About the Branch
When the CTA was established in October 1947, it took over a large network of train lines, as well as bus and streetcar services. Most of the train lines were elevated with the exception of the recently finished State Street Subway and the still-under-construction Dearborn Street Subway. Facing the Auto Age and the increasing suburbanization of the United States, they moved quickly on several cost-cutting measures, such as closing entire branches of train lines and converting streetcars to buses.By the 1950’s, the CTA’s austerity was over and they were ready to invest in their first large-scale infrastructure project, a brand new train line to be built concurrent with and in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway. An existing elevated line was to be demolished and a new, novel type of rapid transit would be built. The idea was to create a transportation corridor, with four car lanes and two train tracks in each direction, moving people from the near western suburbs to the cusp of the Loop as quickly as possible. Island platforms were built in the median of the expressway and ramps of concrete and steel ascended from each end, attaching to the overpasses above. This improved connectivity, as almost all of the major north/south thoroughfares had an entrance as they passed over the expressway.
In some ways, the original vision of the branch has faltered. The California, Central, and Kostner stations have since been closed and a few of the auxiliary entrances have as well, which has diminished the connectivity to the neighborhoods it serves. The second train track, meant to offer express service, has never been built. Nonetheless, the transportation corridor idea proved successful to the point that train lines were later built in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway and the Kennedy Expressway.About the Station
Racine is a great example of the original design aesthetic employed from UIC-Halsted all the way to Forest Park. Glazed brick in an eggshell blue color, popular in new construction American kitchens at the time, is used for exterior cladding. Glazed block of the exact same color is used for the interior at both Racine and Loomis. Staggered glass blocks allow light to enter the station house.
In an effort to provide some variety, different bricks were used for different stations. The California and Cicero stops make use of the same color as Racine, while other stations employ cladding in a cream color. In Oak Park, stations received brown brick without glazing and auxiliary entrances were constructed of only glass and steel.Atop the entrance and auxiliary entrance was a neon sign saying ‘Use Rapid Transit’ and ‘_ Minutes To Loop’, which were later removed. Also removed were the original doors and handles, the latter made to look like the CTA’s mid-century logo. Racine retains a lot of the original design features though, such as the glass and steel customer assistant’s booth and wavy grillework. Of interest is the station name signage in an Art Moderne style, similar to what’s found in the Dearborn Street Subway. Design work for the subway began towards the end of the Great Depression, but wasn’t finished until 1951 because of a World War II-induced material shortage. Since the Forest Park branch opened only seven years later, it’s likely that some design elements dating to the late 1930’s were included in the thoroughly Modernist plans.
Since opening, UIC-Halsted and most recently Illinois Medical District are the only stations on this branch to have received significant updates, which has resulted in a well-preserved group of stations. In particular, Racine’s location in between these two education and employment hubs has likely resulted in a lack of investment, allowing the station to maintain the majority of its 1950’s design features. This has also resulted in the aforementioned cracked concrete and flaking paint, as well as rusting steel, and other issues that come with deferred maintenance.
The stations are in the tenuous position of being too old to be considered ‘contemporary’ and too young to be considered ‘historic’, which results in occasional calls for their replacement. Rather than this, the CTA might consider respectful renovation, which will cost less and preserve the delightfully mid-century aesthetic of the Forest Park branch.
Exit at Racine on an empty stomach and go south to Polk. Walk east until you reach Carpenter, then be prepared to make a difficult decision: a delicious Italian beef at Carm’s or a world-class Italian sub at Fontano’s.
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