This 1953 view looks to the northwest and shows the old Canal Street station on the Metropolitan “L”, which was near Union Station. They were connected by a walkway nicknamed “Frustration Walk,” since many people would miss their train in the time it took to make the journey. The “L” here closed in 1958 and was demolished soon after. (Jon R. Roma Collection)
This is our 275th Trolley Dodger blog post, so we thought we would make this one extra special for you.
Recently, Jon R. Roma sent us some Sanborn insurance maps that were made in 1906 and 1917, mainly to show sections of the old Garfield Park “L” in greater detail. This was in response to some of our previous posts, where we discussed just where it used to run, before it was replaced by the Congress rapid transit line in 1958.
Learning from history is a process, and as historians, we are continually reaching out to the past, studying the historical record, looking for clues that will inform us today and further our understanding. Photographs, of course, are invaluable, but so are the kind of detailed maps that were made for insurance purposes long ago. They detail pretty much every structure and many of the businesses that once existed.
As an example of what you can learn from these maps, consider the one below showing the layout of old West Side Park, where the Chicago Cubs played through the 1915 season.
A story has gone around in recent years, that supposedly the expression “from out of left field” originated at West Side Park. Cook County Hospital was just north of the park, and the story goes that mental patients there would yell things out during Cubs games, which gave birth to the expression, which has taken on a meaning of something completely unexpected.
Unfortunately, there is no record of “from out of left field” being used in print with this meaning prior to the 1940s, by which time the Cubs had been in Wrigley Field for 25 years. But if you look at the Sanborn map of West Side Park, there was apparently an open area just north of the grandstands, so the hospital would have been some further distance away. I am not sure how much of the field would have been visible from the hospital anyway, so after looking at the map, the story seems unlikely.
What is more likely is how the expression could have evolved just generally from baseball lore. Occasionally, the left fielder will make a throw all the way to home plate during a game. Such a throw, coming “from out of left field,” tends to be unexpected, and it may be that over time, it took on this other meaning colloquially.
In addition, we have more electric traction, steam, and diesel photos taken around 1970 by John Engleman, some recent new photo finds of our own, and correspondence with Larry Sakar.
I guess we will always be “chasing Sanborn,” and other things like it.
We are very grateful to all our contributors. Sanborn fire insurance maps provided courtesy of the Map Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
This includes the Met “L” line heading to Humboldt Park and Logan Square. There was a station at Madison Street, opened in 1895, which is not delineated on this 1917 map. It closed in 1951. This section of “L” has since been rebuilt, and is now part of the CTA Pink Line.
The Met “L” branch leading to Humboldt Park and Logan Square made a bit of a jog near Ogden Avenue, an angle street. This is the section just north of Marshfield Junction.
This section of map shows the Garfield Park “L” and includes the station at Western Avenue, which was open from 1895 to 1953. When Western was widened in the 1930s, the front of the station was removed and a new Art Deco front replaced it. The same thing was done to three other “L” stations on Western. This station closed in September 1953, due to construction of the Congress Expressway, and we have featured pictures of its quick demolition in previous posts.
A close-up of the Western Avenue “L” station. I suppose the area marked “iron” refers to the station canopy.
This map includes a section of the Garfield Park “L”.
This map includes a section of the Garfield Park “L”, including part of the station at Hoyne Avenue, which was open from 1895 to 1953. The area between Van Buren and Congress is now occupied by the Eisenhower expressway. The CTA Blue Line tracks are in approximately the same location as the former Garfield Park “L”, but in the depressed highway.
This map shows part of the Garfield Park “L”, including the station at Hoyne Avenue.
This includes the old Garfield Park “L”.
This includes the Garfield Park “L”, including the station at Ogden Avenue, which was open between 1895 and 1953.
A close-up of the Garfield Park “L” station at Ogden Avenue.
The map shows the section of the Met “L” lines just west of Marshfield Junction, where all the various branch lines came together.
The Met “L” branches ran over a building that housed the Dreamland roller skating rink. When the Congress Expressway was built, a new section of “L” was built running north-south to connect the Douglas Park “L” to the tracks formerly used by the Humboldt Park and Logan Square lines prior to 1951. This became part of a new routing for Douglas that brought its trains to the Loop via the Lake Street “L”, where another new connection was built. This is the path that the CTA Pink Line follows today. Douglas trains were connected to the new Congress rapid transit line via a ramp that followed the old Douglas path starting in 1958.
The same location today.
This map shows Marshfield Junction on the Garfield Park “L”, where all the Met lines came together.
A close-up of the Marshfield Junction track arrangement and station layout. Notice that the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago (later the CA&E) had its own platform here. This station was in use from 1895 to 1954. From September 1953 to April 1954, it was only used by Douglas Park trains, as Garfield trains were re-routed to ground level tracks here in Van Buren Street.
This map includes the Laflin “L” station on the Garfield Park main line.
The Metropolitan “L” main line included a station at Laflin Avenue, which originally had two island platforms. Between 1896 and 1914, it was reconfigured with three platforms so the tracks did not have to make sharp curves around the ends of the platforms. This station was open from 1895 to 1951. Notice the complex track arrangement west of the station, which gave the Met maximum flexibility for routing their trains going downtown.
The Met “L” main line between Loomis and Laflin.
The Met “L” facilities shown here represent somewhat of a mystery. There is a general repair shop on Laflin, including maintenance of way, and “batteries” on Loomis.
When the Met “L” was built in the 1890s, they had to generate their own electric power, which they did via this massive power plant between Loomis and Throop. This map indicates that by 1917, the facility was co-owned by what is now Commonwealth Edison.
A close-up of the previous map. Note the Met had a “store house” east of the 1894 power plant.
The Met’s Throop Street Shops. The Met’s “L” station at Racine is also shown.
The Met’s Throop Street Shops are at left, and the Racine “L” station at right. Like Laflin and Halsted, it originally had two island platforms, and was reconfigured to the four side platforms you see here, in order to straighten out the tracks. This station was open from 1895 to 1954. It remained in use until Douglas Park “L” trains could be re-routed downtown via the Lake Street “L”.
The Met Main Line. From 1953-58, when the Garfield Park “L” ran on temporary trackage in part of Van Buren Street, it reconnected with the existing structure via a ramp near Aberdeen. The tracks you see here would have been at the very north end of the expressway footprint.
This section of the Met Main Line was not directly in the way of the Congress Expressway, although it was reduced from four tracks to two during the construction period. The two tracks to the south were removed. The “L” was very close to the highway at this point, though.
The Met Main Line. From 1953-58, the Garfield Park “L” ran on ground-level trackage in Van Buren Street. Douglas Park trains used the old Met structure until April 1954.
The Met Main Line had four tracks in this area, which were reduced down to two during the period from 1953-58. The Halsted “L” station was open from 1895 to 1958, when the new Congress rapid transit line opened in the adjacent expressway median. Many great photos were taken from the east end of the Halsted station, where you had a great view of a double curve.
Like Racine and Laflin, the Met’s Halsted “L” station originally had two island platforms, which meant there were sharp curves in the track at the ends of those platforms. This slowed down operations, so over a period of time leading up to 1914, those three stations were reconfigured. Halsted then had three platforms and the tracks were straightened. During the construction of the adjacent Congress Expressway in the mid-1950s, the two tracks to the south here were removed along with one of the three platforms. It was that close to the highway. However, the station itself remained in use by Garfield trains until the Congress line opened in 1958.
This map shows the Met’s Douglas Park branch heading south, and includes the Polk Street “L” station.
The Polk Street “L” station on the Douglas Park branch opened in 1896 and remains in use today by the CTA Pink Line. It was rebuilt in 1983.
This is the second West Side Park, home of the Chicago National League Ballclub from 1893 through 1915. They were not officially called the Cubs until the 1907 season. Starting in 1916, the Cubs vacated West Side Park in favor of what had been Weegham Park, which had been home to the Chicago Whales of the short-lived Federal League, now known as Wrigley Field. West Side Park was torn down in 1920. Home plate was located at the northwest corner, and it was 560 feet to center field, where there was a club house, somewhat in the manner of New York’s Polo Grounds and other early stadiums. Oftentimes, in those years, if there was a large crowd, fans stood in part of the outfield, as there were no seats there.
The Met’s Douglas Park “L” ran through this area, and is now the CTA Pink Line.
The Met’s Douglas Park “L” branch and the Roosevelt Road (formerly 12th Street) station.
The Roosevelt Road (formerly 12th Street) “L” station on the Metropolitan’s Douglas Park branch opened in 1896 and closed in 1952. In December 1951, the CTA turned it into a “partial service” station, where there was no ticket agent. You could enter the station by placing a token into a turnstyle. This experiment was short-lived, and the station was closed in May 1952.
This shows the Douglas Park “L”, today’s CTA Pink Line.
Sanborn Maps from 1906:
A key to the areas covered by this 1906 set of maps.
This map shows the Halsted station on the Lake Street “L”. It was open from 1893 until 1994. It closed during the two-year rehabilitation project for what is now the CTA Green Line and was eventually replaced by a new station at Morgan Street, which opened in 2012.
A close-up of the Halsted “L” station on the Lake Street line.
The Lake Street “L”.
The Lake Street “L”.
The Lake Street “L”.
The Lake Street “L” station at Canal. The “L” crosses the Chicago River here, and in 1906, there was a swing bridge which was eventually replaced. Swing bridges were a hazard to navigation.
The Canal Street “L” station on the Lake Street line opened in 1893 and was replaced by the Clinton station one block west in 1909.
The Lake Street “L” station at Canal.
North is to the left on this map, which shows a curve on the old Metropolitan “L” main line west of the Chicago River. This was part of a double curve east of Halsted Street.
The Met “L” Main Line.
The Met “L” Main Line near Clinton Street. Chicago renumbered many streets after this map was made in 1906. In 1911, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad built its headquarters at 547 W. Jackson, just to the north of the “L”. While the “L” here closed in 1958 and was removed soon after, that building remains and its shape was partially determined by the “L”. Note the Chicago Union Traction cable power house.
The Met “L” station at Canal Street. A new Union Station was built nearby and opened in 1925. The “L” station had a direct enclosed walkway to it, which was used by thousands of people each day.
The Met “L” station at Canal Street opened in 1895 and was rebuilt after a fire in 1922. The platform configuration remained the same, but a new headhouse was built, designed by Arthur U. Gerber. This station closed in 1958 when the new Congress rapid transit line opened nearby, which connected to the Milwaukee-Dearborn-Congress Subway.
The Met “L” crossed the tracks leading to Union Station at an angle, and also crossed the Chicago River this way.
North is to the left on this map, which shows the Met “L” curving a bit towards the north, just east of the Halsted station. Once the buildings surrounding the “L” were cleared away in the early 1950s, for construction of what is now the Kennedy Expressway, this became a favorite site for photographers looking to the east from the “L” station.
For a minute, I thought this might be Chicago, but apparently not. There was a streetcar #6093 in Chicago, but not until 1914 and the beginnings of the CSL era. That’s not a CSL logo on the side of the car. And Route 9 here was Ashland, not something going to Exchange Depot, whatever that was. It might possibly be Philadelphia, as they had cars like these in a 6000-series (later converted to Peter Witts with the addition of a center door), and they were an early adopter of numbered routes. But there is also a strange logo on the side of the car that I do not recognize. Frank Hicks: “This is International Railway Company in Buffalo. It’s part of a series of 200 Nearside cars built for them by Kuhlman in 1912, a follow-on to their original order for Nearside cars from Brill in 1911.”
A close-up of the unusual logo on the side of the car.
An eastbound single-car Douglas Park train passes by the old Met “L” powerhouse and shops at Throop Street, built in 1894. William C. Hoffman took this picture on October 29, 1950. Work was already underway clearing buildings for construction of the Congress Expressway, today’s I-290 (aka the Eisenhower). The discoloration of the brick was caused by some sort of chemical leaching process.
A close-up of the previous picture, showing the 1894 construction date for the massive Met power house. The “L” opened the following year. The blue line through the date is actually a scratch on the original slide.
The view looking northwest from Congress and Racine on May 14, 1950, showing the old Met “L” power house, the Throop Street Shops, and a bit of the Racine station. (William C. Hoffman Photo)
The old Marshfield “L” station, or at least, the CA&E platform at that station, circa 1951. The red Pullman streetcar is running on Route 9 – Ashland, but here, is on Paulina one block west of Ashland. Streetcars could not run on boulevards, and Ashland was a boulevard between Lake Street and Roosevelt Road. Hence the diversion. A sign advertises the late Carol Channing in the stage version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The curving tracks are for the Douglas Park branch. This is where all the various Met “L”s diverged from each other, heading to the west, south, and north from here.
This duplicate slide did not come with any information, but I am wondering if this was taken from the old Met “L” looking to the north, which would mean the streetcar is on Van Buren. The Van Buren line was converted to bus in 1951 and the Garfield Park “L” was re-routed via temporary ground level tracks on Van Buren starting in 1953. Since the buildings around the “L” have been cleared away, that is further evidence that this is the Congress Expressway construction area. Michael Franklin has identified now this as Van Buren and Marshfield.
The same location today.
CTA 6025-6026 is ascending the ramp that brings the Ravenswood “L” up from ground level between Rockwell and Western Avenue. The date is September 30, 1951.
This picture looks north towards Tower 18 on the Loop “L” at Lake and Wells. Since a Douglas Park train is making a turn here, it must have been taken between 1954 and 1958, when that line ran downtown via the Lake Street “L”. As the Loop was uni-directional then, running counterclockwise, the train is coming towards us.
This is the Deerpath Avenue station on the North Shore Line’s Skokie Valley Route.
This is Glencoe on the North Shore Line’s Shore Line Route. The circular white sign would indicate this was a Central Electric Railfans’ Association fantrip, possibly just prior to the 1955 abandonment.
This is the Franklin Avenue station on the NYCTA-BMT Myrtle Avenue elevated in Brooklyn on June 14, 1958, with trolley bus 3039 running on Route 48 – Lorimer Street. Trolley buses were replaced by diesels in 1960, and the Myrtle Avenue El was closed on October 4, 1969. It was the last place on the New York system that used wooden cars. this was nearly 12 years after they were last used in Chicago. The El here opened in 1885, but the station you see here is not the original, but a more modern (and cheaply built) replacement. NY decided that upgrading this El would be too costly, so they got rid of it without replacement. Note the cool 1950s two-toned cars.
This is a view of the same location today. The building at left replaced the one shown in the 1958 picture some time after 2013. The other three buildings appear to be the same, with modifications.
The first photo shows the length of the ramp that connected the Lake Street “L” to the ground level portion west of Laramie. The cross street is Long Avenue (5400 W.), which means the incline ramp was exactly two blocks long. A current view of the same location follows. Streetcars ran on Lake Street until May 30, 1954 when they were replaced by buses. For a few blocks, they ran parallel to the ground level “L”, which was also powered by overhead wire. We are looking east.
The Racine “L” station on the Englewood branch on January 10, 1956.
This picture was taken on January 10, 1956, and shows the ground-level portion of the Lake Street “L” in Oak Park, just east of the Marion Street station. It was relocated to the Chicago & North Western embankment in 1962.
This would seem to be a view of the Quincy and Wells “L” station on the Loop on January 10,l 1956, looking north.
This is a view of the North Shore Line’s Harrison Street Shops in Milwaukee in the late 1950s, taken from an early Ektachrome slide that has unfortunately shifted to red. I did what I could to improve the color. Not sure which express motor car that is.
A colorized view of the old Loop “L” station at State and Van Buren, sometime prior to the end of cable car service in 1906, looking north. There is a picture of this station in 1959 in my book Chicago’s Lost “L”s. It closed in 1973 and by 1975 nearly all of it had been removed, except for a short segment of the platform. A new station opened here in 1997 to serve the new Harold Washington Library.
This view, looking north from the old Loop “L” station at State and Van Buren, dates to between 1952 and 1955. That seems to be prewar PCC 4051, painted in the new CTA colors, heading north. From 1955-56, the prewar cars ran on Western Avenue, but in this time frame, they were used on Route 4 – Cottage Grove.
Another slide I did not win… this one has a real small town feel. Johnstown Traction Electric Streetcar #356 Original Kodachrome Slide Processed by Kodak Oakhurst, Pennsylvania 27 July 1958 Photographer Credit: William D. Volkmer Bob Bresse-Rodenkirk adds: “356 is now at the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, CT along with Johnstown 357.”
Here is a slide I did not win. It shows two interurban cars on the Iowa Terminal in August 1967. Waterloo & Cedar Falls Northern 100 had just been restored, but unfortunately was destroyed in a fire a few months later. The fate of the North Shore Line box express motor car is less clear. The number seems to be 31, which was also destroyed in the same fire.
The Ravenswood terminal at Kimball and Lawrence in the mid-1950s. The occasion was probably a Sunday fantrip on wooden “L” cars. Since the Ravenswood only ran to Armitage on Sundays in those days (that was changed to Belmont after the North Shore Line quit), there were lots of opportunities to have leisurely photo stops, without interfering with regular service trains. There was also a much more lax attitude back then about having people near the 600 volt third rail.
Photos by John Engleman, Circa 1970
Work car M-454 in Pittsburgh. After it was taken out of regular service in the mid-1950s, it operated as a utility car for Pittsburgh Railways and was also used on some late 1960s fantrips. By 1973 it was sitting derelict on a siding and in sad shape, with its windows smashed, so I assume it has not survived. John Engleman: “The orange car is Pittsburgh Railways M454 on a fantrip somewhere on Pittsburgh’s North Side.” Larry Lovejoy adds: “Work car M454 on a fantrip in Pittsburgh in the early-1960s, inbound at the corner of California Avenue and Brighton Place. After it was taken out of regular passenger service in 1940, “highfloor” car 4115 it was converted into snowplow M454 by Pittsburgh Railways and was routinely used on fantrips during the 1960s. In derelict condition by the early 1970s, it was acquired by Pennsylvania Trolley Museum and scrapped for parts. M454 is survived by sister cars 4145 (nee snowplow M459) and tow-car M200 (nee snowplow M458, nee passenger car 4140), both in PTM’s collection.”
John Engleman: “The GG1 photos, judging by the time of day, are pulling the southbound Silver Star out of Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station passing B&P Tower on its’ way to Washington. I was an operator at this tower (my favorite one) thus these are non-trespassing photos. I transferred to the B&O in May, 1971, so the GG1s at B&P Jct. were taken prior to that, sometime in 1970. Unfortunately no vegetation around to denote the season though.”
John Engleman: “The Metroliner is southbound at Middle River, Maryland, just east of Baltimore.”
John Engleman: “The single unit diesel and coach is all that was left of the Northern Central service at the time. It was a Washington-Harrisburg coach that reversed direction and changed locomotives in Baltimore, connecting to NY-Chicago and St. Louis trains at Harrisburg. We called it The Afternoon Ridiculous.”
John Engleman: “The 759 photos (without train) were taken in the Western Maryland Ry.’s Port Covington yard, currently being totally gentrified at the present time.”
John Engleman: “The Nickel Plate 759 photos (with train) were taken at Westport, an inner south Baltimore suburb. The MTA light rail line currently operates crossways where I was standing. The power station is BG&E’s Spring Garden substation. Looking forward along the train in the direction it is going one can see the Spring Garden Street trestle bridge, still in place but fire damaged and abandoned. The B&O South Baltimore Branch crosses the WM Ry. at grade looking in the direction the train (obviously a fantrip) is coming from. “
This photo is from one of the annual New Years Eve fantrips that used to take place on the Philadelphia streetcar system. John Engleman: “The SEPTA car is at Richmond & Westmoreland loop of the 15 & 60 lines.”
John Engleman: “The Baltimore Streetcar Museum photos appear to be taken on BSM’s opening day judging by the location of the streetcars. This was the first “end of the line”. The bus is Baltimore Transit 1096, the very first GM branded transit bus built (in 1945) and it is now in the BSM collection, although very unappreciated, and currently in quite unprotected storage pending a major amount of work eventually. The two gentlemen in the picture inside BSM’s carhouse are John Thomsen (L) and Henry Wells (R). This photo shows BSM’s first gift shop.”
Larry Sakar writes:
I just found a great “Then and Now” of the The Milwaukee Electric Rapid Transit line at 35th St. The “Then” photo was taken by Don Ross (Don’s Depot) whom I know you know as do I and the “Now” photo was taken by me having not seen his. The “Then” picture shows a two-car train of 1100’s accelerating away from the 35th St. stop and going under the viaduct. That beam in Don’s photo is probably one of the railings from the steps that lead from the viaduct to the station down below. The steps are long gone but the abandoned right of way is still there.
When I first began photographing the abandoned r.o.w. ln Milwaukee in 1968 I thought it would be “cool” to snap a picture or two showing where the Rapid Transit line went beneath the 35th St. viaduct, so I took a chance and found a way to get down there. I made sure there were no WEPCO employees anywhere in the vicinity.
Don Ross worked for the Railway Express Agency, after working as a towerman for both the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago & North Western. When he worked for the C&NW, one of the towers he worked was Chase Avenue, situated within sight of Harrison St, shops. He said that when he worked a night shift he would see the sparks from the poles of the NSL interurbans. He also founded the National Railway Historical Society’s Milwaukee chapter.
Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks!
The Trolley Dodger On the Air
I recently appeared on the Dave Plier Show on WGN radio, to discuss Chicago’s Lost “L”s. You can hear that discussion here.
Our Latest Book, Now Available:
Chicago’s Lost “L”s
From the back cover:
Chicago’s system of elevated railways, known locally as the “L,” has run continuously since 1892 and, like the city, has never stood still. It helped neighborhoods grow, brought their increasingly diverse populations together, and gave the famous Loop its name. But today’s system has changed radically over the years. Chicago’s Lost “L”s tells the story of former lines such as Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Kenwood, Stockyards, Normal Park, Westchester, and Niles Center. It was once possible to take high-speed trains on the L directly to Aurora, Elgin, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The L started out as four different companies, two starting out using steam engines instead of electricity. Eventually, all four came together via the Union Loop. The L is more than a way of getting around. Its trains are a place where people meet and interact. Some say the best way to experience the city is via the L, with its second-story view. Chicago’s Lost “L”s is virtually a “secret history” of Chicago, and this is your ticket. David Sadowski grew up riding the L all over the city. He is the author of Chicago Trolleys and Building Chicago’s Subways and runs the online Trolley Dodger blog.
The Images of America series celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the distinctive stories from the past that shape the character of the community today. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.
Title Chicago’s Lost “L”s Images of America Author David Sadowski Edition illustrated Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2021 ISBN 1467100007, 9781467100007 Length 128 pages
Chapters: 01. The South Side “L” 02. The Lake Street “L” 03. The Metropolitan “L” 04. The Northwestern “L” 05. The Union Loop 06. Lost Equipment 07. Lost Interurbans 08. Lost Terminals 09. Lost… and Found
Each copy purchased here will be signed by the author, and you will also receive a bonus facsimile of a 1926 Chicago Rapid Transit Company map, with interesting facts about the “L” on the reverse side.
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A Tribute to the North Shore Line
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the demise of the fabled North Shore Line interurban in January 2013, Jeffrey L. Wien and Bradley Criss made a very thorough and professional video presentation, covering the entire route between Chicago and Milwaukee and then some. Sadly, both men are gone now, but their work remains, making this video a tribute to them, as much as it is a tribute to the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee.
Jeff drew on his own vast collections of movie films, both his own and others such as the late William C. Hoffman, wrote and gave the narration. Bradley acted as video editor, and added authentic sound effects from archival recordings of the North Shore Line.
It was always Jeff’s intention to make this video available to the public, but unfortunately, this did not happen in his lifetime. Now, as the caretakers of Jeff’s railfan legacy, we are proud to offer this excellent two-hour program to you for the first time. The result is a fitting tribute to what Jeff called his “Perpetual Adoration,” which was the name of a stop on the interurban.
Jeff was a wholehearted supporter of our activities, and the proceeds from the sale of this disc will help defray some of the expenses of keeping the Trolley Dodger web site going.
Total time – 121:22
# of Discs – 1 Price: $19.99 (Includes shipping within the United States)
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In 2016, Jeff Wien hired Rick Foss to add realistic color to what had been a black-and-white image, a rare shot of a PCC streetcar passing the entrance of Riverview Amusement Park on Western just north of Belmont in 1956. The results were spectacular. (Wien-Criss Archive)
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A Tribute to Jeffrey L. Wien
Like many, I was recently shocked and saddened to hear that longtime Chicago railfan Jeffrey L. Wien had died at the age of 79. I had known Jeff for more than 40 years. While I mourn his passing, this post celebrates his lifelong interest in electric railways, which was so important to him.
Some time ago, he had asked me to compose his obituary, and this is what I came up with:
Jeffrey Lawrence Wien of Chicago died from a heart attack at Rush University Medical Center on January 6, 2021 at the age of 79. He had been hospitalized for about ten days suffering from pneumonia. Jeff was born in Chicago on April 3, 1941, the son of Jerome Lester Wien and Helen Louise Kraus. He grew up on the south side of Chicago near 47th Street until 1950, when the family moved to Evanston. He was a graduate of Evanston Township High School (class of 1959) and Northwestern University (class of 1963). He served his country as a Lieutenant in Naval Intelligence from 1963 to 1967. By profession, he was an accountant, and worked for Blue Cross-Blue Shield and at Provident Hospital. He was smart, funny (with an acerbic wit), opinionated, and loyal to his friends. Although he was talented in many areas, he was very modest and never boastful. He did not suffer fools gladly, but if you knew him, he was your friend for life. He loved to travel and was an avid and accomplished photographer and filmmaker, whose work appeared in many publications. His interest in historic preservation, architecture, and nostalgia drew him to street railways, interurbans and railroads. He was a passenger on the last Chicago streetcar in 1958 and was one of the last living employees of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee interurban. He was the author of Chicago Streetcar Memories, a DVD produced by Chicago Transport Memories LLC in 2009. Jeff was a co-author of the very comprehensive book Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958, issued as Bulletin 146 of the Central Electric Railfans’ Association in 2015. Jeff was a voting member of the Illinois Railway Museum and a generous contributor to its activities. He was also a director and officer of Central Electric Railfans’ Association for 37 years. CERA is a not-for-profit technical and educational association founded in 1938. Along with Bradley Criss, he established the Wien-Criss Archive, an important photographic collection and resource that will continue to aid historical research in the future. Jeff will be very much missed and long remembered by everyone who knew him. He believed that life is the single most important thing, so you must protect it. He was predeceased by his spouse Bradley Scott Criss, and is survived by his sister Helen Jo Wien (Lotsoff), a niece and nephew. Interment is at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. Donations can be made in Jeff’s memory to the Illinois Railway Museum CTA 4391 Restricted Fund.
Jeff became interested in streetcars at an early age. Ray DeGroote recalls answering a letter requesting more information from Jeff in 1955 while volunteering at CERA (Central Electric Railfans’ Association). They became lifelong friends, and brought Jeff in touch with what Ray has called the “intelligence network” of railfans, in those pre-Internet days. Jeff participated in his first fantrip in December 1956, one of several that were held in the declining years of Chicago streetcars, as the last lines were replaced by buses one by one.
His family lived at 48th and Woodlawn on Chicago’s south side until 1950, when they moved to the north end of Evanston. The closest “L” station was Isabella, a lightly patronized ground-level station that closed in 1973. It was made somewhat famous by being featured in the opening credits of the original Bob Newhart Show in the early 1970s.
Jeff’s initial interest was in taking 8mm color motion pictures. One roll would yield about three minutes of silent movie film. He taught himself photography by trial and error. Sometimes, people watching him would ask, incredulously, why he would want to take pictures of a streetcar?
Once Jeff discovered that the Western Avenue line would soon be replaced by buses, he did everything possible to document it, and the other remaining Chicago streetcar lines. Late in life, he could still recall how disappointed he was to discover that Western Avenue streetcars had been replaced by buses in June 1956.
This was followed by the loss of the final two north side lines in 1957 (Broadway and Clark), and finally Wentworth on the south side in 1958. In each case, Jeff rode the last car. By then, he had met other friends his own age who shared the same interest. Together, they decorated the last Chicago streetcar with crepe paper and a sign bidding farewell to Windy City trolleys. (This was no doubt inspired by “last cars” from other cities, some of which commemorated those events by decorating the cars, which the Chicago Transit Authority did not do.)
Until Jeff was 14, interurban trains of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee (aka the North Shore Line) passed near to his house in Evanston on the Shore Line Route. The North Shore Line became another of Jeff’s great interests, and he rode the last southbound car on a very cold January 21, 1963 along with his sister, although not to the end of the line at Roosevelt Road. (As the hour was so late, Jeff and Helen Jo got off at Howard Street to take the Evanston shuttle back to Isabella.)
During the summer of 1961, Jeff had a summer job as a ticket-taker for the North Shore Line at the Adams and Wabash station downtown, making him one of the interurban’s last living employees. Several years ago, he purchased a rare North Shore Line ticket cabinet from the Dempster Street station on that line. It was one of his prized possessions, and I persuaded him to write an article about it, which you can read here.)
Jeff started shooting color 35mm slides in 1959. His favorite film was Kodachrome, which then had a film speed of 10, meaning it was largely restricted to sunny days. Jeff would say, “I worship the sun,” and his favorite type of photo was the “three quarter” view, taken on a sunny day. He became a master at this type of photo. He favored all-mechanical Pentax cameras, as he did not trust batteries. He learned how to expose film by using the tried and true “Sunny f/16” rule.
Many other “last rides” in different cities followed. From 1963 to 1967, Jeff served in the Navy, and was stationed in Washington, DC. He was in Baltimore when their last streetcars ran in 1963, and Los Angeles when they ended both streetcar and trolley bus service the same year. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were also among Jeff’s favorite cities, as they both had extensive streetcar systems that were gradually reduced in size and scope over the years.
It was, for many years, a hobby with many “lasts,” but after reaching a low point in the mid-1970s, things began to turn around, with the start of the new San Diego Trolley in 1981. Soon this was joined by a host of other new “firsts,” light rail and streetcar lines across the country, and Jeff traveled to many of these places, to ride, photograph, and film them.
Jeff was an avid collector of other people’s photos in addition to his own. Ray DeGroote gave him the William C. Hoffman collection, after the latter’s death in 1988. Hoffman had extensively documented Chicago’s streetcar, interurban, and “L” lines in photographs and in movies during the 1950s, which are now invaluable historical artifacts. These, he freely shared with others.
Jeff was very active in the Central Electric Railfans’ Association, a not-for-profit technical and educational group, and served as a director for 37 years. This culminated in the 2015 publication of CERA Bulletin 146, Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958, which I co-authored. For Jeff, this was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and the book was well received.
In the book, I wrote a tribute to Jeff, since I really thought of it as being his life’s work. I compared him to the late Richard Nickel, one of the pioneers of architectural preservation here in Chicago. Jeff was a pioneer as a transit preservationist. His influence was profound and extensive in his field. It’s fine that people will pay tribute to him now that he is gone, but I felt it was just as important to do this while he was still alive and able to read it himself.
Fantrips were one of Jeff’s major interests, and the last one he was involved with was on February 19, 2017, when CERA sponsored a trip on the CTA “L” system with four cars wrapped temporarily to celebrate the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series. This was made possible in large part by Jeff’s $2000 contribution.
He was also quite active at the Illinois Railway Museum, as one of only 100 voting members, and through his preservation activities. He helped bring Chicago Surface Lines motor coach 3407 to the museum, and in 2019, made a substantial contribution to bring Chicago Aurora & Elgin car 453 to IRM.
Along with his late partner Bradley Criss, Jeff produced two feature-length videos, Chicago Streetcar Memories, and A Tribute to the North Shore Line.
Jeff’s final activities were to add slides and negatives to his collection that either interested him, or filled gaps in his collection. Some of these were pictures that he was unable to take himself, and gave him immense pleasure. This included his purchase of a large portion of the late Bob Selle’s black-and-white negatives in 2018 and numerous rare Kodachrome slides taken by others, including the late Charles L. Tauscher.
Jeff’s was a life well lived, and a blessing to those who knew him. What follows are some highlights from Jeff’s life in our hobby. He will be sorely missed.
Here is Jeff at 15, taking part in a fantrip on a red Chicago streetcar on February 10, 1957.
On February 16, 1957, CTA 7201 was the last streetcar to run on Route 36. Here it is seen at Clark and Devon. (Charles H. Thorpe Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
On February 16, 1957, CTA 7201 was the last streetcar to run on Route 36. Here it is seen at State and Madison. (Charles H. Thorpe Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
CTA PCC 7201 is heading northbound at Clark and Wells on February 16, 1957, in this photo by Charles H. Thorpe, from the Wien-Criss Archive. It was the last streetcar to operate on the State-Broadway portion of Route 36.
I believe this iconic picture of CTA 7213, leaving Clark and Kinzie on the last Chicago streetcar run in the early morning hours of June 21, 1958, is a CTA photo.
Jeff was amazed a few years ago, when he found out that the late Charles Keevil had shot 16mm film of the last Chicago streetcar in 1958. This was transferred to digital and released by the CTA:
Jeff and his young friends decorated car 7213, no doubt inspired by what other cities had previously done for their last runs:
LVT 912, dressed in bunting at Fairview car barn for the last run of an Allentown streetcar, on June 7 1953.
A mother and her two kids have just gotten off a northbound Evanston train of 4000s at Isabella in January 1972. This station closed on July 16, 1973 and within a short period of time, all traces of it were removed, as it was a short distance from the Linden terminal and had low ridership. That same year, the Evanston branch was converted to third rail operation, and overhead wire was removed.
CTA 9361 is westbound on Irving Park Road, passing under the north-south “L”. The tracks it is about to cross belonged to the Milwaukee Road, and were used to interchange freight with the “L” until 1973. (Jeff Wien Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
CTA 9378 is heading south on Broadway, about to turn west on Montrose (Route 78). (Jeff Wien Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
CTA 9375 at the east end of the Montrose trolley bus line, near the Wilson Avenue “L” station… about to turn south on Broadway. (Jeff Wien Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
I believe we may have run a similar picture before. This shows the North Shore Line station adjacent to the CTA “L” station at Adams and Wabash. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Jeff and his sister Helen rode the last southbound North Shore Line train as far as Howard Street. His friend Charles Tauscher continued with it to the end of the line, and snapped this historic picture:
A truly historic photo that probably hasn’t seen the light in 57 years. The late Charles L. Tauscher rode the last North Shore Line train ever, which ended its run at Roosevelt Road in the early morning hours of a very cold January 21, 1963. Motorman Bill Livings has just taken off the headlight and poses for a few pictures. This must be a long exposure (this was Ektachrome, and the film speed was 32) and you can see some motion blur on other parts of the platform. Truly the end of an era. (Wien-Criss Archive)
The North Shore Line’s Milwaukee Terminal on a wintry night in January 1963. This is a remarkable photo for the time, as it surely involved a long exposure time of at least a few seconds, with the camera held perfectly still on a tripod. Film speeds for color slide film were very slow and those films were designed for use in bright sunlight. (Wien-Criss Archive)
A northbound North Shore Line train stops at Dempster in January 1963, the final month. Just over a year later, after the abandonment, the CTA resumed service between here and Howard as the Skokie Swift. Note the sign at left for a yarn store in the terminal building. (Wien-Criss Archive)
This, and the next three images are from “superslides,” meaning film larger than 35mm, but still able to fit in a regular 2×2 slide mount. This was possible with both 127 and 828 film, but it’s the latter here, in this shot by W. H. Higginbotham showing an Electroliner at Grange Avenue in Milwaukee County. (Wien-Criss Archive)
NSL 741 creeps south along the old 6th Street viaduct in Milwaukee, next to a 1958 Chevy. (Wien-Criss Archive)
An Electroliner at 6th and Oklahoma in Milwaukee in 1962. (W. N. Higginbotham Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
An Electroliner at Edison Court in Waukegan on May 26, 1959. (Wien-Criss Archive)
This picture of the CTA Stockyards line was taken in September 1957, shortly before the line was abandoned. There is little in this picture that still exists today, except for the shuttered Stock Yards National Bank Building, at 4146 S. Halsted Street. (Wien-Criss Archive)
A gate car (345) and a Met car are in the process of being scrapped at Skokie Shops in September 1957. (Wien-Criss Archive)
Riverview Park at Western and Roscoe on June 10, 1956. (Wien-Criss Archive)
PCC meets PCC in this famous Bill Hoffman photo, showing CTA PCC streetcar 4373 on Western Avenue, while a Garfield Park “L” train crosses on Van Buren temporary trackage. The date is June 16, 1954. (Wien-Criss Archive)
The “Streetcar Waiting Room” at Archer and Western on November 15, 1954. (Wien-Criss Archive)
CTA 153 is northbound at Halsted and Congress on October 5, 1953. (Wien-Criss Archive)
CTA 4227 is on the turnback loop at Clark and Howard, the north end of Route 22. This is now the outdoor seating area for a restaurant. Buses terminate at the nearby Howard “L” station. (Wien-Criss Archive)