train tracks that run through the city of Chicago and into surrounding
neighborhoods is referred to as the "L" by locals and visitors alike. It is one
of Chicago's features that is closely identified with, as it has been a
prominent part of the city for more than 100 years. Since 1897, it has expanded
into one of the country's largest public transportation systems, and now 1.6
million rides are taken on the train on an average weekday. Not only does it
serve as a convenient way to get from one place to the next, but is also one of
the best ways to see Chicago and learn about its dynamic history. So take a
ride on the "L" and check out some of these historical stops along the way.
city was served by a massive street car and motor coach system, but it only
worked locally and created more street congestion. So, city planners decided to
elevate the tracks above the street in 1897, creating what is now known as The
Loop, the 1.79-mile circuit of the train that forms the hub of the Chicago
Transit Association (CTA). It is historically significant for joining all the
different train lines in the late 1890s, giving people a common terminal
Many of the
current stops deposit riders close to some of the most impressive buildings in
the city. Your group can easily hop on the train at State & Lake, one of
the last stations in the Loop to retain most of its original features, and take
the Brown, Orange, Green, Pink or Purple line. (Note: The Brown, Pink and
Orange lines make a full loop; the Green line only runs along the Eastern and
Northern sides of the Loop.)
There are a
number of impressive and historical attractions in the Loop, it's difficult to
pick which ones to visit. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started:
The Rookery: An historic landmark located on LaSalle
Street, the Rookery was completed in 1888 by architects Daniel Burnham and John
Root. In 1905, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to update the light court.
Union Station: Just a few blocks west of the Loop,
Union Station is Chicago's major railroad station and opened in 1925. Designed
by Daniel Burnham, Union Station is most well known for the ornate "Great
Hall," with a vaulted skylight, statuary and connecting lobbies, staircases and
Willis Tower: Towering above the streets of Chicago,
Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) is a prominent feature of the
city's skyline. It was completed in 1973, and, at the time, was the tallest
building in the world.
The Chicago Theatre: Opened in 1921, the Chicago Theatre was
the first large movie palace in America and was built in French Baroque style.
The "C-H-I-C-A-G-O" marquee is a major symbol of State Street and the city, and
is a landmark in itself.
Famous Architecture to the West
The Green Line,
originally known as the Lake Street "L" in 1893, extends both south and west of
downtown. The western stretch of the track takes riders out to Oak Park, one of
the most architecturally significant regions of the city. Tour groups can board
the line in the loop and get off at the Oak Park stop, where they will be
within a few blocks of some major attractions:
Wright Home and Studio: This structure served as the home of Frank Lloyd Wright
and his family between 1889 and 1909. It is located in the Frank Lloyd
Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, which includes about
27 Wright-designed structures.
Unity Temple: A
Unitarian Universalist church, Unity Temple, built between 1905 and 1908, is
considered to be one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most important structures.
Birthplace: The home where famous American writer Ernest Hemingway was born and
spent the first six years of his life.
Baseball History off the Red Line
The Red Line,
one of two lines that does not run on the elevated tracks in the Loop, runs
north and south of downtown and is the busiest CTA rail line. The northern
route takes riders through some of Chicago's classic neighborhoods and right
past Wrigley Field, one of the oldest ballparks in the country.
Tour groups can
get off the train at Addison, where they will find Wrigley just steps from the
station. The field, nicknamed "The Friendly Confines," was built in 1914 and
has served as the home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916. Between 1921 and 1970,
it was also home to the Chicago Bears football team.
After a quick
tour through the stadium, your tour group can explore the surrounding
residential area, known as Wrigleyville, which contains numerous bars,
restaurants and other establishments.
Bronzeville to the South
Just off the
south branch of the Green Line are the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
and the Bronzeville neighborhood. Groups can get off at the 35th-Bronzeville-IIT
stop and explore some extremely significant areas of Chicago.
IIT, a research
university, was formed in 1940 when the Armour Institute of Technology and
Lewis Institute merged. What sets this school apart is the fact that German
architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the campus. He created a spacious
120-acre campus at its current location, and most of his buildings were
completed in the 1940s.
as a living monument to African-American culture. It has been home to a number
of famous people, including legendary singer Louis Armstrong, civil rights
activist Ida B. Wells, and the first African-American woman pilot Bessie
Coleman. Some attractions worth visiting are the Stephen A. Douglas Tomb, The
Victory Monument and the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Laughs off the
The Brown Line,
originally known as the Ravenswood branch, was first opened in 1907 and runs
through the northwestern neighborhoods of Chicago. Just off the Sedgewick stop,
your tour group will discover where improvisational theatre began. The Second
City was formed in 1959 and was the first on-going improv theater in the U.S. It
has since expanded to other cities, has produced television shows and has become
a starting point for comedians, awarding-winning actors and directors.
Second City is located in
the historic Old Town neighborhood, which features a number of boutiques,
restaurants and bars along Wells Street. Also nearby is Tony Award-winning
theatre company, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, founded in 1974.