Canal Street between Jackson and Van Buren Streets, Near West Side
Garfield Line/Douglas Line
Address: 324-326 S. Canal Street
Established: May 6, 1895
Original Line: Metropolitan West Side Elevated
Previous Names: Canal - Union Station
Rebuilt: c. 1922
The Canal station was opened in 1895 when the Metropolitan "L" first opened. It was located on the four-track Metropolitan main line, on which all three branches of the Met -- the Northwest branch, Garfield Park branch, and Douglas Park branch -- entered downtown Chicago.
The station consisted of a station house at street level and two island platforms at track level, allowing trains on all four track to call at the station.
A fire in the neighborhood around Canal station on March 15, 1922 virtually destroyed the "L" facility, requiring it to be rebuilt. The platforms remained largely the same, but the station house was rebuilt. The new entrance facility was a Classical Revival design with Beaux-Arts influence designed by staff architect Arthur Gerber.
A new Union Station, serving several main line intercity railroads, was formally opened July 23, 1925, replacing an earlier railroad station on a similar site. The Chicago Daily Tribune on same day contained a paid advertisement stating, "A short enclosed passageway connects the station directly with the Canal Street Station of the Elevated Railroad." Within the Canal "L" station a stairway went down to Union Station's underground track level, then a walkway ran for half a block, separated from Union Station's track area by an iron fence, and finally into the lobby of Union Station. The article "Chicago's Stations: Gates to Everywhere" from the August 1948 issues of Trains magazine also discussed the "L"-Union Station tunnel:
"It's kind of tough, also, that we can't get out on the platform and look at the prow-pointed T1 at the head end of many Pennsy trains. But Union is all business, and frowns at folk who try to sneak by the gatemen 'just to see the trains.' Here's a tip, though: if you go along 'frustration walk' -- which is the entrance leading from the Canal Street 'L' station -- you can get a squint of a train or two at the southwestern end of the terminal. Like as not, there will be some Burlington open-platform cars used on suburban runs out Aurora way.
"'Frustration walk' is so dubbed because commuters must walk along an iron-railed thoroughfare beside the tracks to enter the terminal. Then to go out to the train they are obliged to hike back from whence the came on the other side of the formidable railing. Short-cutting is verboten at Union. Many a commuter has seen his train pull out as he dashed madly down 'frustration walk' in an attempt to catch the train." 1
There are some conflicting descriptions of how the tunnel actually connected to the "L" station. According to some account, the passage was accessed from within the Canal Street station building, suggesting the connection was to the station house. Others recall that the passage from Union Station deposited them on the Canal station platform, not in the station house, with fare collection in between.2 It is believed that there were, in fact, two access routes between the elevated platforms and the tunnel. Passengers en route from the elevated platform walked through the headhouse of the rapid transit station. While passengers from the tunnel went directly to the platforms after passing through a fare collection point.
The Chicago Aurora & Elgin interurban used the Garfield Park branch to reach downtown Chicago through a reciprocal trackage rights agreement beginning on February 23, 1905, but did not originally serve Canal station. On August 1, 1927, shortly after the Insull group (who owned the Rapid Transit Company) obtained control of the CA&E, interurban trains began stopping at Canal so west suburban passengers could connect with Union Station via the pedestrian tunnel. CA&E passengers were also permitted to transfer to "L" trains here and at Wells Street Terminal and Marshfield beginning on the same date, and at Laramie beginning in 1928.3 CA&E trains served Canal station through the interurban's discontinuance of service east of Desplaines on September 20, 1953.
In 1951, trains to and from Logan Square (later extended to Jefferson Park in 1970, then to O'Hare in 1984) were rerouted from their Milwaukee-Paulina alignment to Marshfield into the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, which continued under Milwaukee, under Lake Street, then under Dearborn, later connecting to the Congress-Douglas trains under Congress Street upon that alignment's completion in 1958. Garfield Park and Douglas Park trains to and from the Loop, however, continued to operate over the old Met main line and through Halsted for the time being.
In 1953, the Garfield Park Line was rerouted via temporary grade-level trackage along Van Buren due to expressway construction, returning to the old elevated main line at Aberdeen. Canal remained open throughout the highway construction project. The station was closed on June 22, 1958 when the replacement Congress Line in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway opened a few hundred feet to the south. A replacement station, Clinton, was opened in the Dearborn Subway extension to the Congress Line.
Today, the tunnel that formerly connected Union Station to the Canal "L" station still exists, connecting to a parking garage that sits on the former site of the "L" station.
This Chicago-L.org article is a stub. It will be expanded in the future as resources allow.
1. Donovan, Frank P. Jr., "Chicago's Stations: Gates to Everywhere",
Trains Magazine, August 1948, pp. 24-25 (Thanks to Alan
Follett for supplying this article.)
2. "Shop Track", First & Fastest, Summer 2001.
3. Plachno, Larry. The Story of the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad 2 -- History. Transportation Trails, 1989, p. 313.