WASHINGTON PARK — The historic former Garfield Boulevard stop on the Green Line is starting to get some attention just as the Barack Obama Presidential Library pulls attention away from the neighborhood and to its pick of Jackson Park.
The Chicago Transit Authority is planning $50 million renovation of the existing Garfield station and the areas around the station. With news July 26 that the federal government will fund the first $25 million of work, talk is turning to how to include the historic station house, which is the oldest in the city and one of the oldest mass-transit stops in the country.
“The project envisions some type of future public use of the historic stationhouse, to be determined as part of future discussions,” said Jeffery Tollman, a spokesman for the CTA.
Tollman said the station house falls within the boundaries of University of Chicago’s planned arts block led by artist Theaster Gates.
“The university is in ongoing conversations with the CTA, community members and elected officials about ways to include the CTA station into plans for the Arts Block, which we announced in June,” said Calmetta Coleman, a spokeswoman for the university.
Early ideas from the community include proposals like an information center for people getting off the train on their way to the presidential library or the university.
“U. of C. has visitors who have no idea where they are at and luckily it has never been a negative,” said Cecilia Butler, who proposed the idea.
She said she would also like to see the space become a permanent exhibition space for the Washington Park Historical Society to showcase the history of the neighborhood from musician Sun Ra’s early years playing in the park to the story of the Bud Billiken Parade.
Butler said she got the idea from the Hyde Park Historical Society, which is headquartered in a former train station in Hyde Park, and though smaller, she thinks the Garfield station is big enough for the Washington Park Historical Society.
Butler said she was last in the station with volunteers from the university in 1998 and said at the time there was still some remnants of the old station like the ticket counter.
The station was built in 1892 to connect Downtown with the World's Columbian Exposition and is one of the oldest surviving public transit stations in the country. It is the last surviving example of the city's original arts-and-crafts-style stations.
The station was closed in 1995 during a major renovation of the Green Line.
Though no money has been set aside for any restoration, Tollman said restoring the station house is part of the plan for the Garfield Boulevard stop.
He said regardless of the use, CTA would retain ownership of the station.
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