Sunday, November 14, 2010

Throwing Away the Headhouse: North & Clybourn Red Line Before and After Apple

We've written before about the reconstruction of the North & Clybourn stop on the CTA's Red Line, financed to a tune of nearly $4 million by Apple Computer to provide a more fitting backdrop to its shiny new store right next door.  It reminds me about the line in Lawrence of Arabia where Peter O'Toole is asked exactly what he found so attractive about the desert.  "It's clean," was his reply.

As described on the excellent website, the North & Clybourn station was designed in 1939 by Shaw, Naess and Murphy.  It is the only subway station in the system to have a headhouse. All the others have ticketing in below-ground mezzanines.

The redesign kept the building but largely threw away the design.  It's been Californiaized: dark textured brick getting flat, lighter replacements, windows, doors and lighting all redesigned.  The original building had character -it just needed to be cleaned up and restored.   The redesign is generic and banal.

Thanks to Landmarks Illinois, we've gotten some photo's of the original design in its later days, and we put them side to side with the new station, allowing you to make your own judgements.  Just remember to add a little imagination to see it in your mind as it was originally, not as the CTA had allowed it to decay.  And speculate what we might have had if Apple, instead of spending all that money replacing and throwing away the old brick, doors, and windows - repeat after me, the greenest building is the one that already exists - had used it instead to clean, repair and restore the original.  (All older photo's courtesy Landmarks Illinois.)

 click images for larger view
According to Landmarks Illinois President James Peters . . .
There was no need to replace the brick or--even worse--the beautiful polished black granite panels that wrapped the base of the building and the eastern curved wall.
These materials were in fine shape, although dirty and in need of tuckpointing. This was purely a "make it look like any other 2010 commercial buff-colored brick box" cosmetic job.
Well before the work began, we tried desperately to redirect the project (and save money), but the die had been cast by the California designers for the project--and CTA was unwilling to cross them. Thus, a very unique Art Moderne (1943) station building gets banalized. And, in this era of "sustainability," a lot of great and beautiful building materials were tossed away, unnecessarily, in the process.
The CTA - and every other city agency - have recently announced that everything's now for sale to fill the gaping holes in all the budgets.  They will be aggressively pursuing naming rights for every city asset they can persuade some advertiser to put up the cash to brand.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing - I've already read someone suggest a UPS-sponsored Brown Line - but it's unlikely we'll find too many mores corporations as generous as Apple was at North & Clybourn.  For renovations to come, we need to balance the need for cash against preserving Chicago's unique character and keeping it from coming just another generic could-be-anywhere shopping mall.


Anonymous said...

The North/Clybourn "renovation" is also very half-hearted. Once you get past the newly redone/replaced head house, at the bottom of the first set of stairs is the same old, unrenovated, grungy, non-accessible Red Line station. A fresh coat of platform-level paint and a few illuminated Apple ads don't disguise that fact.

I'm sure Apple wasn't about to spend the millions it would have required to wholly redo the station, and I know Federal regulations would have required the station to be rendered ADA-accessible if any substantial work had been done down below. But really, the beauty--such as it is--is only skin-deep here. The plaza is nice. The head house is nice.

And the station below still sucks.

Anonymous said...

A bland looking dreary nothing of a look....It doesn't take much aesthetic knowledge to see that the restoration is a snooze. Its like we are so mid-minded, so milk-toast we wouldn't understand a toothier more authentic restoration. Chicagoans have been duped!!

Someday very soon the city will complete its dumbing down of Chicago architecture--a total transformation from distinctive to generic.

Anonymous said...

The doors and windows surely required replacement to meet energy code and for practical purposes. Reusing the old mullion spacing might have been nice. I wish we all could see the original brick and stone cleaned up. We can only speculate as to how good that would have looked. Yes the new buff brick is "blah". The Schurz H.S. renovation comes to mind in uncovering a gem (although this is a decidedly lesser and more functional building).

Anonymous said...

That entire area has been "Californized" as you put it. North/Clybourn is a Big Box Store metropolis with the bland architecture to go with it, this was just the next step. Although I agree with you, I do like the polished aluminum letters. I feel that a mix of rehab and some additions/updates would have been best.

Lynn Becker said...

I think you hit the nail on the head - the new design really conforms to the area as it's evolved, but it would have been nice to have some history beyond the Yondorf, which really helps the area retain some character through the generations. I also agree about the lettering and canopy. I wrote in an earlier post how it looks really sleek.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a new North Community Bank location. Suburban and boring.

celeste said...

from an advertiser's pov, it's smart to invest money into public transportation with first rights to ads in the station. what did people think of the light boxes ads that they did?