Division station on February 23, 1951. Here, a VIP tour of the new subway is being lead on newly-delivered car 6101-6102. The man facing right at the foot of the stairs is George DeMent, Commissioner of Subways and Superhighways and later a CTA chairman. (Photo from the George Krambles Collection.)
Division Street, Ashland Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue, Wicker Park/Noble Square (West Town)
Blue Line: Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway
Address: 1200 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Established: February 25, 1951
Original Line: Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway
Previous Names: none
Rebuilt: 2019-20 (renovation)
Station (1951, A/B service annulled after one AM rush period)
Status: In Use
Division/Milwaukee is typical of the downtown Dearborn and State Street subway stations. Described at the time as of a "modern design" (really somewhere between art deco and art moderne), the mezzanine station has smooth concrete floors and ceilings and white glazed tile walls (sometimes referred to as "structural glass"). The fare control booths are made of stone walls with a small ventilation grate near the bottom and glass windows on all four sides. Turnstiles were steel.
The island platform has red no-slip concrete floors, curved concrete ceilings and I-beam steel columns. Fluorescent lights and illuminated station signs hanging from the ceilings originally finished the decoration. When compared to the ornate subways of New York, London or Paris (built at least several decades before), these stations and their simple, deco-style designs may seem starkly utilitarian but they are very much a product of their era. Though much of the structural work of the Dearborn Subway subway was concurrent with that of State Street's (which opened in 1943), the Dearborn line's was held up until 1951 due to wartime materials shortages. Even then, it was only open at the north end, with cars forced to turn around at LaSalle/Congress until the south end's completion years later.
The walls at Division are squared rather than rounded because of how the tunnels were excavated there. Most of the subway tunnels, including those at the stations, were excavated with large circular cutting shields, which are what gives the tunnels their round shape. However, as the tunnels got closer to the surface where they joined the elevated, the tunnels were excavated from the ground down then covered over, a method called cut-and-cover. Cut-and-cover construction tends to create a large box shape because of how its dug and reinforced with a steel structure. All of the tunnels have a rectilinear shape near their portals to the surface. However, Division (and Roosevelt on the Red Line) station is close enough to the portal and thus the surface that the station platform was also excavated cut-and-cover, resulting in the different shape. You may also notice that the I-beam columns along the platform are not quite as thick as those at other stations. This is because they are supporting less weight since the tunnels are closer to ground level there.
In September 2004, Dunkin' Donuts, the coffee and baked goods chain, broke ground on seven new concessions in CTA stations around the "L" system. One such new concession was located at Division station. "This is the first major concerted effort to open a significant number of Dunkin' Donuts stores in CTA stations," said Mike Lavigne, director of development for Dunkin' Donuts. All new Dunkin' Donuts CTA station stores were scheduled to be full-service. The new concession opened in 2005.
Your New Blue: Station Improvements
On December 5, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn announced a comprehensive improvement plan for the Blue Line O'Hare Branch (including the northern portion of the Dearborn Subway), an overhaul that will provide faster travel times and updated stations while creating more than 1,300 jobs.
The $492 million plan, called Your New Blue, includes several track and station improvement projects along a 12.5-mile stretch of the Blue Line between the Grand and Cumberland stations, as well as upgrades to the signal system between the Jefferson Park and O'Hare stations. The overall Your New Blue program, beginning construction in 2014 and planned to last four years, is a package of several discrete projects ranging from station improvements to track renewal, signal replacement, traction power upgrades, and subway tunnel water mitigation efforts.
Division is one of the stations planned to receive improvements under the program. The scope of these improvements -- identical to those also planned for the Chicago and Grand stations in the Dearborn Subway -- include street-level entry stairway improvements, including new entry kiosks at each stair opening, new granite stair treads and risers, new glazed wall tiles, repainted ceilings, and new lighting. The mezzanine is planned to receive an epoxy finish on concrete floor, new plaster ceilings, new, high-efficiency lighting, and new stainless steel exit rotogates, while the stairs to platform will see the installation of new granite stair treads and risers, repainted ceilings, and replacement lighting. The escalator between the platform and the mezzanine is to be replaced. Planned improvements on the platform include new granite flooring, new stainless steel over concrete block walls, replacement of painted doors with stainless steel, new light fixtures in a steel shroud over platform, and new furniture.1 As part of CTA's enhanced Safe & Secure security upgrades throughout its system, new HD cameras will be installed on both the mezzanine and platform levels, along with new audio speakers on the platform.2
On August 15, 2018, the CTA Board approved a $30 million project to renovate and modernize the Grand, Chicago and Division Blue Line stations. The CTA board awarded the Grand-Chicago-Division Blue Line renovation contract to F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates, LLC. Paschen is an industry leader in infrastructure construction and rehab projects, and has extensive experience in heavy rail transportation, including mass transit, several CTA projects among them.3
To perform the renovation work at the Division, Chicago and Grand stations, some service impacts were required. All stations remained open during the construction period, except for nine weekend-only closures, three at each station. There were also some weekends when one track or the other was closed to accommodate work, requiring trains to run in both directions on the same track through all three stations (the nearest crossovers are north of Division and south of Grand), as well as dozens of such occurrences during overnight periods.
To allow construction and renovation of the spaces within the stations while keeping them open, work was staged to close only sections at a time. The mezzanines were closed off and renovated a portion at a time, along with each street-to-mezzanine stairway and entrance, each of which closed for 42 days each. To carry out the platform renewal work, each station's platform was closed half at a time, longitudinally down the middle. Trains bypassed the side of the platform being worked on, which was barricaded from passenger access to allow the floor topping to be removed and replaced; during these periods, passengers had to "back-ride" (riding to the next stop, exiting and boarding a train back in the opposite direction) or use alternate existing bus services. The original plan for for each half-closure and bypass period to last 3-4 weeks, and while this was the case at Division (the first of the three stations to have the platform deck renewed), it was decided to rearrange the work to allow for shorter periods of back-riding at Chicago and Grand to alleviate crowding and congestion issues that occurred during Division's back-rides.
The weekend of September 20-23, from 10pm Friday to 4am Monday, the Division station temporarily closed. Passengers were directed to use the adjacent stations at Damen or Chicago, a free bus shuttle between the Division and Chicago stations, or the #56 Milwaukee bus. The station closed again from 10pm, Friday, October 18 to 4am, Monday, October 21.
Division station's platform renewal began with the O'Hare-bound side of the platform, which closed from 4am, Monday, September 23 to 10pm, Friday, October 18, 2019, requiring passengers to back-ride. After the aforementioned weekend closure on October 18-21, platform renewal switched to the Forest Park-bound half, which closed from 4am, Monday, October 21; it reopened a little after 3:30am (about 18-1/2 hours earlier than planned) on Friday, November 8, 2019.
At 5am, Monday, December 2, 2019, the east street-to-mezzanine entrance stairway at the Division Blue Line station, on the northeast corner of Ashland Avenue and Division Street, on the Polish Triangle plaza, temporarily closed for 42 days for renovation; at the same time, the east portion of the mezzanine and corridor to the closed stairway were blocked off for renovation. It reopened at 5am, January 6, 2020. The west street-to-mezzanine entrance stairway at the Division Blue Line station, on the southwest corner of Ashland Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue, closed just before 5am, January 13, 2020 for renovation of that stairway and the west half of the mezzanine; at the same time, the west stairwell between the mezzanine and platform also closed for renovation; it opened at 5am, Sunday, February 23, 2020.
Beginning in late February 2020, each street-to-mezzanine stairway closed again, for shorter three-week durations, for the installation of the new entrance enclosures. Work included preparing the foundations for the kiosk structures, including rebar installation and concrete pours. Then, the new steel enclosure was delivered pre-fabricated and installed on-site. At Division, the east entrance stairway on the northeast corner of Ashland Avenue and Division Street temporarily closed at 9am, Monday, February 24; it reopened at 9am, Friday, March 13.
Installation of new glazed block wall finishes was performed throughout winter 2019-20, taking place at mezzanine level largely as sections were temporarily closed off in conjunction with stair closures as described above. Installation of finishes in the mezzanine and on the platform were largely completed by mid-March 2020, as was tunnel wall repainting.
Paschen had to briefly close individual stairs and sections of mezzanine for brief periods in spring and summer 2020 to complete additional work: The west street-to-mezzanine entrance stairwell, and the west stairwell between the mezzanine and platform, closed for a week from 9am, Monday, April 20 to 9am, Monday, April 27, while Paschen performed additional work. These two west stairwells, as well as the east street-to-mezzanine entrance stairwell on the east side of Ashland Avenue and east mezzanine-to-platform stairwell, alternated closing at different times between 9am, Monday, May 11 and around 10:45am, Saturday, May 23, 2020 for additional work. The two street-to-mezzanine stairwells and two mezzanine-to-platform stairwells were again closed at various times between 10am, Monday, June 8 and 9am, Friday, June 19 for additional work, though only one street and platform stairwell was closed at a given time. The west street-to-mezzanine entrance stairwell was again removed from service for additional work from 7am, Wednesday, July 22 to 10am, Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Both street-to-mezzanine stairwells were again closed, one at a time, between 7am, Monday, August 10 and 7am, Saturday, August 15, 2020, for additional work.
In early summer 2020, the station was bypassed overnight twice in each direction, while contractor crews closed half of the platform at a time to clean and seal the new platform deck topping. O'Hare-bound trains bypassed Division from 10pm to 4am the next morning on Friday night, June 26 and Saturday night, June 27; Forest Park-bound trains bypassed Division from 10pm to 4am the next morning on Monday night, July 6 and Tuesday night, July 7.
This Chicago-L.org article is a stub. It will be expanded in the future as resources allow.
1. "Your New Blue." CTA website, accessed January 11, 2014.
2. "CTA Awards Contract for Modernization of Grand, Chicago and Division Blue Line Stations." CTA press release, August 15, 2018.