The front facade of the current Polk station house -- rebuilt in 1983 -- looking southwest in February 2002. The station has undergone almost no changes since its construction, including retention of its odd earth tone yellow/brown/white paint scheme. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Polk (1700W/800S)
Polk Street and Paulina Street, Medical Center (Near West Side)

Service Notes:

Pink Line: Cermak (Douglas)

Accessible Station

Quick Facts:

Address: 1713 W. Polk Street
Established: April 28, 1896
Original Line: Metropolitan West Side Elevated, Douglas Park branch
Previous Names: none

Skip-Stop Type:

Station (1951-1954)

Station (1954-1958)

Station (1958-1995)

Rebuilt: 1983
Status: In Use


A view of the original Polk Street station, built in around 1895, looking south on March 8, 1971. According to the CTA, "this outmoded station with its dim incandescent lighting will be replaced by a spacious, fluorescent lit station on the south side of Polk with a 45-foot-wide window facing Polk." The fact is, the original station had a great deal more detail, including rusticated quoins, bracketed eaves and a framed doorway. Many of the Met's early stations, like Wood (also on the Douglas Park Line) used this design. The original Polk was demolished in 1983. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection)

The original station on this site resembled many of those on the Douglas Park branch. Polk, as originally built, was a largely rectangular building with a bay extending approximately five feet in front of the building and another only about two feet from the rear leading to the platform stairs. The one-story headhouse situated beneath the elevated tracks employed an unusual vernacular form with influences from the Craftsman and even Prairie School styles. The exterior walls were clad in dark red/brown brick with a rusticated stone base lined the bottom of the wall at ground level, while the corners had stone quoins. The Craftsman influences came through in the wide overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and the battered half-timbered "X" treatment over the front entrance. Like a Prairie School building, the roof had a low pitch, extended eaves (one of several qualities shared with the Craftsman) and the side elevations had tall, thin, banded windows. The employment of elements of these styles is interesting because they were rarely employed in rapid transit architecture and appeared here roughly five years before they were popularized. Most likely, the interior was a largely open space with a ticket agent's booth built into one corner of the room. A set of fare control devices -- certainly later and perhaps even originally being turnstiles -- were set perpendicular to the agent's booth and split the station house into a paid half and an unpaid half. The floors were wooden and the walls were probably plaster with decorative wood moldings and chair rail paneling.

The side platforms were each nearly identical to each other and to other Met station platforms. The flooring was treated timber planks, while the railings employed metal posts with small designs cast in them and simple wooden hand railings. In between, a series of square cast iron square plates with a stylized diamond design cast into them were placed regularly while a repeating series of bent and twisted cast iron "balustrades" finished off the decoration. Each platform had a short canopy in the center of the platform, covering the stairs and a small waiting area. The canopy frame was iron, with latticed supports and bracketed rafters. The long canopies had hipped roofs of corrugated metal. Strung beneath the canopy roof were incandescent lights for nighttime illumination. The platforms were additionally lit by gooseneck lamps that were well integrated into the railing design. Certain railing posts were replaced with lampposts of a similar design. They extended up beyond the railing to about seven feet high, terminating in a decorative capital and topped with a hooked shepherd's crook and saucer-shaped shade with two or three incandescent light bulbs. Later, these were replaced with more utilitarian shepherd's crook lights.

The interior of Polk station, looking south in February 2002, is typical of stations of its era, including broad use of square and rectangular forms, stainless steel fittings, drop ceilings, and extensive use of backlit signage. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

This was the station for the West Side Grounds, located at Polk and Wood Streets, where the Cubs played until their move to Wrigley Field in 1916.

In 1983, the station was replaced with a simple, utilitarian building and a concrete platform with a steel and glass full-width canopy, similar to most new "L" construction (see Clark-Lake, Merchandise Mart among others). Unlike these stations' all-white steel, Polk is painted white, brown and yellow. Funded by the Urban Mass Transit Administration and the Illinois Department of Transportation, this $2.6 million complex was designed by CTA architects and featured an 75' x 45' station house with fluorescent lighting, stainless steel agents' booths for two agents and passenger turnstiles, three coin-operated turnstiles and an exit turnstile (all since replaced with new TransitCard turnstiles), as well as a concession stand. Constructed on three sides of glass for maximum visibility, it also contains a waiting area for bus riders.

The platform, with its molded concrete floors and white steel railings, has an H-shaped canopy, with the legs covering the entire length of the platforms. Dual elevators provide ADA accessibility. The station, along with Medical Center on the Forest Park line, serve the Chicago Medical Center and medical training schools. The platform signs identify the stop as Polk/Medical Center, although this doesn't seem to be the station's official name.


Douglas Renovation Project

Looking north at the vertical access to the outbound platform on December 8, 2003, a new escalator is being installed where another set of stairs originally were. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

Due to Polk station's very recent construction and it current accessibility, very little work was done at this station as part of the Douglas Rehabilitation Project. The station was already ADA compliant, could berth trains of sufficient car length, and had modern amenities. The most extensive work at this station was the installation of escalators to serve each of the side platforms.

In anticipation of the installation of an escalator, the east stairway leading to the southbound platform permanently closed effective Thursday, October 23 at 0930 hours. The adjacent stairway remained available for access to the platform and a barricade was erected around the escalator construction site. By early December, work was underway by Fuji Tech, a Kiewit subcontractor, to install the new escalators. Escalator work and installation of conduit and wiring continued through December 2003 and into 2004.


Other Developments

In September 2004, Dunkin' Donuts, the coffee and baked goods chain, opened five new concessions in CTA stations around the "L" system. One such new concession was located at Polk 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.

After conducting a West Side Corridor Study and holding public meetings during 2004 and 2005, the CTA began operation of a new service over the Cermak branch. Beginning Sunday, June 25, 2006, the new Pink Line began providing the primary rail service to the branch. Operating seven days a week during the same service hours as the Blue Line had operated, Pink Line trains operated on the Cermak branch from 54th/Cermak to Polk, then terminated around the Loop via the Paulina Connector and Lake branch of the Green Line. Service levels increased with the introduction of the Pink Line, with trains running more frequently including a 7.5-minute interval during weekday rush periods. To address community concerns, Blue Line service to the O'Hare branch from 54th/Cermak via the Dearborn Subway was maintained during morning and afternoon rush hours. The Pink Line and revised Blue Line services were instituted as an 180-day experiment, extended for additional 180-day experimental periods subsequently, while ridership and other effects were studied. As the experimental period continued, the CTA revised service on the Cermak branch to eliminate the rush period Blue Line trains, leaving the Pink Line to provide all service to 54th/Cermak. Although ridership had risen overall since the introduction of the Pink Line, Blue Line trains had consistently low ridership on a person-per-railcar-basis. The last day of Blue Line Cermak service was Friday, April 25, 2008.


The Polk platforms, looking south on June 4, 2004. The structure of the canopy is full-width, but only the platforms are actually covered, save for a section in the center that covers the tracks. The design is typical for the period of its construction. The name signs call the station Polk/Medical Center, a name it is referred to by nowhere else. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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A Bicentennial 6000-series Douglas-Milwaukee B train stops at Polk on September 20, 1976. The car was renamed and repainted for the country's bicentennial celebration. (Photo by Douglas Grotjahn, from the collection of Joe Testagrose)

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A view of the original Polk Street station in the early 1980s, shortly before demolition. The original Polk was demolished in 1983. (Photo from the CTA Transit News)

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The platform of Polk in March 1998, looking northwest on Paulina Street. The white tower in the middle of the platform is an elevator shaft. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The entrance to the Polk station in March 1998. The vehicle on the right belongs to the CTA. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The side platforms at Polk, looking north from the outbound platform in February 2002. The use of vertical and horizontal squared-off forms, full-width canopies, crossbeams with cutout shapes, and extensive use of backlit signs were typical of stations built in from the 1970s to the early 1990s. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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While the escalator installations are taking place, plywood enclosures block off the construction area but will allow access to the half of the stairwell where the existing stairs are remaining, seen looking west on December 8, 2003 at the stairway to the outbound platform. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

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The Metropolitan's wood motors were some of the most long-lived wood cars, not leaving service until the mid-1950s. Gate car 2739, operating at the rear of a six-car train at Polk in the CTA era, was in the first order of Met motor cars purchased in 1894. (Photo from the Jeff Obarek Collection)

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A Douglas-Milwaukee "B" train, trailed by car 6590, is at Polk on August 21, 1970. Note the sign on the right, added for the West Side Medical Center (which includes UIC's hospital and Cook County Hospital); the name of the station was later changed (at least on the station signs) to "Polk - Medical Center". (Photo by Joe Testagrose)

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Car 2348 leads a Douglas-Milwaukee "B" train of mixed cars - one set of 2200s led by a set of 2400s - at Polk on May 26, 1978. Note the University of Illinois Medical Center sign on the platform added in later years. (Photo by Ed McKernen, Collection of Joe Testagrose)

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A Douglas-Milwaukee "B" is completed by car 2350 - the last 2200-series car built by Budd - as the train stops at Polk on September 20, 1976. Note the yellow "Air Conditioned" sticker over the motorman's window. (Photo by Doug Grotjahn, Collection of Joe Testagrose)