|Metra Overpass at Greenleaf, looking North|
I take the UP-N Metra train to work every morning and home every evening. It may possibly be the best and easiest commute in the universe. While I'm waiting for the train sometimes I notice things from the platform, like these standard 1960s apartment buildings flanking the west side of the embankment.
Ravenswood is split by the train line, so there's a Ravenwood Avenue on either side south of Lunt. But at Lunt the west side of Ravenswood ends abruptly. At that point a series of condo buildings occur between Lunt and Touhy, located in the same strip where Ravenswood would have continued through.
These brick buildings (shown in red above) are nearly identical, with low pitched roofs and simple geometric ornament. Some of them are bigger than others, which basically means that a few more units have been tacked on. A quick check of the Cook County Assessor's website shows that all of them are dated to 1965.
I'm guessing it's not a coincidence. That strip of land had been owned by the railroad (at that time the Illinois Parallel Railroad Company) since its incorporation by the Illinois Legislature in 1851. Passenger service to Waukegan began in 1854, with service to the North Shore beginning in 1856. By 1869 there were seven trains each way daily. In 1896 work began to elevate the tracks above grade in an effort to eliminate crossing accidents.
|Sanborn Map above and Chicago Zoning Map below|
To the right is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1937, showing the previous ownership structure for the area. The train platform on the west side of the tracks is clearly outlined. At first I thought that perhaps the railroad bought this land, but if that were the case the alley would extend through. Instead, I believe this area was part of the granted right-of-way, and was used to provide access to the Rogers Park station. It also provided a buffer between the trains and the nearby single family homes.
But sometime after 1937 it was determined that this land no longer served the interests of the railroad. Perhaps the train platform was reconstructed to take up less space. Or perhaps the railroad needed to raise funds. Regardless, the areas adjacent to the tracks were developed into multi-unit buildings. North of Touhy the railroad has retained ownership, possibly because the slightly westward angle of the route made the lots less viable for development.
To me the front facades look a bit like drunken robots. The developments also created an uncomfortable relationship between the train embankment and the new buildings. The area in between is a dark, overgrown strip which frequently fills up with trash. Perhaps not the best land planning, but a good example of how developers maximum the value of undesirable lots. As if we needed more of those examples...
Metra posts some history about their train lines here, which provided some of the detail and dates above.