Saturday, July 9, 2011

For transit geeks only...

My mother often told me about trips she would make as a child from her home in Humboldt Park to the Loop on an L line that ran somewhere in the vicinity of North Avenue. Now I knew that area like the back of my hand and for the longest time I thought she was mistaken, there was absolutely no trace of an L line anywhere near North Avenue. Even in a couple of books I had devoted to the L there was no mention of such a line. Surely she must have meant the same Logan Square line that I took so many times in my childhood.

It wasn't until years later when the internet came along that I leaned that she was not mistaken at all, there was indeed at one time an elevated line that ran parallel to North Avenue, above an alley just to the north of the street. It was called the Humboldt Park Line.

Sure enough, on closer inspection, I discovered that all of the buildings on the north side of that alley from Damen Avenue to the west, had been constructed within the last fifty years or so, after the demolition of the line, and that where there was no recent construction, the alley was wide enough to accommodate an L structure.

The Humboldt Park Line was a branch of the Logan Square Line, today's Blue Line. It broke off from the main line just north of the Damen Avenue stop, then continued about two miles west to Lawndale Avenue. The line was originally intended to go all the way to the city limits at Harlem Avenue, some four miles beyond Lawndale, but economic conditions were never right for the extension. Had the line extended only a few blocks more, to Pulaski Avenue, its fate may have been different as it would have generated greater ridership from passengers headed to and from a burgeoning business district. It was not meant to be however as the line never made the crossing over the already existing Milwaukee Road tracks just west of Lawndale. The line's location steps from the North Avenue streetcar line didn't help either as the greater frequency of the streetcars made them more attractive to riders than the more infrequent trains. If you're interested in more facts about the Humboldt Park Line as I know you are, click on this link to the ultimate L geek site, Chicago "L".org. It gives a fascinating account about the CTA's plans for the discontinuation of the line by intentionally running it into the ground.

Here is an interesting article (please keep in mind the title of this post), from a site called Forgotten Chicago, that gives a detailed look at what remains of seven defunct Chicago El lines. All of the lines were abandoned and demolished in the 1950s, a decade after the Chicago Transit Authority was established to consolidate Chicago's public transportation system. Today for the most part there is, as is the case with the Humboldt Park Line, scant evidence remaining that they ever existed at all. The article is a nice mix of history and urban archeology, documenting some of the few artifacts that remain, including the curious bridge with both approaches removed that once served the Logan Square Line before the construction of the subway. It also contains several wonderful historic photographs of those long gone rapid transit lines.

A little more on the history of those defunct lines and the rest of Chicago transit is coming up, geeks stay tuned...

2 comments:

Pete said...

I still marvel at Nelson Algren inventing a fictional Division Street line in The Man With the Golden Arm.

jamesiska said...

He no doubt transposed the Humboldt Park line four blocks south, and enhanced its ambiance by placing it over a street rather than an alley.