“The Grant Park entrance to the Metra Electric and South Shore line’s Van Buren station has given Chicago an added touch of Paris for the past two decades. There it sits, right off Michigan Avenue in Grant Park, a letter-perfect reproduction of the train station entrances designed by French architect Hector Guimard and built along the Paris Metro in 1900.
“The City of Lights, one of Chicago’s sister cities, gave us the Art Nouveau beauty, which was installed in 2003. And what a gift, with its detailed organic metalwork providing a perfect match for its Grant Park setting.
“Walk through the entrance and down its stairs on the right day, and it’s hard not to imagine for a second that you’re about to board a train bound for Saint-Germain-de-Pres to hang out with the bohemians and intellectuals in the 6th Arrondissement — rather than perhaps heading to the dry cleaners on 55th Street or way out to the split-levels of Park Forest.
“But get ready to bid au revoir to Metra’s French connection. The commuter agency is replacing the Guimard with a new and accessible entrance as part of a $100 million upgrade of the Van Buren station. Improvements at the station are certainly needed, particularly ones that provide access to all riders. But there are so few touches of whimsy in this often gray and sober city. You hate to lose one.
“The late philanthropist and architecture maven Seymour Persky is credited with helping bring the Guimard to Chicago. And according to the Chicago Park District, Paris’s transit authority, the RATP, crafted the Van Buren station ornament using Guimard’s original molds, then donated the finished product with the help of the Union League Club of Chicago.
“The Van Buren entrance has been a crowd-pleaser since its installation. Travelers will take one image of themselves beneath the Van Buren station entrance’s floral metal arch — which is crowned by “Metra” in Art Nouveau script — and then a similar one outside a Paris Metro stop.
“Built in 1896 by the Illinois Central Railroad beneath Grant Park, the Metra Electric’s Van Buren station is the most picturesque — and the oldest — station on the line. The waiting room is a treat, a real step back in time with wooden benches, tile floors and terra cotta detailing. Station upgrades will restore the historic waiting room.
“Changes include removing the Guimard — filling in the accompanying stairway to the station — and replacing it with a larger entry with stairs and elevator.
“If Metra’s $100 million effort won’t make room for the Guimard to be used somewhere else in Grant Park above the Van Buren station site, then it should be reused — not just displayed — in a location that honors its design, intent and history.” (Bey, Chicago Sun-Times, 10/1/22)
Preservation Chicago has been attending Section 106 hearings regarding the Illinois Central Railroad Station Restoration for many months and has been advocating strongly with preservation partners for the protection and preservation of the Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau Metra Entrance in its current location.