In this fourth installment of our “Lost Legends” series, delve into the history of the Chicago and North Western Station in West Loop Gate. This Italian Renaissance Revival-style structure was once an architectural icon in the heart of the city. Originally designed by architects Frost and Granger, the station stood proudly from its inauguration in 1911 until its demolition in 1984 to make way for the Citicorp Center Tower.
The inception of the Chicago and North Western Station traces back to the establishment of the Galena and Chicago Union, which built the Wells Street Station in 1848. After merging with the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1864, the combined entity continued to operate out of Wells Street in The Loop. The original station was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, leading to the construction of a temporary wooden replacement and ultimately a more permanent Victorian edifice that stood from 1881 until 1911.
To adapt to evolving traffic patterns, elevated approaches were added to the Chicago and North Western Station, prompting a relocation of operations across the Chicago River in 1911. The grand station comprised 16 elevated tracks, all situated above street level, with six approach tracks guiding passengers into the 894-foot-long enclosed terminal.
The head building’s upper level catered to inter-city passengers and featured an array of amenities such as dressing rooms, baths, and medical facilities. The waiting room’s crowning glory was its striking 84-foot-tall barrel-vaulted ceiling, adorned with intricate plasterwork and elegant chandeliers. The ground floor provided a separate waiting area for daily commuters, connecting them to popular destinations like Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin.
The Era of the 400 Series Trains and the Unconventional Left-Handed Train Station
Between 1935 and 1963, the iconic 400 Series trains operated from the Chicago and North Western Station to St. Paul, Minnesota. Renowned for providing comfort and extraordinary speeds, the 400 made headlines in the late 1930s when it reached an impressive 108 miles per hour en route to Minnesota. Despite utilizing existing equipment, the 400 successfully rivaled the velocities of the Burlington’s Zephyr and Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha.
A unique feature of the Chicago and North Western Station was its reputation as the “left-handed train station.” This peculiarity originated during its single-track days when the second track was introduced on the side opposite the station. As a result, the inbound track remained the closest to the platform. This practice persisted when the new station was constructed, requiring passengers to board on the atypical side compared to other rail lines.
In its heyday, the station also housed a renowned Fred Harvey restaurant, which offered high-quality dining to travelers and became a beloved destination for locals and visitors alike.
The Loss of a Rail Legend
The Chicago and North Western Station met its demise in 1984, demolished to pave the way for the much glassier Citicorp Center Tower. In its place, the Ogilvie Transportation Center now operates, named in memory of former Governor Richard B. Ogilvie.
While the Chicago and North Western Station no longer stands, its rich history and architectural significance remain documented in the annals of Chicago’s past. As a “Lost Legend,” the station exemplifies the dynamic nature of urban landscapes and highlights the value of safeguarding our architectural heritage.