhouse. But masonry work was already underway. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The canopy was still largely just a structural frame on August 19, 2003, looking west from the east end of the platform. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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California station's canopy and station house structures are largely complete by the time of this December 8, 2003 view, including most of the exterior finishes. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Looking north up California Avenue on December 8, 2003, the covered walkway between the platform and the auxiliary entrance/exit on the west side of the street creates a more substantial profile in the streetscape than the old station did. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The exterior of the station house was largely complete in this December 8, 2003 view of the west elevation, although some details like signage and other finishes were still yet to be applied. The interior was still under construction, however. Note that the drip-pan is centered under the structure, but off-center of the headhouse, leaving the south doorway only partially covered. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Looking east on the inbound side on December 8, 2003, the platform and canopy were largely complete, but the lighting and escalator were still being installed. Many finishes were still also still to be installed at this point. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The projecting apex of the east end of the primary canopy, seen here looking west on December 8, 2003, demonstrates why the Douglas canopies have been nicknamed the "flying triangles". (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Looking west on the California platform on July 23, 2004, one of the station's the triangular canopies is up ahead. Freestanding light posts are covered in the same "honeycomb" paneling that adorns the fascia of the canopy wedges. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The CTA's Douglas-standard "showpiece" canopy, seen looking west on July 23, 2004, the day after reopening, has clear glazed roof sections that allow natural light on the platform alternating with triangular solid, three-dimensional metal wedges and clear triangular panels that led the canopies to be dubbed by some as the "flying triangles". (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The exterior design of the auxiliary entrance and exit on the west side of California Avenue, across from the main station house, resembles a miniaturized version of the primary headhouse. The farecard-only entrance, seen looking west on July 23, 2004, provides a more convenient option for transferring to and from southbound #94 California buses. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The mosaic Amor, by artist Christopher Tavares Silva, is seen looking southeast covering most of the south walls of the paid area at California station. (Photo courtesy CTA Arts in Transit Program)

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A close-up of Amor shows the work's intricate tilework and how it overlaps and interacts with the standard square white tiles used to clad the rest of the station interior, a Douglas renovation design standard. The circular flight of birds from heart to heart suggests the passing of love from person to person and place to place, as well as the coming and going of passengers. The migration of birds from clear to rainy skies symbolically endorses the virtues of promoting love through times of both happiness and hardship. (Photo courtesy CTA Arts in Transit Program)