Nostalgia trip: 1970s video shows one L of a ride down the Dan Ryan

January 10, 2013

If you are of a certain age--and, boy, I am--the early 1970s video of a Dan Ryan Line el train making a 95th Street-to-downtown run is a real trip...back in time.

Completed in 1969, the line was only a few years old when this video was made; the sleeker new trains glided down the median of the still new Dan Ryan Expressway, stopping at modernist stations designed by Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore Owings & Merrill. Back then, the old Lake/Dan Ryan Line went north, passed through downtown, connected to older Lake Street el and traveled west to Oak Park. Today, the Ryan trains compose the south end of the Red Line, while the firner west leg is now part of the Green Line.

As the train travels north in the video, some long-gone landmarks and structures can be seen, such as the lip-shaped Magikist carpet cleaners sign kissing the sky near 85th. As the train pulls into the 47th Street station at 6:45, the now-demolished massive Robert Taylor Homes are visible on the right. At 35th, the camera pans to the left and gets a good view of old Comiskey Park.

Placing a high capacity rail line in an expressway median was revolutionary in the 1950s and 1960s. It lessened the cost of land clearance for mass transit and created a train system that didn't darken roadways, as do the city's overhead lines. It was efficient people-moving, but bad urban planning. The platforms are isolated, surrounded by expressway concrete and speeding cars rather than vibrant street life. The station entrances sit in the middle of blocks-wide deadzones for pedestrians, due to the width of the expressway. A planned redo of the 95th Street terminal could rectify some issues at the station--retail and food vendors could be added. That's just one spot along the line. But it's better than none.

The video above comes courtesy of YouTube, posted by a rail fan who goes by the name "msibnsf," who has loads of other vintage and contemporary CTA and train footage.

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