Destroying the Deco | Letters | Chicago Reader

Destroying the Deco 

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Philip Berger put together an enjoyable piece on el station design (March 29). Alas, even more blunders are planned.

The State Street mall renovation now under construction includes trumped-up 1920s-style entrance kiosks to sit atop the subway's original moderne-style mezzanines. At the Roosevelt Road station, a similar kiosk (determined without benefit of any public comment as far as I can determine) will be placed atop the remodeled station there. The remodeling of that mezzanine will obliterate the late deco design that graced the subway when it opened in 1943. The city is looking forward to using leftover circulator money for several more such remuddlings.

Chicago was justifiably proud of the simple, modern design of its downtown subway on opening day. It was one of the last projects of the New Deal Public Works Administration, and a fine example of the style sometimes called WPA moderne. Train platforms were brightly lit by that new innovation, fluorescent light. Mezzanines featured clean, simple Vitrolite and ceramic surfaces, with the streamlined lines and curves of modern transportation facilities. Each station had a carefully planned color scheme, and signage was an integral part of the design, using the modern futura typeface incised into the tile.

Alas, the city and CTA seem to have learned nothing from their reconstruction of the Quincy/Wells station, so far gone that it had to be virtually re-created. With the architectural style of the subway still too young to be revered, remodelers are bent on obliterating it--just as the CTA and its predecessors had done at Quincy/Wells when Victorian ornament was out of fashion or needed care. Apparently there are no big federal grants for maintenance or restoration, only for pasting granite and brushed stainless steel over everything.

Unless someone can be persuaded that the original mezzanines are handsome exemplars of their era and worth preserving, I suppose we'll have to wait and then spend millions of dollars in 2018 to re-create a moderne-era subway station. In the meantime, Chicagoans can always fly off to Miami Beach or LA to see art deco. Too bad they won't see any while taking the subway to O'Hare.

Dennis McClendon

S. Plymouth

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