The two entrances to the Clark/Lake complex: 203 N. LaSalle (right) and the street-level fare controls in the James. R. Thompson Center (left) in July 2001. The establishment of these two buildings allowed for the separate station houses/mezzanines and fare controls of the Clark/Lake elevated station and Lake Transfer subway station to be eliminated and for the establishment of a larger, combined tri-level transit facility. For a larger view of the left photo, click here. For a larger view of the right photo, click here. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

Clark/Lake (100W/200N)
Clark Street and Lake Street, Loop

Service Notes:

Blue Line: Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway

Green Line: Lake-Ashland-East 63rd

Brown Line: Ravenswood

Orange Line: Midway

Purple Line: Evanston Express

Pink Line: 54/Cermak-Loop

Accessible Station

Transfer Station

Owl Service (Blue Line only)

Quick Facts:


100 W. Lake Street (Loop Elevated station)

124 W. Lake Street (subway station, Thompson Ctr/203 N. LaSalle entrance)

191 N. Wells Street (Wells/Lake entrance)

Established: March 23, 1992
(combination of existing facilities, see below)

Original Lines:

Union Elevated Railroad (elevated station)

Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway (subway station)

Previous Names: Lake Transfer
(Blue Line only)

Skip-Stop Type:


Rebuilt: n/a
Status: In Use


The Clark/Lake tri-level facility is the CTA's largest, most complex station and one of its busiest (third busiest as of 1998, behind Washington/State and 95/Dan Ryan). It was created in 1992 when the Clark/Lake elevated station and the Lake Transfer subway station -- which previously had separate fare controls and mezzanines -- were renovated and had their passenger access relocated to the same building. This makes for both a complicated station and a complicated history. Below are brief histories of the elevated and subway stations (with links to more in-depth profiles as well), followed by the history of the current Clark/Lake complex post-1992, when the current facility was created.


Loop Elevated Station

Clark/Lake elevated station, looking south in 1983. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Dan Clement, from the Collection of the Library of Congress)

The Clark/Lake elevated station was opened in 1895, constructed before the rest of the Loop on tracks that, while originally part of the Lake Street line, were always meant to be the north leg of a downtown loop, connecting at Wabash. The original Clark station quite small and incorporated elements from many styles, including some Classical Revival elements and features reminiscent of a Chinese pagoda. It had an ornate station house as well as the decorative railings and platform canopy pillars.

In 1913, many of the Loop stations underwent a number of renovations and it seems Clark/Lake was one of them. The original trackside waiting rooms were removed and new open booths were installed. Left intact, however, were much of the roofs, all platform canopies, posts, railings and many other features. The station house enclosure was quite small -- no wider than about 30-40 feet -- but the roof extended wider, about the width of Clark Street below. Later, the CTA modified the building and enclosed the area below the roof with plywood and fiberglass panels, giving the station house a piecemeal, disorganized look.

Clark had fallen into a serious state of disrepair when renovations began in 1988 for the replacement of the old elevated facility with a new, modern, white steel station, a common design for new "L" stations referred to as the "open plan concept." Beginning in January 1992, Clark/Lake was closed weekends for the last of the reconstruction work, which was largely completed a few months later.

The new station is actually located west of the old station, between Clark and LaSalle. The new elevated platform has a canopy that stretches the entire width of the structure, with a convex skylight down the center. This elaborate reconstruction was part of a new tri-level station that connects the elevated with the ground-level street with the O'Hare-Congress-Douglas subway station formally known as Lake Transfer.

For additional information and photos of the Clark/Lake elevated station (1895-1992), click here to see the Clark/Lake elevated station profile.


Dearborn Subway Station

Passengers wait to board a northbound "A" train near the LaSalle-Clark mezzanine at the east end of Lake Transfer station in late 1958. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the Graham Garfield Collection)

The Lake Transfer subway station, which opened in February 1951, was typical of all the Dearborn and State Street subway stations. Described at the time as of a "modern design", the mezzanine stations -- the main mezzanine entrance being at LaSalle-Clark/Lake, with an auxiliary mezzanine entrance at Wells/Lake -- had smooth concrete floors and ceilings and white glazed tile walls (sometimes referred to as "structural glass") in an Art Moderne style.

The origins of the combined Clark/Lake "L"/subway complex can be traced back to 1958, when the West-Northwest through-route was created between the Milwaukee elevated, Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, the Congress and Douglas lines. At that time, "L"/subway transfers 'up' were inaugurated between the Clark/Lake elevated station and the Lake Transfer subway station (whose entrances were 1/2 block apart), although 'down' transfers from the Loop to the subway were prohibited here (these were accomplished between State/Van Buren and Jackson-Van Buren/Dearborn). In 1969, a new through-routing once again brought a change to the transfer policy between the Loop and the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway. With the beginning of West-South Route (Lake-Dan Ryan) service, all transfers -- both 'up' and 'down' -- were changed to between Lake Transfer and Clark/Lake.

For additional information and photos of the Clark/Lake subway station (1951-1992), click here to see the Lake Transfer subway station profile.


State of Illinois Center Begins Consolidation

In May 1985, the new $173 million State of Illinois Center (SOIC) was completed and occupied. Only 17 stories tall (with two additional levels below grade) but monumentally designed by Helmut Jahn, the Center stands apart from surrounding office buildings because of its dome-shape and its multicolored glass exterior. With a low block design, the glass-enclosed steel structure's curving, sloping facade faces the corner of Randolph Street and Clark Street.

In 1986, the LaSalle-Clark mezzanine of Lake Transfer was closed for renovation and integration into the new SOIC. The mezzanine was already located mid-block between LaSalle and Clark (where the SOIC is) and at the same level as the first basement floor. During the duration of construction, the previously part-time entrance at Wells/Lake was made a full-time entrance. In 1989, the reconstruction was complete and the east entrance to Lake Transfer was reopened. The space previously occupied by the station mezzanine and fare controls at LaSalle-Clark were wiped out and completely remodeled, now all within the paid area. Likewise, the mezzanine-to-street stairs were completely removed. The fare controls were now located in two places: in the basement level of the SOIC (near the food court) and at street level in the SOIC, connected to the basement/mezzanine level by two elevators, two escalators, and stairs. At that time, the Wells/Lake entrance returned to entrance during the weekday PM rush hours only.

Further renovation came to Lake Transfer in 1991 when an additional entrance to the former LaSalle-Clark mezzanine was opened with the construction of the new 203 N. LaSalle Building (aka the Loop Transportation Building, completed in 1985), across Lake Street from the State of Illinois Center. Like in the SOIC, passengers could enter the 203 N. LaSalle Building mid-block on Lake Street, enter through street-level fare controls, travel down to the basement level by stairs or elevator, and access the subway mezzanine through a new subterranean passageway.


A 'Super-Station' is Created

On March 23, 1992, the Clark/Lake elevated station's entrances over Clark Street were closed and new access opened from the newly-constructed elevated platforms to the State of Illinois Center and 203 N. LaSalle Building. With all access to both the Loop and subway stations through the same access points -- also allowing transfers without leaving a paid area -- the subway and elevated stations were combined into a single facility known as Clark/Lake, with the subway station thus dropping the Lake Transfer moniker.

On May 10, 1993 the State of Illinois Center was rededicated as the James R. Thompson Center in honor of former Governor James R. Thompson.

The modernization of the Clark/Lake station is mostly complete in this July 1, 1996 photo. The central arch is better illuminated by decorative steel conduit covers and fluorescent lights. Visible on the outer wall is a prototype for the new CTA station signage, which was first standardized on the rehabbed Green Line. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Art Peterson)

The final phases of the renovation of the Clark/Lake subway station were initiated in 1995. During the summer, the Wells/Lake auxiliary entrance was closed for reconstruction. On December 16, 1995, the CTA operated a special work train (comprised of work motors 2891-2900 and flat cars S-604 and S-607) from Forest Park to transport the new escalator for the Wells/Lake entrance. During the winter of 1995-96, new lighting fixtures, both trackside and on the platform, were installed. Sound absorbing panels were installed on the tunnel walls in January 1996 (which, interestingly enough, covered up the barely-visible sealed-up intersection between the subway and the old LaSalle Street streetcar tunnel). New Current Graphic Standard signage and platform furniture were installed during March and April of 1996.

On May 28, 1996, the Wells/Lake entrance renovation was completed, reopened as of 1430 hours. Wells/Lake returned to be being a part-time entrance -- between 1400 and 1800 hours weekdays only -- but a full-time exit. Although an agent's booth was installed, no agent was regularly assigned: entrance was only with exact change, tokens, or transfer cards to be deposited in automated turnstiles. Exit was, of course, through rotogates.

By the summer of 1996, that platform modernization was largely complete, with better illumination achieved with fluorescent lights in the central archway covered by steel grating. The columns were painted blue, denoting the station's place on the Blue Line. (They were later repainted white.) The outer tunnel walls were covered with gray sound-absorption panels and new Current Graphic Standard signage (identical to that pioneered on the rehabbed Green Line) was applied. The name signs used white letters on a charcoal background (gray would ultimately be used), with blue panels on either side containing entrance/exit information. Backlit above-platform destination signs, mimicking the new destination signs used on trains, were installed.

In April 1996, the fare controls in the basement of the Thompson Center (near the food court) were made available for entrance 24 hours a day. No agent was assigned (although there are agent's booths): entrance was only with exact change, tokens, or transfer cards as at Wells/Lake. In the Summer 1997, with the institution of the CTA's electronic TransitCard fare system, this entrance was modified for unattended entrance with fare cards. In Fall 1998, the Lake/Wells entrance/exit received new high barrier gates, allowing it to serve as an entrance at all hours with use of an electronic TransitCard -- rather than only during the afternoon rush period -- making it now a full-time, if unattended, entrance.

At a press conference on Monday, June 5, 2000, CTA President Frank Kruesi announced that beginning Saturday, June 10th and Sunday, June 11th, six downtown area 'L' and subway stations and seven station entrances that were currently closed late at night or on weekends would be open at all hours that trains are in service. One of the seven secondary station entrances was was a Part-Time Entrance -- closed nights and weekends -- was the 203 N. LaSalle entrance to Clark/Lake station. Starting at 0600 hours Saturday, June 10th, 203 N. LaSalle entrance returned to 24-hour operation. Opening these stations and entrances is just one of the components of a $539,000 service improvement package that was passed by the Chicago Transit Board in May 2000.


Frankle-Monigle Prototype Signage

Today, the Clark/Lake tri-level facility is the CTA's largest, most complex station and one of its busiest. That complexity is both a great advantage to passengers -- Clark/Lake provides the easiest, most convenient transfer between the elevated and the subway -- but can also be confusing to the uninitiated. Signage is somewhat of a problem at the station, with some providing unclear transfer directions and some simply out-of-date and inaccurate (such as the sign directing passengers to "Jackson Park trains to Dorchester/63". The CTA is, however, looking at addressing Clark/Lake's signage issues as of Fall 2001 with a new signage initiative to be tested at this station.

Examples of the Station Identity Signs, on the Outer Loop platform (left) and on the Inner Loop platform (right) on October 30, 2001. For a larger view for the top photo, click here. For a larger view for the bottom photo, click here. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

The possible solution to this problem has come in the form of a test program currently being undertaken at the Clark/Lake elevated station. The new signage scheme was developed by Frankle Brand Environments and Monigle Associates and is known as the "Frankle-Monigle signage". The program is designed to develop signs that better direct customers to their destinations by displaying the color-coded train routes that stop at the station and their terminal destinations; arrows that direct customers toward exits to main streets, buses, major landmarks and transfer points; and street numbers that guide customers to points and interest. The Frankle-Monigle signage system consists of many parts, including:

The extent to which the Frankle-Monigle signage system is implemented at the Clark/Lake pilot site is determined by several factors, including time, money, and the scope of the pilot program. Whether they are implemented systemwide someday, and to what extent, will depend on their evaluation and acceptance by the public and by CTA personnel at the pilot site.

The deployment of the prototype Frankle-Monigle signage began in October 2001 with the installation of station name signs and various "breadcrumbs" (smaller signs, such as "No Smoking") on the elevated platform and in the Thompson Center station facility. Installation continued through late January 2002, by which time most of the elements were in place. Among the later additions to be installed is the Directional/Transfer Signage, which indicate a line transfer opportunity for the rider or show the way to different exits, streets, buses, or points of interest. Also installed were information kiosks that information can be posted in and the large Station Markers, which are kiosks that draw attention to the location of "L" stations and provide information about the services provided at that station from street-level environments, have been installed on Lake Street outside both the Thompson Center and 203 N. LaSalle entrances.

The Frankle-Monigle signage has been installed in the Thompson Center and 203 N. LaSalle stations at the lower subway-mezzanine level, street level, and elevated platform levels. They have also been installed on the elevated Clark/Lake platforms. A set of Directional/Transfer signs have also been installed on either side of the elevator in the subway, marking the only Frankle-Monigle sign to be installed in the Blue Line subway station during the test.


Go Lane Pilot

On June 6, 2005, the CTA launched a pilot program at eight rail stations (as well as on 10 of its wide-door Nova buses) to help speed boarding for customers by dedicating one turnstile as an express fare payment lane (called a "Go Lane") for those paying with either Chicago Card (regular or Plus) smartcard fare media. The dedicated lanes are identified by signs over the turnstile and on the floor in front of it. The eight selected rail stations in addition to both the Thompson Center and 203 N. LaSalle entrances to Clark/Lake were Howard, Chicago, 79th and 95th/Dan Ryan on the Red Line; Jefferson Park on the Blue Line; and the Randolph-Washington mezzanine of Washington/State, and the Randolph-Washington mezzanine of Washington/Dearborn downtown. CTA chose these stations because they are geographically balanced and serve a high volume of customers who transfer between bus and rail.

The pilot was conducted to determine if providing a dedicated turnstile at stations would help to speed boarding and, therefore, speed service. The pilot also provided an additional incentive for customers to switch to Chicago Card fare options. The faster and easier the boarding process, the more the transit experience is improved for existing customers. Faster boarding also helps to attract new customers.

CTA monitored the Go Lane boarding times during morning and evening rush periods to measure time saved during boarding, as well as the ratio of customers using electronic fare media compared to cash or transit cards. Customer reaction and ease of use were also evaluated as part of the pilot to determine whether use of Go Lanes should expand.


Subway Platform Renewal

While the Jackson/Dearborn project was being completed, the City and CTA decided to piggyback the replacement of the platform floor at the Clark/Lake subway station onto the Jackson project. The Clark floor was improved during the 1996 rehab of the station by installation of a poured flooring material onto the existing concrete deck. This material did not age well, however, and by the mid-2000s was cracking and flaking away. Therefore, it was decided to replace the flooring entirely with a new granite floor identical to Jackson's new deck by adding the material order onto the Jackson job to decrease cost and obtain the material quicker.

Clark/Lake plat renewal started at the east end of the platform in January 2007. The new platform flooring consists of light gray granite with dark gray granite panels under the colonnade along the platform edges. Compass roses are inset in the floor at the bottom of the stairs from the mezzanine at both ends of the platform. While work was underway, the south stair and south half of the Lake/Wells auxiliary entrance was closed off and used for materials access and storage by CDOT and its contractor.

The new subway floor completed April 2007. Other improvement work was also performed in May and June 2007, including cleaning of the acoustical panels on the tunnel walls, repainting the ceiling, cleaning the light lenses, and replacing damaged signage. To increase illumination, different lights were tested at the east end of the center ceiling vault over platform -- none are there now, removed in 1990s rehab -- in Spring 2007. Several are fluorescent tubes, while two are of the metal halide type tested at Quincy with an angled shade.


Airport Flight Monitors

On February 14, 2007, the Chicago Transit Board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Chicago that allowed the Department of Aviation to install two Flight Information Display systems at Clark/Lake station.

Two sets of displays were installed installed -- one at the elevated platform level and one in the subway. The monitors at the elevated level were installed inside the Thompson Center on the elevated platform level, next to the doors to the platform. The displays in the subway were installed over the platform, on the same side of the center ceiling vault as the O'Hare-bound tracks. The display in the subway, which is served by Blue Line trains to O'Hare, features information pertaining only to flights departing from O'Hare Airport. The display within the Thompson Center provides only flight departure information for Midway Airport, served by the Orange Line to Midway operating on the Loop Elevated.

The agreement was for one year and automatically renews unless either party terminates. Under the agreement, the City is responsible for the purchase, installation and maintenance of the equipment necessary for the displays with CTA responsible only for the cost of the electricity needed to run the equipment.


Over June 29-July 1, 2018, the two regular turnstiles at the concourse level, which provided access from the basement food court in the Thompson Center, were replaced with high-barrier gate turnstiles. Since this entrance is unstaffed, the HBG turnstiles provided better protection against fare evasion. The HBGs were in service Monday morning, July 2 (the Thompson Center and its food court/atrium are closed on weekends.)


Left: Clark/Lake elevated platforms, looking west on the Inner Loop platform in July 2001. The stairs lead to the overhead bridge to allow transfers between lines. For a larger view, click here.

Right: Clark/Lake is one of the CTA's busiest Loop subway stations, although the platform is more subdued in this Sunday afternoon view looking west on the platform on October 30, 2005. For a larger view, click here.

(Photos by Graham Garfield)

Clark/Lake Elevated | Clark/Lake Subway | Frankle-Monigle Test Signs

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A 2400-series Green Line train has left Clark/Lake bound for Harlem.

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A 3200-series Ravenswood train, on the end of its trip around the Loop, stops at Clark/Lake. (Photo by Jon Bell)

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A 3200-series Midway train stops at Clark/Lake to unload and pick up passengers.

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The Clark/Lake platforms looking west as an Orange Line train pulls into the station. (Photo by John F. Kuczaj)

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In October 1993, the majority of the 2000-series cars were taken out of service. For most, their final movement was a deadhead trip to the Skokie Shops for disposition. Car 2021 trails an eight-car train on such a trip (despite the fact that the destination sign reads "Englewood-Lake A") through Clark/Lake on October 7, 1993. (Photo by Art Peterson)

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This view shows car 2487 leading an six-car Green Line train at Clark/Lake station on February 26, 1999. (Photo by Sean Gash)

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A six-car 3200-series Brown Line train stops at Clark/Lake, led by car 3437, on February 26, 1999. (Photo by Sean Gash)

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This photo looks east at the Clark/Lake station on March 10, 1999. Car 3408 heads up a six-car Brown Line train headed for Kimball while 2826 brings up the rear of a six-car Purple Line Express train beginning its trip around the Loop before returning to Howard and Linden. (Photo by Sean Gash)

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Car 5082 leads a 4-car Green Line train to Cottage Grove, stopping at Clark/Lake on September 24, 2012. The lead unit has the amber LED destination signs that the first 5000s were delivered with. Note that, on the amber LED signs, "Cottage Grove" is in all-caps and on two lines on the front destination sign, but in title-case and one line (like on the screen-printed mylar curtains of the older cars) on the side signs. The front car sports the white-green marker lights of Cottage Grove trains. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Clark/Lake Subway Station

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As part of the renovation of the Well/Lake mezzanine, new subway entrance kiosks were installed, designed to match the modern style of the new finishes. The illuminated "OPEN" sign is a remnant of the time when the mezzanine was only open for entrance part-time, during manned hours; the "CLOSED" sign is rarely, if ever, used now. Above the south stairs to the mezzanine, looking north on September 13, 2001, is Junction 18 of the Loop Elevated, the access point for Brown and Green Line trains at the northwest corner of the quadrangle. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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As part of its 1995-96 renovation, the Wells/Lake subway mezzanine traded its 1951 Art Moderne styling for modern finishes of gray granite and stainless steel. Initially after reopening, the mezzanine continued to be a part-time entrance, with ingress only when the agent's booth was manned. Otherwise, egress was allowed at all times through rotogates. With the installation of farecard-access high barrier gates (HBGs) in 1998, however, the mezzanine could allow entrance at all times. Now, the booth is rarely manned. The mezzanine is seen looking south on September 13, 2001. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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This rush hour view looking west on the subway platform in the summer of 2001 shows what an important, busy station Clark/Lake is. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Not long after the new flooring was laid in the 1995-96 platform rehabilitation it began deteriorating. Part of the problem was that it wasn't really a new floor at all, as the original 1950s red concrete flooring was never removed. Instead, a type of polymer was poured over the concrete, which was intended to seal the old flooring and create a new decorative surface on top. However, the material's integrity failed, particularly along cracks in the old flooring underneath. This view is on October 30, 2005. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Frankle-Monigle Test Signage

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One of the Frankle-Monigle Station Identity Signs at the west end of the Outer Loop platform, looking north on October 30, 20001. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Examples of some of the Frankle-Monigle "Breadcrumbs" installed at Clark/Lake. On the left is the Frankle-Monigle "No Smoking" sign, while on the right is their ADA-accessible elevator sign. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Transfer/exit sign at 203 LaSalle exit on Outer Loop platform, looking east on January 15, 2002. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

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Transfer sign on Outer Loop platform, looking west on January 15, 2002. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

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Transfer sign on Inner Loop platform, looking west on January 15, 2002. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

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An Information Kiosk on Outer Loop platform, looking west on January 15, 2002. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

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Directional/Transfer signs posted at the top of the escalator from the Blue Line subway on January 18, 2002. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

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Frankle-Monigle sign directing customers to the Blue Line subway on January 18, 2002. Note the "Breadcrumbs" on the column on the right. (Photos by Graham Garfield)

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Directional/Transfer signs in the passageway from the subway to the street and elevated station, looking south in the lower level of the Thompson Center on January 18, 2002. (Photos by Graham Garfield)