v26-1 Edgewater's "L" stations

Vol. XXVI No. 1 - SPRING 2015

By: LeRoy Blommaert

Today, Edgewater has four “L” stops: Granville, Thorndale, Bryn Mawr and Berwyn. But originally there were only two. In May 1908, when the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company extended its line North from Wilson Ave into Evanston over the Evanston division of the St. Paul Railroad, the station stops in Chicago remained those of the commuter railroad, with only two additions, both in Rogers Park. One was added at Hayes Avenue (later renamed Loyola Avenue) and the other at the city limits at Howard, where a small yard was created. In Edgewater the stops remained Edgewater (at Bryn Mawr) and North Edgewater (at Granville).

So how and why did the stops at Thorndale and Berwyn get added? And when? It is an interesting story.

Thorndale was added first. For this one we have the exact date it opened – February 14, 1915 – thanks to a Chicago Tribune article that appeared the following day. And it came about not by accident, but as a result of community pressure. “L” service to Edgewater resulted in an apartment boom along both Winthrop and Kenmore and west of Broadway outside of the Edgewater Glen and Lakewood Balmoral neighborhoods. Many in the central area north of Hollywood and south of Glenlake wanted a shorter walk to the “L” and so they petitioned for a station to be added between the two existing stations. And they were successful. It might have been the first major success of community activism in Edgewater. As a testimony to their shrewdness, they sought to have the Chicago Board of Education intervene with the Northwestern Elevated Company for a stop at Thorndale. The Swift and Senn schools had just been built and both were close to the “L” line at Thorndale – in the case of Swift, very close. Petitioning began as early as August 1913. An article in the Chicago Tribune of August 30 indicated that the Thorndale Improvement Association had enlisted women voters in a petition drive to secure a station at Thorndale and that in short order they had secured more than 1,200 signatures.

However, the Northwestern Elevated Railroad did not voluntarily agree to the new station stop. It took an action of the Illinois Public Utilities Commission to secure the desired objective. The order was issued November 12, 1914. One of the petitioners was the Thorndale Improvement Association. Not everyone was on board, however. In an indication of later controversies in Edgewater’s history, some residents objected. An item in the December 23, 1914 issue of the Chicago Tribune indicated that A.T.H. Brower, of 1010 W. Bryn Mawr and past president of the Edgewater Improvement Association along with Edgewater Architect J.E.O. Pridmore, president of the North Edgewater Improvement Association, Mrs. Ella Flagg Young, Superintendent of the Chicago Board of Education, and Harriet A. Eckhart, principal of the George B. Swift school, asked the Illinois Public Utilities Commission to modify its order. The Chicago Board of Education reasoned that if a station were added at Thorndale it would make the street a “heavily traveled thoroughfare and would interfere with the work of the Swift School.” The article went on to indicate that supporters of the Thorndale station threatened to appeal to the Superior Court of Sangamon County. We don’t know exactly how the controversy was resolved but we know that the supporters of a station at Thorndale won because the station was opened less than two months later.

For the Berwyn station, we don’t have the exact date it opened; however, we have been able to establish the period of time during which it opened: after January 1, 1916, and before May 1916. A Chicago Elevated map dated May 1916 shows the stop, and a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune asking if a station will be open by January 1, 1916, carries the reply from the Northwestern Elevated that it wouldn’t open until the spring. While it seems reasonable to assume that the station was added in anticipation of the opening of the Edgewater Beach Hotel which opened in June 1916 and took almost a year to build, the record indicates that was apparently not the case. The Seventh Church of Christ Scientist, which opened its facility at 5318 N. Kenmore in 1908, was one of the petitioners before the Illinois Public Utilities Commission. The Commission issued an order on November 12, 1914, for the Northwestern Elevated Railroad to open a station at Berwyn. While the railroad was very prompt in opening a station at Thorndale (about two months), it was over 13 months before it opened a station at Berwyn, and, when it did, the station was called Edgewater Beach. We don’t know the reason for the delay.

We also don’t know what the first stations looked like, but we know they weren’t the current stations. These did not open until 1921 after the elevation project had been completed. It probably looked similar to the other stations along the line – wooden platforms with a small enclosed station house facing the street through which one entered onto the platform. However, they might have looked different as the elevation project had begin in April 1914, and at least two of the four planned tracks were elevated at Argyle by January 1916, this according to a photo taken by a Chicago Daily News photographer. Surprisingly, no photos have surfaced that show what the stations looked like during the transition. A response by the Northwestern Elevated Company to a “Voice of the People” inquiry published in the January 30, 1915 issue of the Chicago Tribune made it clear that the station at Thorndale that they hoped to open about February 15 would be a temporary one.

The station stop at Lawrence in Uptown was the last one added on the extension. It opened in January 1923 but again not as a result of an independent decision of the Northwestern Elevated RR Co. It too was added as a result of pressure but not one brought to bear by community residents. Rather it was as a result of pressure by a land syndicate that had bought considerable property along Lawrence between Broadway and Sheridan and planned to develop it as part of the Wilson Ave business district. A Chicago Tribune article of March 7, 1922, described some of those plans and informed that the Illinois Public Utilities Commission had ordered the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company to develop plans for a station at Lawrence within 30 days and complete its construction within six months after the approval of the plans. Although the Riviera Theatre had opened in 1917, the Uptown Theatre would not open until 1925 and the Aragon Ballroom not until 1926. Interestingly, there was an earlier petition before the Commission for a station at Lawrence but that petition was denied on November 12, 1914, the same day the Commission ordered stations to be built at Thorndale and Berwyn.