Grade for Thorndale, Argyle stations? Make it a B+

The reopening of the Thorndale Red Line station on Sept. 28, followed a week later by the debut at Argyle, provides an opportunity to compare the work to the station rebuild at Morse, which CTA Tattler’s Kevin O’Neil called the “gold standard.”  With its “gorgeous, newly expanded stationhouse” and smooth concrete replacing the old wood platform, Morse earned an A-minus.

Thorndale and Argyle get a B+.

First the good stuff. The stationhouses are bigger and wider, as at Morse. What felt like dark and cramped tunnels before, especially as the evening rush funneled packs of riders through a single set of doors, now are light and open, the crowds clicking through more turnstiles and then spreading out to to the exits.

The stationhouses are once again gorgeous. The outer walls are sheathed in glazed white brick, with luscious bullnose trim around doors and windows. The floors are the real deal: durable terrazzo in a diamond pattern similar to the 1920s original, with black trim around the edges. The crowning touch, at both stations, is the original pair of beaux arts columns around the central doors, inside and out.

Both stations do a nice job of retaining their historic character. The white brick and terrazzo look very much like the old stations, and even the plaster trim has been recreated. At Thorndale, original cast iron newel posts anchor the bottom of the stair railings, anchored in new terrazzo. (At Morse, the stairwells terminate in a concrete passageway that’s not nearly as elegant.)

The platforms? As at Morse, they feature pre-cast concrete sections, new galvanized-steel stairwell covers and shelters, stainless-steel map kiosks, new benches, security, speakers and lighting. At Thorndale, the stained beadboard in the canopy was retained, with hardly a stray brushstroke of white paint from the complete reconditioning of the canopy structure. That’s a big change from the often-sloppy touch-up painting that has been the standard for the last few decades.

Kudos also on the quality of finish. The precast platform and reinforced canopy supports (those concrete humps) were installed with care. The caulkwork at seams and protrusions is cleaner and smoother than those first passes at Morse. The crews from Kiewit Infrastructure and its subcontractors clearly know how to build (or rebuild) a heavy-duty civic asset.

So why the B+? At Morse, the columns holding up the tracks were sheathed in the same glazed brick as the walls, complete with curved corners. At Thorndale and Argyle, they were refinished with cement and painted white. They look fine now, but as a customer assistant pointed out, it won’t be long before someone’s writing “I love Jane” on them. Glazed brick can be cleaned; painted concrete has to be repainted again and again, until you’ve got that layer-cake-of-paint thing going.

And speaking of which, the Morse stairwells had the paint blasted off clear down to the old concrete, so that you can see lines from the wood forms that were used back in 1921 or so. At Argyle the scraping and blasting was less thorough. The paint is fresh, but it covers many uneven layers from decades past.

Perhaps the planned artwork installations will eventually cover the columns or stairwell walls with durable, power-washable tile mosaics. Let’s hope so.

One more thing. Early on, the CTA said that stainless steel railings would be standard on the seven stations, but that seems to have changed. The shiny black paint looks good now, but if past experience holds true, they’ll soon be chipped by the rings and bracelets of passing hands, requiring regular repainting that never really holds.

These weak points in otherwise very fine rehabs are probably related to costs. This job was awarded as a design-build contract with a fixed price of $57.4 million. No doubt CTA and Kiewit have been learning as they go, trimming costs as needed to come in on budget. That’s fair enough, but if the cost-cutting causes maintenance costs down the road, then it might have been the wrong place to cut.

On a brighter note? Every station has re-opened on time.

This story originally published at CTA Station Watch. Contribute your own news by using hashtags (#ArgyleCTA, #LawrenceCTA, etc) or on the Facebook page.


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  • Great assessment Patrick, with insightful analysis.

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    You are probably right that the old painted railings will eventually peel, but I'm glad they kept them anyway. They are so much more "grippable," and have more character, than the stainless steel ones.

  • Other than it appearing that the pagoda may still be on the canopy roof, is there anything to indicate the "Little Saigon" character that Argyle previously had (such as that the old wood was painted red, but now is gone)?

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    I'd give this overhaul a C+, specifically because, aside from the walls and railings, both the north and south stairwells were structurally untouched. Anyone utilizing the north stairwell will note the large height differences in the risers. It's dangerous, and a pain in the ass. Was surprised the auditors passed that detail over.

  • too bad they didn't add terrazzo flooring to granville station when they rehabbed that. they simply skim coated the concrete station floor w/a coating that won't last more than a few years there (similar to what they used in clark/lake blue line station about 10 years ago that lasted all of one year under high traffic).

  • In reply to urbaneddie:

    Agreed that the floor at Granville doesn't measure up. I was concerned when I saw it that we'd be getting something similar at Morse and the other stations. Terrazzo is superior in every way: smoother, nicer looking, more durable.

  • Argyle station looks nice and is way different than before, especially the station house. I didn't see any mention of the loss of retail space they used in this project. There was a greasy spoon Mexican restaurant that was there for the longest time, but had been closed for at least a year. Looks like they took over that space and made the entrance bigger, which is good because the 2 turnstiles was quite a squeeze at rush hour.

  • Chris, you are correct that Argyle lost one storefront and Thorndale lost two of them. But there are six other spaces to fill at Argyle (two across the street), all freshly rehabbed as part of this project. I did a recent survey of vacant storefronts on that two-block stretch and found seven others. So there's no lack of retail space. The question is whether the renewed station will help fill those vacancies.

  • In reply to Patrick Barry:

    Oh, that's interesting that they added space across the street. That was boarded up or close off for as long as I can remember. If nothing else, it will make the street look a bit nicer.

  • Speaking of painted handrails, a reader informs us that he recently climbed the stairs at Argyle, gripping the handrail as usual, when he noticed that some sticky black paint had come off onto his hand. He was able to scrub most of it off in a hotel washroom downtown, but it took some acetone to remove the last of the oil-based residue. Anybody else experiencing this, or the old chipping problem?

  • I agree with the comment about the uneven stairs at Thorndale. I can't believe that didn't get fixed. There also seems to be a real lack of thinking about design in that the turnstiles open right into a huge pillar, so instead of being able to walk directly to the stairs, you have to circle around the pillar. Why didn't they put the station agent's box in the middle with turnstiles on either side? It just seems very poorly planned, even if much cleaner and brighter. And why aren't there signs on the platforms telling us when the trains are coming? DC has done it for years, I don't see why CTA couldn't add them.

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