South Side cop shop closes: City retires old-school police station

March 7, 2012

The Prairie District police station--a squared-off building that looks as hard as the business end of a cop's nightstick--was built on the South Side 60 years ago this month.

But after nearly two-thirds of a century in the law-and-order business, the Prairie District is now retired. City officials closed the station last weekend as part of what has been billed as a cost-saving measure that shuttered two police districts and two detective headquarters. (A jokester had a little fun placing a fake Craiglist ad this week, offering to rent the newly-closed Harrison Area detective headquarters, a mean-looking brick building at Harrison and Kedzie. The Harrison District police station remains in the building however.)

Designed by city architect Paul Gerhardt and constructed for $265,000 (!) on the northeast corner of 29th and Prairie, the two-story Prairie District station, also known as 21st District, was a dash of modernity what was then a dense, aged city neighborhood. When it officially opened April 1, 1952, the Indiana limestone-clad building featured conveniences such as a kitchen so that the folk in lock-up--the arrested folk in lock-up--could eat. The building was briefly Area 1 detective headquarters, then went back to regular duty in 1963.

Architecturally, the building is from a time between the 1930s and the 1970s when Chicago police stations looked as tough as the cops that were in them.  The oldest buildings of the bunch were phased out in the 1990s and 2000s. A few stand empty. One, the old Gresham District station at 85th and Green was turned into a beauty college.

The no-nonsense station on Prairie has a nice element or two. The 1950s stainless lettering by the main entrance is pretty cool...


..and here, too, on a side door along Prairie Avenue:

And the varied pattern of the limestone isn't bad, either. Here the pattern is almost like the checkerboard on a Chicago police officer's hatband:

Prairie District quietly sits with its Chicago police markings--and a padlock on the front door. Whether the building will be reused or demolished is not yet known. A police spokesman today said old station will remained closed and maintained by the city's Fleet & Facilities department until the Department of Housing and Economic Development decides the building's fate.