Grand Central Station
Harrison and Fifth Ave.
Architect: Solon Spencer Beman
Status: Demolished in 1971
Grand Central Station was a passenger railroad terminal in downtown Chicago from 1890 to 1969. It was located at 201 W. Harrison Street in the south-western part of the Chicago Loop, the block bounded by between Harrison Street, Wells Street, Polk Street and the Chicago River. Grand Central Station was designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman for the Wisconsin Central Railway, and was completed by the Chicago and Northern Pacific Railroad.
Grand Central Station was eventually purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which used the station as the Chicago terminus for its passenger rail service, including its glamorous Capitol Limited to Washington, D.C. Major tenant railroads included the Soo Line, successor to the Wisconsin Central, the CGWR and the Pere Marquette Railway. The station was eventually shuttered in 1969 and torn down in 1971.
The waiting room of Grand Central Station had 26-foot ceilings; the floor was made of marble from Vermont.
Rail was in decline and the lightly-used terminal became even quieter in the years following World War II, with Grand Central serving 26 intercity passenger trains, down from nearly 40 at its busiest. Passenger trains were dropped and service was curtailed, and by 1956 the Chicago Great Western, which as late as 1940 had run six trains per day in and out of Grand Central had stopped operating passenger service into Chicago altogether.
As a result, by 1963 only ten intercity trains remained, of which six were operated by the Baltimore and Ohio. The number of passengers that used the remaining service shrank proportionately: by 1969, the year the station closed, the station only served an average of 210 passengers per day.
The decline in passenger traffic at Grand Central was hardly an isolated occurrence. By the late 1960s, all six of Chicago's terminals witnessed sharply lower numbers of passengers and trains. However, due to its small size, its age and perceived obsolescence, Grand Central in particular was the target of a long-term political effort by the city government to encourage consolidation of passenger terminals in the south Loop. It was ultimately this political effort, which was reaching its zenith just as reduced passenger traffic created excess terminal capacity within the city, that sealed the fate of Grand Central, described in 1969 as "decaying, dreary, and sadly out of date."
This great building, complete with Vermont Marble flooring, Corinthian-style columns, stained-glass windows, a marble fireplace and a restaurant were torn down.
The land on the corner of Harrison and Wells, the lot on which the station itself stood, remains vacant. The site is currently a de facto dog park used by local residents, although outlines of platforms and building foundations hint at the lot's former use. In March 2008, CSX Transportation—the successor company to the B&O—sold the property to a Skokie Illinois based capital Group with the intent of finally redeveloping the site with mixed-use high-rise buildings.
The newly proposed development will most likely be a long-term project due to the early 2008 glut of newly constructed condos in the downtown market and the U.S. credit crisis.
More than thirty years after its destruction, Grand Central Station has only relatively recently been identified by local historians, railroad enthusiasts and architecture critics as "the queen of the city's old train stations". Author Carl W. Condit remarked that the station was "an important Chicago building even if it never received much recognition," architect Harry Weese bemoaned its "wanton destruction", and Ira J. Bach noted that when the terminal was demolished, "Chicago lost its greatest monument to the institution which had created it: the railroad."