I enjoy long walks and having the chance to closely observe the neighborhoods of this city that I love. Recently my strolling took me north and west of my home in Museum Park over to Dearborn Station.
Dearborn Station is a beautiful old train station building on Polk Street at the southern terminus of Dearborn Street. It opened on May 8, 1885, and served mostly commuter railroads that came into downtown Chicago every day. But, it is much more than that. It is the symbol for one of the larger development projects in Chicago history, namely Dearborn Park, which was the first of the developments that went on to transform the South Side of Chicago.
Prior to 1971, numerous rail lines came in from the South and ended at Dearborn Station. Amtrak then decided to consolidate the incoming trains at Union Station, and Dearborn Station was closed on May 2, 1971. The unused railyard, around 51 acres in size, going all the way from Polk down to Roosevelt Road, was a huge eyesore. Above we see the railyard looking North to Dearborn Station.
Many important civic leaders came together with a vision to remove the blight and build up a neighborhood that would be very conveniently located close to the Loop and attractive to homebuyers. The leaders included the CEOs of Commonwealth Edison, Continental Bank, and Sears Roebuck. One of the first hurdles was the fact that George Halas, owner of the Chicago Bears, had rights to all 51 acres!
Finally, the land was acquired in 1975 and the plans for Phase I, namely the 24 acres of the area that were closest to Dearborn Station, were announced in early 1977. The development was to be called Dearborn Park, and Construction began in November of 1977.
Credit should be given to the Draper and Kramer development firm, which eventually took on full control of Phase I and brought it to fruition. Another big partner in the effort was the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. There were high rises mixed in with mid level and town home units. Surprisingly, the plans did not call for the immediate rehab of Dearborn Station itself, which had to wait until the mid 1980’s to be rehabbed into the offices and stores that are found in the beautifully restored building today.
One of my favorite areas from the first Phase of the development is the small park, called Dearborn Park, that lies directly behind Dearborn Station. It is quite secluded, filled with trees and quiet, tranquil spaces.
The 24 acres of Phase I were soon followed by another 27 acres, planned by Draper and Kramer and called Phase II, that carried the Dearborn Park development all the way down to the viaduct at Roosevelt Road. Finally the entire strip of land between State and Clark, from Polk to Roosevelt, had been successfully developed into a thriving urban community.
Again, I am drawn to a small space at the Southwest corner of the Phase II parcel called Roosevelt Park. This attractive 1.4 acre park, with three tennis courts and a running track, is visible from the elevated portion of Clark Street up by the Target on Roosevelt Road, but it takes some dedication to actually get to it in person!
Dearborn Park was the first of the big Southside developments, followed closely by the rehab of the Printer’s Row area and the beautiful urban spaces that have arisen along Prairie Avenue called Central Station.
Our beautiful City has always been lucky to have visionaries who dreamt of a better future, and the leaders who triggered the development of Dearborn Park and the subsequent booming growth of the near Southside can arguably take their place side by side with the giants of the past such as Daniel Burnham and Montgomery Ward.