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Chicago’s Railroad Stations
Dearborn Street Station
Life Span: 1885-Present
Location: Dearborn and Polk Streets
Architect: Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz
Dearborn Street Station
The Romanesque Revival structure, designed by Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz, opened on May 8, 1885. The three-story building’s exterior walls and twelve-story clock tower were composed of pink granite and red pressed brick topped by a number of steeply-pitched roofs.
The station’s train shed featured 10 staging tracks and the individual railroads to use the facility constructed their own approach tracks into Dearborn. It had cost nearly $500,000 to complete. Behind the head house were the train platforms, shielded by a large train shed. Inside the station were ticket counters, waiting rooms, and one of the legendary Fred Harvey Company restaurants. In 1893 it received its own power plant to allow for efficient and interrupted operations.
Modifications to the structure following a fire in 1922 included eliminating the original pitched roof profile.
During the height of passenger rail travel in the early 1920s Dearborn Station played host to 146 trains per day carrying more than 17,000 passengers. Years later during the streamliner era the terminal not only allowed for some enjoyable railfanning but also provided photographers with a beautiful background of the Chicago skyline. Trains that could be seen calling at Dearborn included all of the Santa Fe’s most prominent such as the Super Chief, El Capitan, and Chief as well as the Chesapeake and Ohio’s Pere Marquette (it later moved to Grand Central Station), the Chicago and Eastern Indiana’s Zipper and Silent Knight, Monon’s Hoosier and Tippecanoe, Erie’s Erie Limited and Pacific Express (among others), Grand Trunk Western’s Maple Leaf and International Limited (both Canadian National trains), and the Wabash Banner Blue and Bluebird.
On September 30, 1967 the Monon Railroad was the first to end service at Dearborn Station and other railroads slowly followed (the C&O had left years ago, transferring its trains to the south at Grand Central).
The station was closed on May 2, 1971, as the first step of Amtrak’s consolidation of Chicago’s remaining intercity train operations at Union Station. By 1976, Dearborn Station’s trainshed was demolished and tracks were removed. However, the headhouse building escaped the fate of several other Chicago stations like Central Station and Grand Central Station, which were both demolished. The train station stood abandoned into the mid-1980s when it was converted to retail and office space. The former rail yards provided the land that is now known as Dearborn Park.
Dearborn Station Railroads Serviced
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Rallway (Monon Route)
Chicago & Erie Railroad
Chicago & Western Indiana R. R.,
Grand Trunk Railway
Monon Route (C, I. & L. Ry.)
From RAND, McNALLY & Co’s BIRD’S-EYE VIEWS and GUIDE TO CHICAGO 1893
Arrival in Chicago
Dearborn Station (Polk Street, head of Dearborn Street), serving the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Chicago & Erie, the Chicago & Eastern Illinois, the Chicago & Grand Trunk, the Monon Route (Louisville, New Albany & Chicago), and the Wabash. This station is numbered 6 on our map of down town hotels and stations. You have entered well into Chicago from the south, and as you face the locomotive, in your car, Lake Michigan (east) is on your right, and the north is directly in front of you. Go out of the front door of the station and you are at the head of Dearborn Street. Of the buildings which line it several are sixteen stories in height and many are ten and twelve. But this beautiful station is itself well worthy of notice, on account of the novelty and utility of many of its accessories.
The great fireplaces, the Flemish tower with its brazen dragon, the marble fittings of its basement region, the busy scenes attending the departure and arrival of trains for six great railroads all these things should be carefully observed.
On leaving your train, to the left are the restaurant (cafe), smoking-room, and news-stand; to the light, waiting-rooms, ticket and telegraph offices, parcel booth, and ladies’ retiring-rooms. In the basement are the barber-shop, men’s
closets, and second-class waiting-rooms. Vast numbers of immigrants go west by way of this station. If you visit it during certain morning hours you will see thousands leaving the station on foot; they are suburban residents, bound for the tall buildings near by. If it is dark you will see the lights
shining on the sixteenth story of the Great Northern Hotel, and you are to know that this hotel is on the northeast corner of Dearborn and Jackson streets. You may here take a special street-car (5 cents) and travel to the North Side (Wells Street Station; see paragraph No. 2). By this means you can go either to the doors, or within a block, of, first, the Great Northern, Windsor, Tremont, Commercial; or, second (on the left), McCoy’s, Gore’s, Hotel Grace, the Grand Pacific, the small Clark Street hotels named in paragraph 5, and also the Sherman and Briggs; on the right, the Palmer, Richelieu, Leland, Victoria, Auditorium, Wellington, Clifton, Brunswick, and all the State Street hotels Conroy’s, Bartl’s, Richmond, Brown’s, Continental, Wood’s, Goldston’s, Grand. Now as to general routes: To go south (World’s Fair, etc.), walk toward Lake Michigan, to the cables or the Elevated. North (Lincoln Park), take the special horse car to Monroe Street and board the north cable. Northwest and west, same horse-car and reach Washington Street; Milwaukee Avenue cable for Humboldt Park, and Madison Street cable for Garfield Park. Southwest, walk north to Van Buren Street, and take Blue Island Avenue cable. All directions as to baggage, eating, waiting, riding, etc., which have been previously given apply here. If your time in Chicago is short, go at once to the Fair, and leave light baggage at the check rooms. At night be particular to get a car near by, or take a cab. A clock on the tower gives you standard time, an hour slower than New York time.
Dearborn Station at Polk & Dearborn
Shortly after Completion in 1885
Dearborn Street Station
Dearborn Street Station
New Passenger Depot
Corner Fourth Avenue and Polk Street
Marquis’ Hand-Book of Chicago
Dearborn Street Station
Dearborn and Polk Streets
Robinson Fire Map 1886
Volume 1, Plate 5
Chicago Tribune December 22, 1922
Fire last evening destroyed theI Dearborn station, regarded In its day as one of the finest railroad terminals In the world.
Today it is in ruins following one of the most spectacular fires the downtown district has known in years. For hours throngs stood at Dearborn and Polk streets watching the flames.
Crossed electric wires, an overheated steam pipe or a cigarette butt probably caused the fire according to Fire Attorney Shirley T. High.
Meets Running Men.
Incendiarism was regarded late last night only as a remote possibility by the fire attorney’s office, although a story told by E. A. Hansen, a railway mail clerk, who said he saw two shabbily dressed young men dash down the steps from the third floor of the station where the fire broke out, caused Attorney High to investigate this angle. –
Hansen said he was knocked nearly off his feet by the two men when he met them` on the stairway in their rush from the station.
Thouainds of loop workers and Christmas shoppers jammed the streets for three hours while the fire raged across the entire top floor and roared up the tower, which the watchers momentarily expected would fall into the street.
Christmas Mail Saved.
Six hundred employes of the eight railroads operating out of the station as well as holiday travelers and winter tourists awaiting trains were warned in time to escape from the burning terminal. Tons of Christmas mail were saved by railroad and postal employes.
While the fire still was raging officials of the eight roads announced that train service would be continued from the sheds back of the station. The annex across Plymouth court just east of the terminal will be used for the accommodation of passengers. Some of the Florida and California limited trains pulled out of Chicago from one to two hours after passengers had been loaded at a distance of several hundred feet out from the sheds.
GIrl Trampled in Rush.
Patrolman Patrick J. Burke of the traffic division, who turned in the first alarm when he saw smoke and flames behind the high tower, was one of the heroes of the fire. After “pulling the box” Burke gave the alarm to the station workers and passengers. Mrs. Hazel Locker, 26, assistant chief auditor for the Chicago and Western Indiana railroad, owners of the terminal, was carried to safety by Burke after she had been knocked down and trampled in the rush to escape from the building. She was the only person injured during the fire.
A 25 year old telephone girl, Mamle Scully, insisted on remaining at her switchboard directly under the floor where the fire started until Burke forced her to leave. Two other tele- phone girls, MIllian Michnick, 6649 South Ashland avenue, and Betty Fenneil were among tne ast tO leave.
Risk Lives for Baggage.
Despite the roaring furnace above them, many of the waiting passengers stubbornly refused to leave the station until they had rescued their baggage from the checkrooms. Police were forced to use their sticks in driving some of the passengers out.
The fire was raging in a storeroom back of the tower, where unused records were kept when Patrolman Burke’s alarm was turned in. It was learned later that a fire had been discovered in the men’s washroom a half hour earlier by O. A. Schultz, 1245 Newport avenue, head janitor, and William Sullivan, a special policeman. The two men smothered the flames and left when they believed they had extinguished the fire.
The supposition was that flames inside the walls were undiscovered until they reached the top floor of the three story structure.
FLAMES DESTROY DEARBORN STATION, CHICAGO LANDMARK, AND DELAY HOLIDAY TRAFFIC.
Great crowds yesterday witnessed the blaze which caused a loss of nearly $300,000 and required the co-operation of most of the city s firemen to subdue it. The picture was taken while the fire was still defying their efforts.
Save $34,000 Pay Roll
A pay roll of $34,000, left behind in the of the Chicago and Western Indiana, was saved by Sergts. Archie Kane and Tom Giblen of the detective bureau.
The crowds which jammed surround. ing streets were held by the spectacle of the tower. When the fire reached the tower it roared up the long shaft, which was soon a blazing torch. The clock in the tower stopped at a:56 o clock. One by one the big hands on the three faco of the clock dropped into the furnace below. Slowly the flagpole on tho top of the tower bent at its base and the crowd which had waited for It to fall cheered when it crashed.
Roads Using Station.
The eight railroads entering the Dearborn station are
The Atchison. Topeka and Santa Fe.
Chicago, Western Indiana
Chicago and Eastern Illinois.
Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville.
Chesapeake and Ohio.
A short time after Station Master F. D. Shumaker announced that train service would continue uninterrupted of the various roads made detailed statements regarding train service and the sale of tickets.
Clear Floor of Debris.
Interest In the competition between the various depot holding companies contemplating new railroad terminals was renewed with the loss of the Dear- born station.
H. G. Hetzler, president of the Chicago Western Indiana, late last night said the main floor of the old terminal will be cleared of debris as soon as possible with a view of throwing it open again. He intimated that the building might be repaired If it can be done at a cost of $200,000. The loss, without replacement, was estimated at about $300,000 by Fire Attorney High.
Hstory of Station.
The Dearborn station was built in 1884 after a long and bitter controversy between the Chicago and Western Indiana railroad and Carter H. Harrison Sr., then mayor of Chicago. The railroad owned a right of way and property as far north as Van Buren street, and there planned to erect its station. Mayor Harrison wanted the station at 12th street, but finally compromised on Polk street as the location. When it was erected the station was regarded as one of the best in the world, according to oldtimers.
Surrounding buildings were imperiled until the twenty-four streams of water which played on the burning station confined the blaze to the old terminal. Occupants of small hotels and rooming houses were driven from their rooms. Sparks and burning embers rained into the streets and fell like phosphorescent darts as far as Harrison street at Plymouth court.
Pigeons Defy Flames.
Flocks of pigeons which had their nests In the tower stayed to the very end. The parent birds did not leave their young until the fire came licking about their feathers. One old bird led a fledgling out on the ledge of one of the narrow windows of the tower, coaxing it to fly. A burst of sparks and smoke swept down; when It cleared both were gone.
Many of the pigeons were away feeding when the fire came. They came winging swiftly back. Not one but dozens flew straight at the blazing windows, and would admit defeat only from the flames.
A gray and white mother pigeon saw her nest on inside. Swiftly, yet methodically, she flew from window to window, only to be turned back everywhere. The smoke down on the street was tense enough to make one gasp. She circled in it squarely over the flames, seeking some loophole to the tower. She reeled as she flew, she clung flapping to the bricks for a moment, then she, too, was gone.
Dearborn Street Station
Dearborn and Polk Streets
Rand McNally Bird’s Eye Views 1893
Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1946
BY ROBERT HOWARD
A mezzanine floor will be constructed in the old Dearborn station as part of a half million dollar job of temporary remodeling announced yesterday by President M. F. Stokcs of the Chicago and Western Indiana railroad.
Partitions and doorways will he rearranged and many of the sta- tlon s.facilities will be relocated In an effort to lessen tile Inconvenl- ence suffered by passengers on tile six railroads using tile terminal, which was built in 1885.
Alterations Planned in 1943
Stokes said the alterations have been tinder consideration since 1943 and have no connection with cur- rent proposals to consolidate the four stations south’ of the loop. Be. cause a new terminal couldn’t be completed for several years In any event, the reconstruction Is necessary to care for present passengers, said Stokes, a member of the committee studying proposals for a consolidated station.
A site at Randolph st. north of Grant park has been suggested by civic leaders as the ideal location for a new terminal.
Details of Remodeling
In the Dearborn station, the present concourse, to the train gates, will be combined with the present main waiting room, in which outbound Pullman passengers now have their tickets approved. By relocating the news stand, the combined waiting room concourse will have overall dimensions of 136 by 84, including space for such facilities as a counter.
Two stairs, with 22 steps each, will lead from that area to the mezzanine floor, which will be 128 by 78 feet over-all, with a 48 by 21 light well in the center. Around the light well benches will be located. Other mezzanine facilities be the women’s rest room, the mother’s room, the temporary USO, a news stand, toilets, and a few telephone booths and coin lockers.
Facilitate Crowd Movements
The present concourse roof and second floor space will not be disturbed. The main floor waiting room will have a 14 foot ceiling, The mezzanine ceiling will be 10 feet.
Rearrangement of other facilities and opening of many of the station’s partitions will permit crowds to be handled quickly, Stokes said. Old arches will be torn out, their columns left to support tile walls.
A new entrance from Polk st. will be provided as part of the renovation, and the old masonry will be disguised with streamlined decorations intended to make the station more attractive. In general, the lines of the Fred Harvey restaurant, the only modern part of the station at present, will be followed.
Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White are architects, and the Ellington and Miller company will be the general contractor.
The 1976 demolition of the train sheds behind Dearborn Station drew cries of outrage.
Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1984
By David Ibata
FEW BUILDINGS can boast of having been the focus of as much controversy; or generated as much work for developers, architects attorneys, preservationists, community activists and public officials; or been considered as important to the future of the surrounding community as Dcarborn Station.
Taken alone, the station is not much to brag about.
The Romanesque structure at 47 W. Polk St. anchors the southern end of Dearborn Street. The city has designated it a landmark. The National Park Service has entered its name on its National Register of Historic Places. But it’s in terrible physical condition.
The clock at the top of a 138-foot-tall tower stopped years ago. Weathered plywood stares bleakly from archways that once held glass windows. The roof is on the verge of collapse. The masonry walls and terra-cotta are crumbling, The interior is a shambles, having exposed to the elements since demolition of the train shed ripped away the southern wall in 1976.
HOWEVER, THERTE’S more to the depot than grimy red bricks and crumbling mortar.
“It’s always been the symbol of the South Loop,” said Bette Cerf Hill, president and executive director of the Burnham Park Planning Board, formerly the South Loop Planning Board. It’s surrounded by new develop. mont, so it s like the centerpiece on the table. It’s funny that (its redevelopment) is coming last instead of first, but that’s okay.”
The station was completed in 1885. It is the oldest intercity depot here and is one of only two major terminals still standing. The other survivor, Union Station, is a relative youngster, having been built in 1925.
Other stations that helped make Chicago the passenger railroad hub of the nation have been demolished: Grand Central Station, which opened in 1890; Central Station, 1893; LaSalle Street Station 1903 and the most recent victim of the wrecker’s ball, North Western Station, 1911.
NEW YORK architect Cyrus L.W. Eldillz, who later designed the New York Times building, designed Dearborn Station. The Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad, a switching and transfer line, built it. The C&WI was owned by the depot’s six tenant railroads: Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe; Chicago & Eastern Illinois; Monon Erie; Grand Trunk; and Wabash.
In the late 1800s, the station served an average of 122 trains and 17,000 people a day. A fire in 1922 nearly leveled the structure, which was rebuilt with a third floor. Later the depot became a favorite spot for stargazers who could glimpse celebrities as they boarded Santa Fe trains for Los Angeles.
By the late 1960s, competition from highway and air travel had convinced most railroad executives they couldn’t make money operating passenger trains. One by one, the old trains. The last Super Chief called at Dearborn Station in 1971. The last railroad-related office tenant moved out in 1976.
Dearborn Park Corp. purchased the depot the following year as part of 335 acres it bought to build the Dearborn Park rental apartment and condominium development. The corporation sold the station to the Chicago Public Building Commission for slightly more than $200,000 in 1970.
AFTER SPENDING nearly $1 million on feasibility studies, though, the commission dropped as too costly plans to renovate the property for an elementary school and community center.
Community Resources Corp., a group of architects, lawyers and developers active in tlie nearby Printing House Row redevelopment, proposed turning the property into an office and retail center anchored by a Treasure Island supermarket. Getting the grocery chain to sign a lease, though, took more than a year of negotiations.
By late 1981, when the lease finally was signed, the city commission’s patience had run out. Cook County Board President George Dunne, who also was chairman of the commission, told Community Resources that It had its anchor tenant, so hand over $218,000 for the property and $30,000 for half the costs of a security guard.
The developers balked, saying they didn’t want to pay part of the commission’s security expenses and wonted assurances from Chicago that low-interest industrial revenue bands would be available to pay for the anticipated $4 million rehabilitation.
DUNNE GAVE Community Resources until Nov. 24, 1981, to pay up. When it didn’t, he put the station up for auction. When sealed bids were opened on Jan. 11, 1982, the highest turned out to be one for $900,492.81 by First Savings Corp., a subsidiary of First Federal Savings & Leoan Association of Chicago.
First Savings said it would spend approximately $10 million refurbishing the building and constructing an atrium and three-story office annex ‘ othe South.
The parent thrift institution would lease the 100,000 square feet of offices as an interim headquar- ters while a new skyscraper was constructed on the site of its prior home at 1 S. Dearborn St.
That plan fell by the wayside because of mounting fiscal losses. In a transaction arranged by federal regulators, Citicorp, a New York bank ny acquired First Federal in 1983—and found reluctant owner of an abandoned railroad station.
THE THRIFT Institution put the station up for sale in July. It announced in late November that it would sell the depot for $1.2 million cash to an out-of-town partnership consisting of Cleveland developer Harvey G. Oppmann managing; San Francisco architect Herbert McLaughlin; and San Francisco real estate attorney and developer Ed Conner.
The Oppmann-McLaughlin-Conner partnership plans to renovate the main station house and construct ia glass-enclosed shed behind it, for a total of a 60,000 square feet of rentable retail and office space. In a later construction phase, the developers may build a three- or four-story building with 60,000 to.100,000 square feet of shopping and offices.
The partners come to Chicago fresh fronm the Cleveland Arcade, a restoration of a five-story, 250,000 square-foot mall for retailing.
Publicly Chicago developers who also wanted to take on as visible and prestigious a project as Dearborn Station applaud the fact that at last something may be done with the property Privately, however, about Citicorp’s choice of an out-of-towner.