Thursday, January 29, 2015

Union Station: fix the gross part, save the sagging stone steps


     Union Station is a hell hole — loud, crowded, smoky, cold, in winter, airless in summer, dripping cascades of what please God is water all year round. 
      So news that Amtrak finally plans to toss $12 million into fixing has to be welcome, although anybody who has spent anything on home repair has to immediately wonder how far $12 million is going to go. Announcing a $12 million facelift of Union Station is like me saying I'm spending $600 to put in a new bathroom in my home. Given that the "multibillion dollar" master plan to truly update Union Station, can $12 million even give it a good scrubbing (a skepticism reflected in headlines such as Time Out's, "Amtrak Commits $12 million to make Union Station less gross." Less gross. To totally eliminate grossness  would cost $120 million. Easily).  And there is the very real possibility that the years of construction work and inconvenience of the repairs will dwarf whatever improvement they actually achieve. That would surprise no one. 

      Still, to the degree they might enlarge the South Platform, even maybe drill another exit route down there, is to be applauded. It might means travelers won't have to queue in endless, we're-all-gonna-die-down-here-someday lines, waiting forever, our ears next to throbbing locomotives, just to get out of the place. 
     Although. One detail of the plan gave me pause. Not that they're listening to me, or any of the 120,000 commuters forced to descend into Union Station's stygian horrors every day. The geniuses in charge have announced they're going to fix the marble stairs into the Great Hall, steps gently worn over the decades by millions of feet, in Oxford wing tips and sandals and wrapped in rags. Chicago is not an ancient city, and those sagging stone steps are the closest thing we have to an old stairway in Jerusalem or Rome. So while God knows I would never argue with any kind of improvement at Union Station, I would say, fix those marble steps only after you've fixed everything else. Which is a code for "never." 
    That said, they'll probably fix them first. 

9 comments:

  1. Have you ever checked out the worn marble stairs in the Chicago Daily News building across the street? Coming out the north entrance of Union Station and going in the lobby and climbing to the second floor there is truly one of the highlights of my day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I walk down them about once a week. Not too many do anymore.
      But you must remember that the building is owned by that billionaire creep, Sam Zell, who also removed the magnificent ceiling mural "Making the news", from there & has yet to return it to the ceiling.
      Supposedly it's in a Milwaukee restoration studio, but almost no one believes him.

      Delete
  2. Isn't the black and white photo above a still from the old silent movie, "Metropolis" ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I always think of it when I'm shuffling in line, trying to get out of Union Station.

      Delete
  3. Union Station has very likely damaged children's hearing and taken years off the lives of people who get to their trains early and/or get stuck in the soot-breathing cattle shuffle exiting the place during the morning commute. I'm surprised nobody has sued yet.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't take Metra regularly any longer, but used the north platform daily for 15 years. It's a pleasure to use compared to the south platform, but still a hellhole of it's own. I agree about those marble stairs. The first few times I used them I thought "holy crap, someone's going to kill themselves on these things!!" Now, however, I think about all the others who have used them over the decades, and it makes me smile....and I think of the baby carriage. It would be sad to see them "fixed".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Uhhhh....thanks for catching that Ralph.....make that the SOUTH platform is a paradise compared to the NORTH.

      Delete
  5. Careful with the Grand Hall, oh great planning committee. It's one of the last vestiges of an historical vision of Chicago as Great City was supposed to be. It's a public temple, meant to honor and inspire the common man. It's a most lovely place to sit upon a wooden bench and listen to the cathedral acoustics of heaven. Take care of the leaks, but leave the Grand Hall alone. Don't replace the worn marble stairs unless you also have a contract to rehab the Parthenon.

    ReplyDelete
  6. FME might have a point about the Costco prayer. Usually I do not agree with him or Trump. It may not be the praying that bothered her but more the wonder of if it was terrorists under those coverings, possibly males,that pose as Muslims when they are not true Muslims in thought. Take note of recent tragedies. And while a full blanket ban is wrong, we must vet more carefully. Moderation is the key. Neither being pc or full banning. People kid themselves when they compare this to the Holocaust.

    ReplyDelete