Chicago author Robert Loerzel has written an article for Chicago public radio about the people who were displaced by the construction of the Eisenhower (formerly Congress) expressway. (It’s also a podcast, which you can listen to here.)
Several of the images used in “Displaced” were sourced from a series of blog posts I wrote for the CERA Members Blog a few years ago. My focus was on how the expressway project transformed the old Garfield Park “L” into today’s median rapid transit line. Robert’s piece takes a different tack, but is fascinating nonetheless.
Here are links to some of those posts:
Somewhere West of Laramie (March 22, 2013)
The Great Subway Flood of 1957 (April 24, 2013)
CA&E Mystery Photos Contest Answers (May 19, 2013)
Scenes Along the Garfield Park “L” (July 31, 2013)
You can also find additional pictures of expressway construction in previous Trolley Dodger posts. Just type “Congress” or “Garfield” into the search window at the top of this page, and links to these things will come up.
A Few Thoughts on “Displaced”
Although the article doesn’t mention it, some buildings that were in the way of the expressway were moved rather than torn down. House moving, and building moving, seems to be a long Chicago tradition. (In 1929, Our Lady of Lourdes church at 1601 W. Leland was moved, lock stock and barrel, across the street to permit the widening of Ashland.)
In the old CERA blog, I posted pictures of a five-story building being moved near downtown, and a brick apartment building further west.
I know that there were houses moved as far west as Maywood during the expressway construction. Of course, since that was an area with lower density, it would have been easy to find empty lots.
I am pretty sure some buildings in Oak Park were also moved. Contemporary newspaper accounts say so.
As for where the people went who were displaced by the highway, my guess is they were dispersed all over the place, and some moved to other parts of the city and not just to the suburbs as the article implies. Most likely, a majority of displaced residents remained in the city.
Keep in mind that in the period after WWII, when construction began, there were still areas of the city that had not yet been developed.
During WWII, in the area of Galewood where I used to live, fully half the lots were still vacant. In the early 1960s, the last of these vacant lots got developed. (We did not get paved alleys until 1964. I was surprised recently when in Edgebrook to see that there are still unpaved alleys in that otherwise built-up neighborhood.)
And while I am sure that some of the Italians from the old neighborhood ended up in Elmwood Park, when my family moved there in 1964, it was still largely German. It became a lot more Italian after 1964, more than 10 years after people in the expressway’s path would have been displaced.
Although “Displaced” implies that expressway construction was responsible for the Jewish migration from the west side to the north side, I believe this trend was already occurring, going back to the 1930s.
As for the “Burnham connection” between his 1909 Plan of Chicago and the Congress expressway, there is a connection, but it’s more of a zig-zag line than a straight line.
Yes, Daniel Burnham envisioned an improved roadway along Congress, but this would have been more of a landscaped boulevard than a modern expressway. There weren’t a lot of automobiles in 1909, and the idea of such a highway didn’t exist yet. However, with publication of the plan, speculators bought up land along its path, and as time went on, wanted to cash in.
While the old Main Post Office building, as expanded in 1932, left a space for Burnham’s Congress parkway, as late as 1937, the roadway’s future was in considerable doubt.
It did not appear in highway plans proposed in 1937 by Mayor Edward J. Kelly, which favored turning several of Chicago’s “L”s (the Douglas, Humboldt Park, and Lake Street lines) into a disconnected series of elevated highways, which would have resembled New York’s ill-fated West Side Elevated Highway.
Chances are, this plan would have been a disaster. It would have decimated large parts of our rapid transit system, without really solving the highway problem as a whole. Since the City sought federal money for the project, as a works project, it needed the approval of FDR’s Harold L. Ickes. He did not like the plan.
Ickes put his clout behind a Congress parkway expressway, plans for which were finally approved in 1939.
We are gratified that posts we have made in this, and in our previous blog, are being used by researchers looking for source material. That has always been our goal.
For Further Reading
Of particular interest is a 1952 letter, sent by the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban to their shareholders, detailing the railroad’s position at the beginnings of the expressway construction project.
If any of you have read Cooperation Moves the Public (Dispatch 1 of the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society) by Bruce Moffat, you know how CA&E operations on the CTA’s Garfield Park “L” depended on a high degree of professionalism and split-second timing. Once service on the “L” was shifted to the slow and ponderous temporary trackage on Van Buren Street, this level of service became impossible.
Whatever difficulties the CTA experienced from 1953 to 1958 with this operation would have been exacerbated by the additional of CA&E trains. The interurban was truly put into an impossible situation, which left them with little choice but to either sell out to another entity such as the CTA, or liquidate entirely.
Once the expressway portion crossing the DesPlaines River opened in October 1960, there would have been additional ridership losses on the CA&E, which was also facing stiff competition from the Chicago & North Western, which had by then put new air-conditioned bi-levels into service.
In the long run, if CA&E had survived, ridership would eventually have bounced back. But the railroad was unable to survive the many lean times that would have been ahead. The CA&E’s main interest in the 1950s became a gradual liquidation of assets, with the proceeds being distributed among their shareholders.
My conclusion is that the CA&E could only have been saved through a pro-active plan adopted at the beginnings of highway construction, and not the last-ditch efforts at the end. (See also our earlier post The CTA, the CA&E, and “Political Influence”, February 18, 2015).
Here is the original agreement between Oak Park and the State of Illinois for the construction of the expressway.
Plans were changed as they went along. Oak Park had the highway reduced by one lane in each direction, because of the number of buildings that would need to be demolished. Entrance and exit ramps at East Avenue were cancelled, after the village objected. They thought that this would detract from the quiet residential nature of the neighborhood, and would also lead to the widening of East Avenue.
Through Oak Park, both the rapid transit line and the B&O CT freight line were originally intended to run in the middle of the highway, but this would have cut off several local businesses from rail service, probably putting them out of business. Therefore, plans were changed so that the rail lines were put to the south of expressway traffic. There were a couple ramps along the freight line that connected to sidings. One was just east of Austin Boulevard, the other east of Harlem Avenue. Those are no longer in use.
Today, the only customer that still uses the freight line in this area is the Ferrara Candy Company in Forest Park.
Here are some Oak Park newspaper articles, covering the period from 1945 to 1960 concerning expressway construction:
In 2010, the Village of Oak Park proposed making the unusual left-hand exit and entrance ramps at Harlem and Austin landmarks. You can read some of that correspondence here.
Were the CTA’s single car units (first delivered in 1959), which were designed for one-man operation, ever used as one-car trains on any line besides Evanston or Skokie? I have seen a picture* of a single car on West-Northwest, but that was at the end of the line.
It was my impression that one-car trains were limited to certain lines due to labor union agreements. So, in general, on lines other than Skokie or Evanston, they were run in trains of two cars or longer.
It COULD have been done, but wasn’t. The 1-50 series of 50 cars were bought with the intent they would be one-man operated. Obviously 50 was way too many for Evanston, in fact only 12 came with trolley poles (39-50) intended for Evanston. Skokie wasn’t even thought of in 1959. The rest were intended apparently for overnight and weekend West-Northwest service, where riding at the time (1959) was quite light. In fact the west side lines had been running single cars since the late 1940’s on some services, such as the Westchester non-rush service where a car was cut off WB from a Forest Park train at Laramie, ran to Westchester and back, then was added back to a Forest Park train. Normal Park on the south side was also a single car cut off an Englewood train at Harvard. Skokie before 1949 was a single woodie, too. But CTA quickly realized that if you had to have a 2-man crew, why not run a 2 car train, so the 1-50 cars always were in pairs on WNW, and used almost exclusively in rush hours.
So, in the PCC era, it would have been possible to operate a one-car train on other lines than Evanston or Skokie, but only with a two-man crew?
Correct. In the PCC era, single cars were only on Evanston and Skokie. In wood car days, they were used on practically all lines except North-South at one time or another, but with 2-man crews.
*I thought I had seen a picture… see the photo caption above.
The Van Buren Signal System
In the Comments section for this post, Jeff Weiner and I discussed whether the train signal system on the Van Buren temporary trackage interfaced with the stoplights at the various intersections. I did some research and here’s what I found:
Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1952:
ELECTRIC EYE PLAN PROPOSED FOR C. A. & E.
Aid for Traffic in Van Buren St.
An electronics expert last week put his stamp of approval on the electric eye traffic control system proposed by the city during the temporary operation of Chicago transit authority and Chicago, Aurora and Elgin railway trains at grade level in Van Buren st., pending completion of the Congress st. expressway.
Dean Charles C. Caveny of the Chicago branch of the University of Illinois, an engineer and physical scientist, told the Illinois commerce commission the photo-electric cell system will be satisfactory if properly installed. He said it will probably be as reliable as the more conventional track circuit system.
Testifies at Hearing
The educator testified at a hearing on the Aurora and Elgin petition to suspend rail operations and substitute buses. He said the photoelectric cell system of control is unconventional as far as the proposed type of operation is concerned, but it has been used successfully at the approaches to railroad tunnels.
The city proposes electric eyes at both sides of Van Buren st. intersections. The devices would control north-south traffic signals and would prevent north-south traffic from entering the intersections while trains are in the intersections. The track circuit system does the same thing, but is a much more expensive device.
The city also amended its Van Buren st, operation plan by eliminating five of the 15 intersections crossed by the grade level operations between Sacramento blvd. and Racine av.
Richard A. Walons, a city traffic engineer, testified that CTA officials had said their trains would be unable to maintain a consistent schedule unless the number of intersections was cut down.
Average 11.5 M. P. H.
Walons said that when the grade level operation begins, probably in the spring. Campbell, Washtenaw, and Hoyne avs., and Throop and Laflin sts. will be barricaded to north-south traffic. The move is designed to allow trains to average 11.5 miles per hour in the street.
Under questioning by Joseph T. Zoline, attorney for the Aurora and Elgin, Walons said this was about the sixth plan the city has proposed for the operation. The Aurora and Elgin contended any Van Buren st. operation would not be safe.
Then, on August 14, 1953, the Tribune reported:
Electronic Signal Protection on Ground Level L
A modern electronic signal system has been installed for the operation of Garfield Park elevated trains in temporary tracks at ground level between Racine and Sacramento avs., Walter J. McCarter, general manager of the Chicago transit authority, announced yesterday.
The signal system will govern the operation of trains at 10 street intersections along the temporary route in Van Buren st. All trains will stop at all crossings, with the electronic system providing special signals to instruct the motormen. Electric “eyes” at the intersections will hold traffic lights at red until the trains have cleared the crossings.
The temporary tracks at grade level were necessitated by the construction of the Congress st. super-highway, which requires razing of the elevated tracks. Regular use of the new route is scheduled to begin Sept. 15. The CTA will begin experimenting with the temporary route next week.
So, trains of the Van Buren trackage probably followed this procedure:
1. Trains pull up to a signal at each intersection, come to a complete stop, and look both ways for oncoming traffic
2. If the light is green, proceed with caution. The train breaks an electric eye beam, and as long as it is still in the intersection, the traffic light is prevented from turning green for north-south traffic.
3. If the light is red, wait for it to cycle and see step 2.
When I was a kid, the old High-Low grocery store in my neighborhood had an electric eye beam that opened the door automatically. This is not all that different from the technology used on the Van Buren operation.
I imagine CTA was naturally concerned that you could have a situation where the train started to cross the street, the light changed to green for cross traffic, and a vehicle, having the right-of-way, would try to cut in front of the train, potentially causing an accident. Without some way to change the regular sequence of red and green lights, this was a possibility, which the addition of the electric eye system helped prevent.
An improved scan of the following picture has been added to our previous post Around Town (August 19, 2016):
These three images have been added to our post Night Beat (June 21, 2016):
And for our friends at the Illinois Railway Museum, here are four classic views of Chicago red Pullman 144, one of the earliest additions to the museum’s collection:
FYI, a seven page article from the January 1939 of Mass Transportation, taking an in-depth look at the entire Chicago public transit system, has been added to our E-books The “New Look” in Chicago Transit: 1938-1973 and Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story. Both are available via our Online Store.
If you have already purchased one of these discs, an updated version is available for just $5, with free shipping withing the United States. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
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