The Laramie/Lake station, looking north on June 15, 2006. Unlike most Green Line stations built in 1994-97, Laramie is equipped with only one elevator, between the street and the track-level station house. To get from the station house (on the inbound side) to the outbound platform, long ADA-compliant ramps are provided to access the overhead transfer bridge. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Laramie (5200W/400N)
Laramie Avenue and Lake Street, Austin

Service Notes:

Green Line: Lake

Accessible Station

Quick Facts:


2743-45 W. Lake Street.(original station, in pre-1909 street numbering)

5148 W. Lake Street (current station)

Established: April 29, 1894
Original Line: Lake Street Elevated Railroad
Previous Names: 52nd Avenue

Skip-Stop Type:


Rebuilt: 1899, 1996
Status: In Use


This view looks east down Lake Street from the end of the tracks. The original three-story Laramie station is on the right; the tile mosaic on the top of the front says, "Lake Street Elevated•R•R". The passageway from the building blocked the south track and prevented its usage until its removal. Inset: The very rare use of elevators in the Laramie station, used to transfer streetcar passengers up to the "L" platform. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from Western Electrician)

When regular passenger service began on the Lake Street "L" at 5am on November 6, 1893, trains ran between California and the Madison & Market terminal; stations west were not yet finished. Service was not extended westward until November 24, when trains continued to Homan. Finally, on April 29, 1894, the structure west to 52nd Avenue was rushed to completion and service was extended to the terminal there, despite the fact that all of the elevated's facilities weren't yet complete. The 52nd Avenue station was little more than an elevated platform was service was extended there in 1894.

The Lake Street first ran with steam locomotives and trailers, but, like the rest of the "L", eventually converted to electric third rail traction. On May 9, 1896, the changeover was officially made. Concurrent with the conversion process, a three-story brick station was constructed at 52nd Avenue, completed in April of that year. Located opposite the island platform that already served the station, the station house had two elevators to bring passengers from the street to the platform. While somewhat common today, a passenger elevator was an unusual and extravagant feature for a rapid transit station of the day, almost a century before their mandatory inclusion for accessibility requirements. On the third floor, passengers entered an enclosed walkway over the south track to the island platform. The building also had additional space for offices and stores.

This magnificent station, with "Lake Street Elevated R.R." written in terra cotta on the building's front cornice, had a drawback: for unknown reasons, the passageway between the headhouse and the platform wasn't built high enough to clear trains beneath it on the south track, necessitating that track's removal from service. Because this meant the station then had only one track serving the platform, the number of trains that could be handled was severely limited, an especially problematic situation given that it was the line's terminal.

On April 19, 1899, service was extended west to Austin Avenue, with the tracks descending to ground-level shortly after Laramie station and utilizing at-grade operation and powered from overhead lines for safety reasons due to the excessive number of grade crossings. Around this time, probably concurrent with the introduction of through-service west of Laramie, the station was rebuilt. No doubt the operationally-limiting overhead walkway from the original three-story headhouse contributed to its closure, though its still surprising that this facility seems to have only been in use for three years before replacement. It is unclear if the three-story brick station was demolished at this time or merely converted to another use.


A New Station for Through Service

The new station, built circa 1899, had side platforms with track-level station houses on each side. The design of this facility, in both plan and detail, was somewhat unusual. In terms of its layout, the fact that it had a track-level station house on each platform wasn't out of character: the Lake Street's original stations mostly had this design, as did the Loop Elevated and the Jackson Park branch over East 63rd Street. What was unusual was the asymmetrical design of the station. On the inbound side, the station house was at the southeast corner of Laramie and Lake and the platform projected eastward from that point. On the outbound side, the platform occupied roughly the same location -- from Laramie Avenue eastward -- except that the station building was toward the center of the platform, with a stairway projecting down on the west side toward the street intersection.

Looking southwest at the inbound platform at Laramie on December 26, 1963, note the similarities in the design of the canopy and railings to the Northwestern's main line local stations. The station house is visible at the end of the platform on the right. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the CTA Collection)

The station buildings were small and had modest facilities. The station house on the inbound side had ticket agent and a small waiting room. It is not clear if the outbound station building had any facilities for a ticket agent or a waiting room; it may have only had utility functions such as a shelter for platform personnel and a porter's closet.

The design of the station is somewhat interesting as well. Many elements were similar or identical to designs on the Northwestern Elevated. This similarity is not as surprising as one might imagine, since both companies were under the common ownership of Charles Yerkes by the time of the second Laramie's construction. The overall design of the canopies, railings, and railing grilles are nearly identical to those on the local stations of the Northwestern's original main line. While the plan and layout of the headhouses are unique, the style, ornamentation, and details bear a striking resemblance to Kinzie Street station on the Northwestern Elevated, which was designed by the Northwestern's station architect William Gibb, and has some similarities to South Park [King Drive] and University stations on the Jackson Park branch of the South Side Elevated, also thought to be Gibb's work. The drawings for Laramie bear only the mark of the Lake Street Elevated's Chief Engineer's Office, however, indicating that Gibb either had a silent hand in the design or the staff engineers were merely copying his work.

The structure and tracks themselves were not significantly altered in the 1899 rebuild. The side platforms seem to have been built alongside the existing tracks and the space formerly occupied by the island platform allowed for the eventual installation of a center track through and adjacent to the station for storage and lay-ups. The south, inbound station house seems to have been built immediately around 1899, while there are some indications that the outbound station house on the north side of the right-of-way may have been added a couple years later.

This station served for the majority of the 20th century, although by the postwar period it was subject to the piecemeal modifications and additions of most of the Lake Line's stations.


Changes in the CTA Era

Historically, the outer portion of the Lake branch that ran at ground-level used overhead wire rather than third rail for traction power for safety reasons. For years, Laramie, the last elevated station before the line descended to street level, was the location where trains switched between trolley poles and third rail shoes for power.

In the pre-CTA era, when each car needed a conductor or guard to open and close the doors at each station, these crew members raised and lowered the poles on each car at Laramie. During the 1950s, wood cars were replaced with 4000-series cars on Lake Street, and the 4000s were upgraded with multiple-unit door control (MUDC), among other improvements, which reduced the crew to just the motorman and conductor. During periods of shorter train operation, the conductor was responsible for raising or lowering the poles. However, during some periods, including rush hours, trains were as long as six cars (and unlike on other lines, the Lake-assigned 4000s were not jumpered into pairs, so each car's pole has to be raised and lowered), which would have been a time-consuming (and delay-inducing) job for one person. So during these periods, platform personnel were assigned to Laramie to assist with the poles, both on the outbound side to raise them and on the inbound side to lower them.1

On May 19, 1961, two workmen take a break from their task of installing turnstiles and partitions on the inbound platform at Laramie. As part of a change over from trolley wire to third rail operation from Laramie to Central three days later, the ticket agent booths and fare controls at Laramie were also rearranged. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the CTA Collection)

It is unclear if there was ever a ticket agent's booth or other fare collection facility on the outbound platform at Laramie, but certainly by the 1950s there was not. When shorter trains operated, the conductor collected any fares of passengers boarding outbound at Laramie. During periods when longer trains ran, the platform men collected any fares.2

On May 22, 1961, a series of changes took place at Laramie. The first was that the overhead wire between Laramie and Central, the first ground-level station, was replaced with third rail. The change was made as one of several modifications in preparation for the track elevation project work west of Laramie. This resulted in the location of the raising and lowering of trolley poles moving from Laramie to Central. As such, the pole men that had been assigned to Laramie were moved to Central, and no longer available to collect fares.

This necessitated the second set of changes effective that date: the rearrangement of fare controls at Laramie. On the inbound side, the ticket agent's position in the old platform-level station house was closed, and a new booth was installed on the platform east of the stairs from the street. Two standalone turnstiles were also installed -- one an exact-fare coin entry turnstile, the other an exit-only turnstile -- as well as barriers for separating the paid and unpaid zones. On the outbound side, a portion of the west end of the platform-level building (described in one document as the "trolleymen's shelter house"), at the top of the stairs from the street, was converted into a ticket agent booth. The agent position was tiny -- basically just room for a chair. A ticket agent was assigned to the outbound side Monday-Saturday in 1961 (the Saturday daytime coverage was dropped in 1973). The agents' booths on both sides had no turnstiles, only fare registers.

In the 1970s, metal drum barriers were installed at all Lake Street platforms to restrict boarding to the westernmost car (where the conductor was) to permit on-train fare collection on 4-car trains.

On January 30, 1987, Laramie was converted to inbound boarding only. Although the station had largely inbound boarding and modest overall ridership -- as early as 1972, a recommendation was made to convert Laramie westbound to exit-only due to low entering traffic, as well as due to complaints from conductors which indicate that Laramie westbound was the worst Lake Street station in regard to fare evasion -- the real catalyst for the change actually seems to have been the decision to begin periodically turning cars 180 degrees on the Lake-Dan Ryan service to even out wheel-wear. (The West-South Route had no turning loops at either end and a disproportionate number of curves in each direction, so the wheels wore unevenly going back and forth on the line.) This required the drum barriers at each station to be moved so that the conductor's position, whose berthing location would change when the cars were flipped, would still land between the barriers during pay-on-train hours.

The dimensions of Laramie's westbound platform apparently did not allow simple relocation of the drum barriers and assigning a ticket agent, an alternative used at other Lake Street stations with similar problems, was not feasible at Laramie westbound because there was not room for the addition of the agent-controlled Visifare turnstile. The passage in front of the agent's position on the outbound side at Laramie was relatively narrow, and was not wide enough for both an agent-controlled Visifare turnstile and an exit-only turnstile. The space in front of agent was, in essence, too wide for the Visifare arms to span, yet too narrow for a second separate exit lane. Having only one turnstile for both directions of traffic would have been an unacceptable circulation choke point per CTA fare control standards, even at such a low-use location. (Some CTA documentation suggests it was determined in advance that an agent-controlled turnstile was not workable at this location, but other sources indicate that, circa 1980, the housing for a Visifare turnstile was, in fact, installed at Laramie outbound, but the arms were never put in once it was realized the setup wasn't workable and the Visifare was never activated.)3

The conversion to exit-only for the westbound platform was regarded as only temporary by CTA staff, as a planned column relocation project on the elevated over the Laramie/Lake intersection that was to be performed by the city in summer/early fall 1987 would have provided replacement of the platforms on this section in-kind. The new wider platforms at the west end, where the structure was being rebuilt, would've allowed for the installation of twin drum barriers or both the barriers and an agent's booth, if desired. A complete station reconstruction would likely have followed, so major changes such as a new agent's booth were not deemed practical in the short term. Unfortunately, this project did not immediately come to pass and the station remained exit-only outbound until its closure in 1994 for the Green Line rehabilitation project.


Green Line Reconstruction

The Laramie station fare control area is seen looking west in the unpaid area on June 15, 2006. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

When the Lake Street "L" and the rest of the Green Line closed in 1994 for a two year refurbishment, the CTA intended to include Laramie as one of the stations to remain permanently closed as part of service cuts necessitated by limited funds to rebuild new stations. After a public outcry, the CTA finally agreed to add a new Laramie station. Then-CTA President Belcaster stated that he planned to cover the cost by economizing at other stations to finance construction. Funding, however, was not secured until early 1996 and its delayed construction caused it to open nearly half a year after the rest of the Green Line.

Laramie's new design was developed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), who had been selected in 1993 as a lead architecture/engineering firm for the renovation of the stations along the Green Line. The new station was executed, at a basic level, following the "open plan" design. The new station house, located at track level, is constructed of white steel, large glass windows and green accents. Unlike the previous incarnations of the station, only one fare control area was provided for the both directions, located at track-level on the south (inbound) side. An elevator on the southeast corner of Lake and Laramie, decorated in white tile with green stripes, brings passengers to the station house. Rather than utilize stairs and dual elevators to bring passengers from the inbound platform to the outside side, the designers opted instead to construct two unusually long ramps along the sides of the platforms to ascend to a bridge over the tracks. This no doubt was a cost-saving measure, saving the cost of construction and maintenance on two elevators. The canopy extends the entire width of the platforms, but unlike the horizontally flat canopies of many new "L" stations of the preceding decades, this one has a peaked roof with postmodern, unusual angled latticework in the center section.

Because the station was added late to the roster of new facilities in the Green Line rehab, it did not open when the rest of the Green Line came back into service in May 1996. The new Laramie station was placed in service at 1000 hours on February 2, 1997. In an odd twist of history repeating itself, the outbound platform initially opened as exit-only, though this time it was merely because some additional work was necessary on the connection to the inbound platform where the fare controls are located. The station was also limited to 6-car operations when it first opened, also a result of unfinished work, and had limited ticket agent hours and a temporary agent's booth. In June 1997, the full 8-car length of the platforms came into service. It was also at this time that westbound boarding was added following the completion of the accessible ramps and overhead transfer bridge and the permanent customer assistant's booth came into use.


Looking east from the curve just west of Laramie station that brings the Lake Elevated from the steel structure to the Union Pacific embankment, the station's canopy stands front and center. Like most modern "L" stations, it is a full-width canopy but unlike the horizontally flat canopies other new stations from preceding decades, this one has a peaked roof with postmodern, unusual angled latticework in the center section. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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This "symbol sign", as CTA calls them, from the Laramie inbound platform is of a type implemented beginning in the mid-1950s. The artwork for this sign from the CTA Staff Engineer's Office is dated November 7, 1962; the signs were likely fabricated and installed not long after. The design of this sign is typical of this type: large first letter of the station name with the full name under it; the skip-stop letters on color-coded bands (yellow was used for 'A' stations and blue used for 'B' stations on services that terminated around the Loop; at A/B stations, the word "STATION" in the band was replaced with the name of the route/service) in the middle; and the destination at the bottom accompanied by an arrow pointing in the direction of travel. (Sign in IRM Collection, photo courtesy of Bill Wulfert)

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Looking east at the inbound Laramie platform on December 17, 1965, the small station house is seen on the right anchoring the west end of the platform over the intersection of Lake and Laramie. By this time, the building was rather worn and no longer open for passenger use, with fare paid at the booth visible on the platform. The space between the tracks, seen on the left, was originally filled by the station's original island platform. (Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection)

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This view from the east end of the outbound Laramie platform on June 15, 2006 shows the lights, railings, and other appointments standard to the SOM-designed Green Line stations and its transfer bridge with the long access ramps for accessibility between platforms. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The Laramie station platforms are seen looking east on the inbound platform near the fare controls on June 15, 2006. The ramps up to the overhead transfer bridge are seen on the left and right and the canopy truss typical of the stations Skidmore designed for the Lake Street branch stations is seen overhead. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The long ramps that lead to the overhead transfer bridge and connect the two platforms (and provide the only access to the outbound platform) are seen looking west from the bridge on June 15, 2006. In the distance, the tracks turn to the north to move from over Lake Street to the old Chicago & North Western (now Metra-Union Pacific) embankment. Previously, they descended to street level there. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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Two examples of the artwork that decorate the Laramie/Lake station platforms are seen in this view looking north at the outbound platform on June 23, 2006. The art panels were decorated by local students and were produced and installed in cooperation with the city's City Year volunteer program. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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A train of 3200-series cars stops at Laramie on the Green Line on a snowy February 1, 2008. Note the "Express" destination sign and the sign on the chains identifying the train as a Green Line. The train is most likely, in fact, not running express, but using that setting because the cars did not have destination sign roller curtains with Green Line readings and "Express" was the only "generic" reading available (other than "Not in service"). The chain sign was provided for additional identification assistance. During increment weather, when more trains than usual might be out for maintenance due to snow- or cold-related defects, it is not uncommon for cars to be transferred between lines to help cover service. Unfortunately, if they do not have the right roller curtains, this can cause issues with setting destination signs. (Photo Photo by Graham Garfield)



1. Per Chicago transit historian Andre Kristopans, who worked as a porter at the Lake Street "L" stations during this period.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.