Chicago once had its own Grand Central Station, a now-demolished hub of railway activity in South Loop. This magnificent structure served as one of Chicago’s main passenger terminals for nearly 80 years. Today, we will delve into the chronicles of this lost legend, exploring its history, the vision of its architect, its demolition, and its present-day replacement.
Constructed in 1890, Chicago’s Grand Central Station was the brainchild of the Chicago & Northern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Central Railroad (WC), which was itself owned by the Northern Pacific Railway (NP). It served as a major terminal for numerous rail lines, linking Chicago with various destinations across the United States.
The man behind the design of Chicago’s Grand Central Station was none other than Solon Spencer Beman, a prominent architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beman, who was also responsible for the design of Pullman, the first planned industrial town in the United States, crafted a vision for Grand Central Station that would be both functional and architecturally marvelous.
The station’s exterior featured Norman Castellated architecture, characterized by brownstone and granite construction, as well as a 247-foot clock tower with an 11,000 pound bell. Meanwhile, the interior housed a grand waiting room with 26-foot ceilings and marble flooring.
The station was equipped with 10 tracks and five platforms that could accommodate up to 150 trains and 17,000 passengers per day. Other features included small jail, a women’s lounge, a nursery, a first aid station, and two restaurants.
Demolition and the End of an Era
As the decades passed, Grand Central Station faced increasing challenges that ultimately led to its demise. The shift in transportation preferences, with air travel and automobiles taking precedence over rail, greatly impacted the station’s relevance. Coupled with the growing prominence of other Chicago train stations like Union Station and Dearborn Station, Grand Central found itself struggling to keep up with the changing times.
In the late 1960s, amidst declining passenger numbers and mounting financial pressures, the decision was made to raze the station. The demolition process began in 1969 and ended in 1971.
The decision to demolish Grand Central Station was met with fierce opposition from preservationists and architectural enthusiasts who lamented the loss of this iconic structure, which had stood as a symbol of Chicago’s growth and progress for nearly eight decades. Nonetheless, the economic pressures and shifting transportation landscape ultimately sealed the station’s fate.
What’s There Now
The station’s original footprint is now occupied by a mid-rise residential development known as Alta Grand Central. The rest of the site is currently being developed under the name “Southbank,” with its latest addition, The Reed, now wrapping up construction.
The demolition of Grand Central Station was a significant architectural loss for the city. The station’s design and architectural splendor, as well as its role in shaping Chicago’s development, highlight the importance of preserving our historical treasures (a message that is still relevant today). The story of Grand Central Station’s rise and fall serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between progress and preservation, and the need to honor and protect the relics of our past.