The “L”: The Early Years

by Emily Speelman

Along with the Bean and the Willis Tower, there is one Chicago icon that is not only central to the city’s identity, but is used by tourists and residents alike on a daily basis: the ‘L’ (also known locally just as the CTA). Including both Chicago’s bus and train systems, thousands rely on this system to get to school, work, and around the city. Currently, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) manages the eight different train lines and roughly 130 bus routes running in Chicago and several nearby suburbs, such as Skokie, Evanston, and Oak Park. The CTA serves roughly 3.5 million people a day with an average of 515.3 million riders (bus and rail) during 2015. According the CTA’s website, Chicago’s public transit system is the second largest in the United States (after New York City), running 224.1 miles of track and roughly 1,300 miles of bus lines. The L also services both of Chicago’s airports (O’Hare and Midway), making travel into the city easy and inexpensive for visitors. But how did the Chicago Transit Authority come to be and acquire these vital train and rail lines, most notably the famous elevated tracks?

Though the Chicago Transit Authority wasn’t established until 1947, the city’s first pedestrian rail lines (which would become the L) began running in 1892. The system expanded from its original parameters of Congress and 39th street after Chicago was chosen to host the 1893 Colombian Exposition. The first rail line, which is south branch of the Green Line today, now reached down to 63rd and Stony Island so visitors could get to the fair on these new trains. Until the opening of the CTA, however, each line was opened by a different company. The elevated (“L) Loop opened in 1893 and, as companies built more lines, Chicago’s downtown became a transportation hub of different trains. This lack of unity, however, led to fierce competition for ridership on the different lines and an increase in fares for those needing to switch between lines to reach their destination.

The four original companies running Chicago’s elevated trains merged into the Chicago Rapid Transit in 1924 under the leadership of Samuel Insull, who was the president of what is known today as ComEd. Though Chicago’s trains improved after this merge, the government still had a minimal role in the transit system. This proved problematic at the beginning of the Great Depression, when huge ridership drops and financial losses forced them to step in. The Chicago Transit Authority officially took over for the Chicago Rapid Transit in 1947 and they have controlled Chicago’s public transit ever since.



The 606: Chicago’s Elevated Park

Opening Weekend of the 606 – June 2015
Photo credit: the 606

by Emily Speelman

Running 2.7 miles through Chicago’s northwest side, the Bloomingdale Trail has become an iconic part of the Chicago landscape and a favorite of athletes and families alike. Also known as the 606, this once held an elevated railroad run by the Chicago & Pacific Railroad. It was used to move goods from the Chicago River to industrial ports on the city’s north side. In 1893, after a number of dangerous encounters with pedestrians and trains on the ground-level tracks, Chicago mandated all railways become elevated throughout the city. Trains frequently ran on Bloomingdale Lane, passing through the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, and Wicker Park neighborhoods, until freight carriage through this corridor ended in the mid-1990s.


The early days of the Bloomingdale Trail – 1965
Photo Credit: Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail

The elevated track lay abandoned through the 1990s as community partners discussed what to do. Since the trains had stopped running there, trees, flowers, and other plant life began blooming on and around the tracks, creating an unplanned, natural trail above the neighborhoods. The first official plans for the 606 came as the Logan Square Open Space Plan in 2004. Though the elevated area was built over 100 years ago, the railroad’s foundation reaches seven feet thick, creating a solid and ideal platform for new construction. After several meetings with city officials and community organizers, the first stage of the plan was approved and construction began in August 2013. The trail’s renovation was spearheaded and established by the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, who desired to make a mixed-use park space that would connect neighborhoods and provide a safe, elevated space for Chicago communities.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail break ground on the 606 construction
Photo credit: The 606

The 606 opened to the public on June 6, 2015. The name 606 is based off the first three digits of all Chicago area codes, showing that all residents are welcome to the trail. Currently, the 606 is home to 37 bridges, 1400 trees, and 200 different plant species. The 606 arts initiative, called the 606 Arts Program, features a rotating set of sculptures and murals placed along the trail. A number of community events are hosted throughout the year, such as the Arts Blitz and the Walk 606 With Light parade. Visit for more information and upcoming events.

The trail is open from 6:00am to 11:00pm daily to walkers, runners, and bikers alike. You can even bring your furry friends!


Swayze loves walks on the 606! Photo credit: Alli Rooney


The trail can be accessed at a number of points shown on the map below:


Art in the City: Wabash Arts Corridor

By Emily Speelman

On October 24, 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), declared 2017 the “Year of Public Art” in Chicago. This will be ushered in through projects like the 50×50 Neighborhood Art Project, where Alderman from all 50 Wards may use up to $10,000 of their budgets to finance permanent art installations in their area (which the Mayor will match). As noted on the City of Chicago website, the project will invest one million dollars into neighborhoods for local artists to work there. Art related events will also be held at museums throughout the city such as the DuSable Museum of African American History, the South Side Community Art Center, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chicago Cultural Center. All of these play a role in Emanuel’s “Chicago Cultural Plan”, which has increased attention toward Chicago’s public libraries, CTA stations, and public parks.

Chicago is known for its public art. Many sculptures and murals are central to the city’s image such as Monument with Standing Beast, Four Seasons, and the Flamingo (all pictured below). Many of these are located in the Loop: however, these are just a small selection of the neighborhood’s ever-growing art presence. Earlier this year, the Mayor and Columbia College Chicago teamed up to increase art in the South Loop area, showing what similar development during the ‘Year of Public Art’ could look like. 






The Wabash Art Corridor (WAC) in the South Loop presents Chicago as a ‘living urban canvas’ through their BIG WALLS project. In collaboration with Columbia College Chicago, WAC brought initiated twenty mural installations by both local and world-renowned street artists. The project was launched last May (incorporating pieces installed over the last few years) with events surrounding the project running throughout 2016, including guided ‘Corridor Crawls’ of the pieces. WAC serves as a part of the greater Chicago Cultural Plan in 2013, hoping to increase Chicago’s image as a cultural hub and bring together the talents of local artists in the city.

Below are a few of my favorites from the collection. Keep your eye out for these and many more pieces next time you are in the South Loop neighborhood!


Stop Telling Women to Smile

Artist: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Location: 801 S. Wabash

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s series “Stop Telling Women to Smile” addresses the ongoing street harassment of women, drawing from her own and other women’s experiences. Fazlalizadeh interviews individuals about their experiences with harassment before drawing their portrait. She turns this into a poster, including a small message or theme from the interview. Fazlalizadeh then pastes the posters throughout the city, hoping to create a conversation around harassment in that area that it occurs. The project began in Brooklyn in 2012 and has now expanded worldwide to Mexico City, Paris, and now Chicago. Here Fazlalizadeh features over a dozen hand-drawn images of women with one central message: Stop Telling Women to Smile. 

Learn more about the project and see more of Fazlalizadeh’s portaits here:


Chi Boy

Artist: Hebru Brantley

Location: 1132 S. Wabash Avenue

Flying outside the Roosevelt L Station, Chi Boy was one of the earliest murals of the Wabash Arts Corridor project. Hebru Brantley, a Chicago native from the South Side, says his style “derives from graffiti-worn buildings and sneaker-hung telephone poles honoring memories of local legends” Based off his ‘Flyboy’ character, who is personalized for each of Brantley’s murals, Chiboy rockets across the building, hoping to empower and bring hope to all who see him. Brantely’s work can be found throughout Chicago including at the Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line Station, outside the Lincoln Square Athletic Club, and on the Uptown Broadway Building.

See more of Brantley’s work and learn more about him here:


From Bloom to Doom

Artist: Collin van der Sluijs

Location: 1006 S. Michigan Avenue

Artist van der Sluijs use this south Michigan mural to showcase two endangered Illinois birds, surrounding them with local flowers. After researching native birds of Illinois, the artist chose to highlight the Yellow-headed Blackbird and the Red-Headed Woodpecker, which have all but disappeared from the Chicago landscape. He hoped to highlight that while these species are dying, there is still time to prevent them from extinction. Though he hails from the Netherlands, Collin van der Sluijs is no stranger to Chicago, having painted murals in the Pilsen neighborhood and hosted shows at Vertical Gallery.

Learn more about From Bloom to Doom here:


Don’t Fret

Artist: Don’t Fret

Location: 1152 S. Wabash

The artist, known as Don’t Fret, is a Chicago native and alum of Columbia College. He is one of three Columbia College alum that were brought back for the Wabash Art Corridor project. He notes the piece is reminiscent of his time at Columbia, describing it an interview with the Columbia Chronicle as reflective of his ‘“glass half-empty” personality’ and finding the humor in darker subjects. He has worked both in galleries on the street, displaying his work in cities like New York, Miami, São Paulo, and Berlin.

See more of Don’t Fret’s work here:


Make Your Own Luck

Artist: ASVP

Location: 1 East Balbo, South Loop Club

Make Your Own Luck is a part of the Vertical Gallery’s ‘The Power of Paint’ series, promoting how visual art can help others. As a part of this campaign, the duo ASVP donated part of their commission to charity. ASVP utilizes hand-drawn, comic style paintings in bright colors and have worked both nationally and internationally. They are based out of Brooklyn, New York.

Learn more about this piece here:

Learn about the artists here:   



Press Relase about WAC:

Learn more about the project here:

Project website:

The Legacy of Wrigley Field

by Emily Speelman

Last week, the Chicago Cubs made history by winning their first World Series in over 100 years. The famous “Billy Goat Curse” was broken and Cubs fans around the country rejoiced. This victory will go down in history and be as essential to Chicago as the Cub’s stadium itself: Wrigley Field. It’s located between Lakeview and Uptown in the appropriately named Wrigleyville and is one of the oldest stadiums in the Major League. Since it’s construction, Wrigley Field has undergone big changes, massively impacting the surrounding neighborhood and becoming a famous Chicago icon.

Wrigley Field was built in 1914, making it the second-oldest ballpark in the country. Initially called Weeghman Park (after property owner Charles J. Weeghman), the park was built on the grounds of an old seminary at Clark and Addison on the city’s north side. The initial stadium allowed for up to 14,000 visitors. The first game at Weeghman Park was on April 23, 1914 where the home team, the Chicago Federals, played Kansas City. Weeghman purchased the Cincinnati Cubs in 1915, moving the team to its now permanent home. The Wrigley family purchased the Cubs franchise in 1920 and the stadium was renamed in 1926 after Cub’s owner William Wrigley Jr.

Once called Central Lakeview, the area was renamed Wrigleyville to celebrate the park. Unlike many stadiums, however, Wrigley Field is in the middle of a dense residential and commercial neighborhood: therefore, all stadium renovations and changes directly impact the residents of Wrigleyville and interests can often clashes with the team’s ownership. One key example is the long-awaited approval for stadium lights at Wrigley to allow night games. Unlike the White Sox’s Comiskey Park (now known as Guaranteed Rates Field) who gained lights in 1939, Wrigley could only have day games for its first 74 years. Lights were only installed in 1988 after the Cubs threatened to leave Wrigley if the renovation was denied. There are also no official parking lots for the field, making street congestion a constant throughout baseball season. Under its most recent ownership, however, Wriglyville will look very different in the upcoming years.

Since Tom Ricketts’s purchase of the team in 2009, Wrigley Field and the surrounding Wrigleyville has undergone significant change. According to the Chicago Tribune, the current Cubs owner is working with Boston’s Theo Epstein to remake Wrigley and its surrounding neighborhood in the style of Fenway Park, which was built just two years before Wrigley Field. The project is titled The 1060 Project and began at the end of the 2014 season. Learn more about the project here:

The 1060 Project

Since 2015, Ricketts and his associated businesses purchased 10 of 16 rooftops surrounding the park, where fans have full view of the game from the top of nearby buildings. Huge signs from companies such as Budweiser now stand on the outer perminter of the stadium, bringing large revenues to the team while blocking the view of rooftops that refused to sell. A McDonalds adjacent to the stadium on Clark Street was recently demolished after being purchased for $20 million: now, a hotel is being constructed on the site. Plazas were created on all sides the stadium and will host events both on and off game days. Northwest of the field, a large building for Cubs’ offices and related retail shops will overlook the stadium.

Mark Schlenker, a local rooftop owner, noted that the Cubs ownership made it clear they want to purchase all of the buildings on the east-bordering street of Sheffield Avenue. While Alderman Tom Tunney is optimistic about the economic growth of these plans for Wrigley, there are concerns about how this will affect long-time residents and businesses in the neighborhood. With an average of 40,000 fans in attendance at Cubs games, however, there is a strong draw to diversify and expand businesses in the area. The team will work closely with both Alderman Tunney and Mayor Emanuel as field renovations continue into the upcoming years. 

As the 2016 World Series Champions celebrate their victory, it is clear that Wrigley Field (and all of the changes to come) will remain an important part of the Chicago landscape for years to come.


For more information about Wrigley Field and the continuing renovations, please see the links below: