Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chicago's first elevated railway

By John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Time Out Chicago magazine,]

On May 27, 1892, the Windy City’s first elevated railway, the steam-powered Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad, AKA the “Alley ‘L,’” rumbled into action, leaving from a downtown station at 550 S. Holden Ct., a glorified alley between State and Wabash. “This essentially helped put Chicago on the map as a major metropolitan area,” says CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. Tracks were erected above City-owned alleys all the way to 39th St., bypassing an 1872 law requiring signatures from adjacent property owners to build along streets. 300 VIPs boarded the six-car train for the 3.6-mile maiden voyage to the Spartan south terminal at 39th. There a dining car was added so a nosh could be served to the bigwigs on the return trip. Soon afterwards public service commenced with trains running as frequently as every 2.5 minutes for the 5-cent, 14-minute, one-way run. The downtown station was decommissioned in 1949 and a parking garage built around it in the ‘50s; in 1998 both structures were demolished to make way for a surface lot.