63rd Street “L” gone but not forgotten


Environmental Protection Agency

63rd Street El, 1973. This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the National Archives and Records Administration as part of a cooperation project.

As students attending a school like Mount Carmel, transportation always has been an issue.  Today, students use MC charter buses, school vans, Metra and CTA, or drive themselves.  In the past, there was another option that no longer exists:  the old 63rd Street “L.”

According to the blog “Chicago History Today” (chicagohistorytoday.wordpress.com), at one time the 63rd Street “L” ran all the way east to Stony Island, and was an important means of transporting crowds to the 1933-34 World’s Fair, which was held on the lakefront and in Jackson Park.  For a while in the 1930s the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee electric interurban railroad also operated trains along the South Side “L” as far as the Dorchester station.

The beginning of ‘L’ service on the Dan Ryan Expressway in 1969 reduced ridership along the old South Side ‘L’ lines.  As a result, the CTA closed the unused 63rd and Dorchester station in 1973.  Then in 1982 structural problems were found on the 90-year-old bridge that allowed the “L” to pass over the Illinois Central tracks.

In 1994 the entire Green Line was closed for a two year rebuilding project.  After the project concluded, trains resumed running to a new terminal at University station.  The “L” structure east of there was kept in place, while CTA decided what to do next.  The plan was to forget about rebuilding the bridge over the IC and restore the Dorchester station as the eastern-most terminal.

However, there was considerable debate in the local community over the fate of the 63rd Street “L” Line.  Some appreciated the convenience of the trains and wanted to resume service all the way to Stony Island.  Others argued that the overhead tracks were “a blighting influence” and said they should be torn down.

In 1997 the Cottage Grove station was designated as the Jackson Park branch’s official terminal, and crews immediately began dismantling everything east of there.  The result was to open up 63rd Street, creating a brighter neighborhood, but one without an important transportation option on which generations had relied.

Ironically, with plans underway for the Obama Presidential Center, one cannot help but wonder about how valuable the old 63rd Street L line would be if it still existed.