The More Things Change... by J.B. Rivard
Today we have a guest post by J.B. Rivard, who wrote Illusions of Magic, an illustrated novel set in Chicago in 1933, weaving a suspenseful story of a stage magician's life into the fascinating historical fabric of the day. Highly rated on Amazon, the book is available in Kindle format here.
The final two chapters of my novel Illusions of Magic take place in the Chicago & North Western railroad terminal. But, since the book is set in 1933, it’s not THAT North Western Terminal, the station that today occupies the lower floors of that 42-story glass-and- steel building at 500 West Madison. Yet it IS, in many ways, the same terminal. What do I mean? Read on.
More than a century ago, as rail passenger and freight transport more than doubled and tripled, railroad companies recognized a shortage of facilities for handling the traffic. Chicago, the hub of railroads that crossed the continent connecting the cities of the east with the booming west, saw the construction of two great terminals to meet passenger demand: the Chicago and North Western Railway Terminal, and Union Station.
Where the Transportation Center serving Metra’s commuter trains now stands, the Chicago and Northwestern Railway built a Renaissance Revival-style station (photo below), which opened in 1911. It occupied the block on Madison from Canal Street to Clinton Street.
Easily the most monumental structure on the city’s Near West Side, its six huge granite columns rose more than 60 feet from street level. Two clocks with nine-foot faces towered above and alerted passengers to the hour. But its prize feature was the 40,000-square-foot main waiting room on the second level interior, which rose 84 feet to a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Light streamed through north- and south-facing arched skylights in the sides of the vault onto the richly colonnaded walls below. In its early years, 50,000 passengers a day passed through this waiting room.
Stretching three football fields in length to the north of the terminal was the train shed, housing 16 tracks elevated above street level. This huge structure of steel columns and arched steel ribs included roof slots allowing smoke and steam from the locomotives of the time to escape as well as skylights to allow light in (see my illustration below). Passenger platforms, two city blocks long, separated pairs of tracks. At the far north end, the 16 tracks merged through intricate switches and crossovers to six tracks that led trains west, northwest, or north.
Demolished in the mid-eighties, this famous terminal was replaced by the 42-story Citicorp Center skyscraper (photo below). Its train station, now called the Ogilvie Transportation Center, was renamed after Gov. Richard Ogilvie, who created the RTA, the parent of Metra, in 1997. Yet it still features 16 tracks entering from the north under a rebuilt train shed, with passenger platforms separating pairs of tracks. Thousands of passengers still leave the station in trains, bump along the crossovers and switches to six tracks that head north, northwest, or west to their destinations.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Thanks to J.B Rivard for this contribution. Be sure to check out his website, Illusions of Magic, here.
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