The elevated station houses on each side at the Congress/Wabash station were generally of the same design as those a few blocks north on the Wabash side of the Loop. Neoclassical buildings of Palladian design, the main difference was that the Congress buildings were not as wide as those at Randolph and Madison (probably due to the street being narrower), with fewer windows and bays on the elevations facing out over the street. At the time of this view circa 1953, the station had actually been closed for a few years. (Photo from the CTA Collection)

Congress/Wabash (500S/45E)
Congress Parkway and Wabash Avenue, Loop

Service Notes:

South Side Division

Quick Facts:

Address: 500 S. Wabash Avenue
Established: October 18, 1897
Original Line: South Side Elevated Railroad
Previous Names: none
Skip-Stop Type: n/a
Rebuilt: n/a
Status: Demolished


As originally constructed, the South Side "L", like the other early "L" lines, ended just outside the central business district. The South Side's terminal was at Congress Street, between State Street and Wabash Avenue. A common downtown terminal for all the elevated lines was desired, however. The Union Elevated Railroad, backed by transit magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes, was incorporated on November 22, 1894 to construct a loop around the central business district to connect the three elevated lines that until 1897 ended at individual terminals. The first revenue train operated around the downtown quadrangle on October 3, 1897.

The Auditorium Hotel towers over the Congress/Wabash station in the blistery winter day depicted in this classic postcard. The station, whose snow-covered platform is visible in the center, resembled stations on the east (Wabash) leg of the Loop. For a view of the entire postcard, click here. (Postcard from the Graham Garfield Collection)

To allow South Side "L" trains access to the Loop, a short section of track had to be constructed to connect the two lines. Diverging from the South Side main line about 500 feet south of the Congress Stub terminal, the tracks went a 1/2-block east over Harrison Street to Wabash, where they proceeded north to the southeast corner of the Loop at Wabash and Van Buren. The Congress/Wabash station was built to replace the Congress Terminal, which closed October 18 when all trains were rerouted onto the Loop.

The station was similar to those along the Wabash leg of the Loop. The station originally had dual station houses, one on each platform, over the street. The neoclassical buildings were clad in painted sheet metal. The Palladian designs were nearly identical to the former station houses at Randolph/Wabash and Madison/Wabash, featuring Corinthian pilasters, window surrounds resembling the Baroque style and cartouches along the roofline. However, the buildings at Congress were not as wide as those at Randolph and Madison (probably due to the street being narrower), with fewer windows and bays on the elevations facing out over the street (the windows were also grouped into two pairs of windows rather than five individual windows).

The station house interiors featured wooden floors, pressed tin walls, and tongue-in-groove wooden wall paneling. The ticket agents' booths were integrated into the trackside elevation of the building, with windows and doors from the booth both inside the station house and onto the platform.

The platforms featured canopies of steel supports with gently-curved brackets and intricate latticework, covered by hipped corrugated metal roofs. The original railings consisted of tubular metal frames and posts with panels of decorative ogee-patterned metalwork inside. The floors were wooden decks and the lights were incandescent, strung along conduit under the canopies and attached to shepherd's crook poles with porcelain-glazed "pie pan" shades outside the canopies.

A diagram of Harrison Junction in 1913 shows the left-hand crossover south of Congress/Wabash station at the top. For a larger view, click here. (Reprinted from Instructions to Trainmen in Connection with Through Routing, issued by CER to employees in 1913, Graham Garfield Collection)

The station took over the function of the Congress Stub, serving attractions like the Auditorium Theater and Hotel, the Congress Hotel and other area accommodations. Soon, the Loop reached operating capacity. On March 10, 1902, the Congress Terminal station was reactivated to handle rush hour trains that could not be accommodated in the Loop. To distinguish it from the Congress/Wabash station, the Congress Terminal was renamed "Old Congress".

By 1913, there was a diamond crossover immediately north of Congress station and a left-hand crossover to the south between the station and Harrison Curve. Instructions to Trainmen in Connection with Through Routing, a booklet issued by the Chicago Elevated Railways to employees in 1913, noted that the left-hand crossover south of the station was considered "an emergency cross-over" but was interlocked, controlled by four levers on the south end of the northbound station platform. However, while there was a signal on the northbound track indicating whether there was a normal route on the mainline track or the switch was aligned for the diverging route through the crossover, it was noted that there was no "target" (wayside semaphore signal) on the southbound track for the diverging move through the crossover and that "trains must be flagged past the target at danger [showing a 'stop' indication] when making this movement." By the time CTA took over in 1947, the crossover south of the station had been removed and the diamond crossover to the north was hand-throw.

Both Congress stations remained active until August 1, 1949, when all North-South Route trains were rerouted through the State Street Subway and use of the tracks from Wabash/Van Buren to 18th Street was discontinued by the CTA. At this time, the station closed. The North Shore Line interurban continued to use the tracks until 1963, but evidence suggests they did not use the Congress/Wabash station after CTA abandonment. The station was demolished by the mid-1950s when Congress Street was widened into a parkway to connect with the new Congress Superhighway.


A North Shore Line train stops at Congress/Wabash circa 1949 in this view looking south on the outbound platform. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Fielding Kuniecke, from the Scott Greig Collection)

congress-wabash03.jpg (140k)
Former location of Congress/Wabash station, looking east on September 30, 2002. The station was closed effective August 1, 1949. On August 10, 1956, the city opened the first section of the new Congress Superhighway and widened Congress Parkway from Grant Park to South Ashland Avenue; the station was removed between those dates, likely circa 1953. (Photo by Graham Garfield)