Drivers navigating their way west to east from Broadway toward the lake and visa versa on most of the through streets between Lawrence and Hollywood have noticed they no longer have to prepare for the narrowing of their lane as they pass under the EL tracks.
Old and crumbling viaducts, that served as passageways from one side of the elevated rail system to the other for over 100 years, have rapidly been coming down as the CTA replaces the tracks along the Red Line.
Many pedestrians who have found the often dark and dirty corridors fearsome to traverse can literally take a breath. The new more streamlined replacement tracks soar easily 10 feet higher above their heads, and with the supports spaced wider apart there is no need to obstruct the roadway. The overall effect is a greater sense of openness.
The decrepit viaduct at Ainslie has been an eyesore and subject of contention for many years but the post-modern industrial looking replacement does not necessarily live up to the aesthetic sensibilities of South-East Asia Center’s Executive Director Emeritus Peter Porr, who is also a resident of the block. He’s already conjuring up ideas to help soften the look of the area around the sweeping concrete structure and utilize the space below in a manner that will enhance the neighborhood. One idea is a playlot for youngsters if the noise level from the trains above is not too overpowering.
As the old tracks and viaducts are removed, along with it goes over a century of history and what was once itself state of the art architecture. At the time it was constructed the elevated structure provided a modern way to bypass ever increasing street traffic and move commuters swiftly out of the central city. The oldest section of the line opened on May 31, 1900, running from the Loop to Wilson. Originally constructed by the Northwestern Elevated Railroad, the route was extended to Central Street in Evanston on May 16, 1908, via leased and electrified track belonging to the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway. In November 1913, the North Side “L” was extended by being through routed with the South Side “L” lines through the Loop. The ground-level section between Leland Avenue and Howard Street was elevated on a concrete embankment structure and widened to four tracks in 1922.
South-East Asia Center has witnessed many changes in the neighborhood over the past 30 years or so. Peter Porr has been a strong proponent of preserving the original architecture in the area as evidenced by the block of row houses on Ainslie owned or controlled by the center as well as the historic 5120 N. Broadway Building and the upgraded and enhanced vintage storefronts at 1109-1112 W. Foster.
This collection of photos is a testament to the changes taking place and notable addition to the SEAC historic archive.