The grand facade of the Wells Street Terminal is seen looking west in 1955 as crews are already beginning to dismantle the platform canopies on the background. The south end of the Quincy/Wells platform can be seen in the lower right, although the bridge connection between the stub terminal and Loop platform has already been removed. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive)

Wells Street Terminal (200W/314S)
Wells Street between Jackson Blvd. and Van Buren Street, Loop

Service Notes:

Garfield/Douglas Lines

Quick Facts:

Address: 314 S. Wells Street
Established: October 3, 1904
Original Line: Metropolitan West Side Elevated
Previous Names: Fifth Avenue Terminal
Skip-Stop Type: n/a
Rebuilt: 1927
Status: Demolished


The original Fifth Avenue Terminal, seen in this 1913 view from the Chicago Daily News, was much smaller than its later replacement. A one-story structure with a stone facade, the light-bulb-filled lettering on the cornice gives the building a commercial, almost recreational feel. For a larger view, click here [off-site link]. (Image #DN-0061194, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society Collection)

A terminal at Fifth Avenue -- the name of Wells Street from 1870 to 1916 -- was always part of the plan for the West Side Metropolitan Elevated Railroad, included even in the wording of its franchise. The cost of land acquisition and construction would prove too high for the "L" company in the beginning, however. As a stopgap, a small, compact terminal at Franklin Street (one block west) was built. The Franklin Terminal was in use for just for less than three years between 1895 and 1897. In 1897, the Loop opened and all Met trains were routed there. At this time, the Franklin terminal was apparently demolished.

Soon, however, the Loop reached operating capacity and trains were being turned back at Canal Street, east of the Chicago River. This was by no means ideal, so the Met revived its plans for a terminal at Fifth Avenue, this time to augment the Loop as an auxiliary terminal facility. In mid-1902, the city council granted the Met approval to construct a four-track terminal at Fifth Avenue, just south of Jackson Boulevard.

The Fifth Avenue Terminal opened on October 3, 1904. Constructed at a cost of $1 million, the station featured a one-story headhouse facing Fifth Avenue featuring concessions, ticket agents and stairs to the platforms. At track level, the station featured four stub-end tracks. Initially, rush hour "trippers" from all branches of the Metropolitan "L" used the terminal. By 1907, 114 rush-hour trains were operated from the terminal.

The Aurora Elgin & Chicago interurban line, which had negotiated trackage rights with the Met west of Chicago and ran as far as the city limits at 52nd Avenue, was lobbying the Chicago city council to grant it rights to operate into the city. The Loop was an inconvenient place for the AE&C to terminate from the perspective of both the interurban (no place to stage or store trains, nor could they stand for any length of time) and the city and "L" companies (the congestion on the Loop was already at a peak from the "L" alone), so the Fifth Avenue Terminal provided a practical solution for all concerned. On February 23, 1905, the city council modified the Metropolitan Elevated's franchise to allow the AE&C to use the elevated structure to reach downtown and the interurban began running trains to the terminal. The AE&C began running newspaper trains and less-than-carload freight from the station by 1910.

In 1916, Fifth Avenue was renamed Wells Street and the terminal followed suit. That same year, the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad began running a "newspaper train" from the terminal to points north, bringing newspapers from the downtown dailies to the communities on the North Shore. Newspapers were hoisted up using a conveyor belt to a special loading platform next to the southernmost stub track. In 1919, the North Shore Line relocated its newspaper loading to North Water Terminal.

In 1922, the AE&C was reorganized as the Chicago Aurora & Elgin. As interurban traffic continued to grow and the "L" reached its peak ridership levels in the 1920s, the Wells Street Terminal began to be taxed beyond its capacity.


Renovation Into A System Showpiece

The second Wells Street Terminal's impressive Beaux-Arts facade is seen looking north in 1955, shortly before crews were getting ready to dismantle it. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from CTA Collection)

Despite its compact size, the Wells Terminal was a very busy place. Although all four tracks are occupied with Aurora, Elgin & Chicago interurban trains in this view looking east, it also was used for Met rush hour overflow. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the Fred Lonnes Collection)

After the unification of the "L" lines into the Chicago Rapid Transit Company (CRT) in 1924, plans began to be drawn up to expand and improve the Wells Street Terminal. By this time, the CRT and the CA&E were both controlled by utilities magnate Samuel Insull, who used the resources of his vast holdings to make improvements to both his rapid transit and interurban lines.

Work began in April 1926 on a new three-story Well Street Terminal. Designed by staff architect Arthur U. Gerber and chief engineer C.M. Mock, the station was designed to be a system showpiece with an elaborate terra cotta exterior and lavishly-appointed interior. The first floor contained a lobby, the CA&E's ticket office, luggage check, restrooms, telephone booths, a restaurant and a soda fountain. Several sources indicate that the second floor housed the trainmen's room, CA&E offices, women's restrooms and a men's smoking lounge, while the third floor contained a waiting room that opened out onto the platforms. Newspaper accounts say the main waiting room was 87" x 82", "well appointed, and well furnished", with a second 17" x 15" L-shaped room adjoining. Some sources suggest that the second and third floors were only a false front to hide the platforms, but this is refuted by several other sources and may be considered accurate only in so much as that they hid the tracks and platforms from view from Wells Street. A passenger elevator was also provided.

The interior was finished in pink Tennessee marble, bronze and ivory. The floors were terrazzo, and the ticket offices had bronze fixtures and fittings. The station was equipped with a system of electric amplifiers through which train announcements were made that could be heard throughout the building.

The new station was only four tracks, as the old station had been, but some improvements were made here as well. The side platform along the north side of the northernmost track was extended across Franklin Street, hugely increasing the terminal's capacity. This was made the primary track of the CA&E (changed from the southernmost track), although other tracks were utilized during peak times, and included a freight elevator for less-than-carload freight service. The Insull management also intended to extend the island platforms to handle 8-car trains rather than the 5-car trains of the old terminal, but the switches at the throat of the terminal stood in the way. This work was intended for a later phase, but was never undertaken. The new terminal complex also included a new substation under the tracks at Franklin Street. The substation building was more utilitarian than the station, but still contained some trademark Gerber architectural flourishes like terra cotta cartouches.

The new Wells Street Terminal, constructed at a cost of $160,000, opened on August 27, 1927. A glass-enclosed transfer bridge was built from the third floor to the Quincy/Wells Loop "L" station's outer platform, only feet away, allowing transfer between CA&E interurbans and West Side "L" trains, and North Shore Line interurbans and Loop "L" trains. A new transfer bridge at Quincy allowed passengers from Wells Street Terminal to reach both platforms at Quincy.

Wells Street Terminal continued to be a very busy place. CA&E base service consisted of about three trains an hour, with about 18 trains an hour during the two-hour afternoon rush period. Meanwhile, the CRT ran service out of the Wells Street Terminal to all four Metropolitan Division branches. For instance, by 1936 there were Desplaines Avenue Expresses to the Garfield Park branch, Logan Square Expresses (all stops to Marshfield, Lake Transfer, Grand, Division, then all stops to Logan Square), Humboldt Park Expresses (all stops to Marshfield, Madison, Lake Transfer, Chicago, Damen, then all stops to Lawndale), and various Douglas Park services including a Lawndale Local. During the afternoon rush hour, trains would depart and arrive within seconds of one another, requiring a very precise choreography on the part of the dispatcher and towerman at the Market Street entrance to the terminal from the Metropolitan Division Main Line.

The Wells Street Terminal was the only "L" stub terminal that provided Saturday rush hour service, owing to the 6-day work week that prevailed before World War II. However, by the late 1940s when the 5-day work week became universal, Saturday rush hour "L" service was phased out. The CA&E likewise adjusted its schedules to provide fewer trips on Saturdays.


In the CTA Era

After the CTA took over "L" operations in 1947, service to the Wells Street Terminal was decreased as operations were revised. The CTA generally did not see a future for stub terminals in its revised operating scheme for the rapid transit system. The opening of the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway for west side trains and the construction of the Congress [Eisenhower] Expressway also brought changes that spelled the end of the terminal station.

Effective August 29, 1948, Humboldt Park branch service was cut back to Damen at all hours except during rush, when the trains served Wells Street Terminal. At the same time, all Logan Square trains were routed onto the Loop, leaving only Humboldt trains and certain Garfield and Douglas runs serving Wells.

In spring of 1955, workers are dismantling the second and third floors of the headhouse in preparation for the tracks to be extended into the temporary Tower 22 junction. Only the ground floor remained more or less intact. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from CTA Collection)

On February 25, 1951, all Milwaukee (Logan Square) trains were rerouted into the new Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway. Effective the same date, Humboldt Park service was reduced to a shuttle from Damen to Lawndale, with all service to Wells Street Terminal annulled. This left only Garfield and Douglas "L" services using the Wells Street Terminal. This would end up being short-lived, however, as on December 9, 1951 these services were withdrawn from Wells Street Terminal as well, instead being routed around the Loop concurrent with the initiation of A/B skip-stop service on those routes. This left only CA&E interurban service into the terminal.

The Chicago Aurora & Elgin interurban line continued to limp along, despite declining revenues and continued to terminate their Chicago runs at the Wells Street Terminal. The nail in the coffin for the interurban was the construction of the Congress Expressway. This necessitated the demolition of the Garfield Park elevated and the adoption of temporary grade-level operation for the "L". This proved too burdensome for the interurban and they curtailed their services to Desplaines on September 20, 1953, the day the grade-level reroute took effect. With the last rail services withdrawn from Wells Street Terminal, the facility closed the same day.

The terminal was retained, left in a dormant state, for a few years under the pretense that it might be connected to the new Congress "L" Line being constructed in the expressway of the same name, either as an overflow station or to service the CA&E, should it resume service into downtown once the Congress Line was completed. But the reconstruction of Market Street at the west entrance to the terminal into the double-deck Wacker Drive put an end to those plans, requiring the ultimate demolition of the facility. The Wacker Drive project also required that the old Met "L" connecting to the Loop via Market and Van Buren be demolished, so the terminal tracks were retained and converted into a temporary through connection to the Loop. In spring of 1955, the top two floors of the Wells Street Terminal headhouse were removed. The two northern stub tracks were extended through the old station and into a new connection to the Loop, with the south track turning south onto Wells Street to allow inbound trains onto the Loop (the Loop was operated uni-directionally at the time, with traffic moving counterclockwise on both tracks) and a connecting track from the Loop onto the north track for outbound trains. This new junction, dubbed Tower 22, went into service on October 11, 1955. It remained in use until June 22, 1958, when the new Congress Line opened and all services here were rerouted via the Congress and Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway.

The four-track stub off the Loop into the former terminal remained for several years as a seldom-used siding for work trains and emergency storage. The removal of the Met's old Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge in 1961 precluded any connection between the terminal and a line, existing or proposed, to the west. The junction and remnants of the terminal between Wells and Wacker remained until they were finally demolished in August 1964.

Today, the only remnants of the Wells Street Terminal are an usual gap in the streetwall along Wells Street where the terminal once was -- a parking garage now occupies the site, but it is set back from the sidewalk -- and the Franklin Street Substation that was once behind the terminal and underneath the tracks, which still stands and feeds power to the Loop Elevated.

wellsTerminal03.jpg (155k)
Wells Terminal's two island platforms were busy places, especially during rush hour. Seen here are several CA&E interurban and "L" trains loading passengers for the trip out west. The newspaper loading dock is seen on the right, feeding the terminal's southernmost track for CA&E newspaper trains. (Photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive)

wellsTerminal06.jpg (241k)
By the time of this early 1955 view looking north on Wells Street, the Wells Street Terminal was closed. The connection to the Quincy station had been removed and the platforms had been cut back from in front of the terminal. Workers began dismantling the top two floors of the terminal headhouse soon after this photo to allow the stub tracks to temporarily connect with the Loop. (Photo from the CTA Collection)

tower22a.jpg (161k)
A Garfield Park train led by a Baldie 4000-series car enters the Loop through the temporary Tower 22 in this view looking north in 1955. The track the train is on runs through the former Wells Street Terminal. The Quincy station is visible in the background. (Photo from the CTA Collection)

wellsTerminal08.jpg (208k)
The former site of the Wells Street Terminal is seen looking northwest on December 11, 2006. The parking garage on the left occupies the site today. Note the faded painted advertisement on the side of the building; it's the same advertisement seen in the 1955 photo above. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)