A Nod to Train Stations Past and Bocce Courts of the Future


Illinois Central Randolph Street Station

Illinois Central Randolph Street Station. This space is now better known as Millennium Park.

Construction continues on the new Grant Park Skate Park, just south of the 11th Street pedestrian bridge over the Metra Electric District railroad tracks.

Drawing of the Grant Park Skate Park

Drawing of the new Grant Park Skate Park

For the last 11 months, we’ve covered the plans for transforming this three-acre plot of land from an unused grassy embankment into a recreational space. The skating portion is actually 20 feet below the Michigan Avenue grade, with paths and ramps leading down to the grinding area, as well as a small performance space.

From Michigan Avenue, there will be a viewing platform that has been designed to mimic a train platform—a nod not just to the Metra and South Shore commuter trains gliding by to the east, but also to the history of the site.

Drawing of the Grant Park Skate Park

Drawing of the new Grant Park Skate Park

This was formerly the location of Chicago’s Central Station. Built in 1893, Central Station was the second Illinois Central Railroad station in the Grant Park area.

As you know, Millennium Park is built on top of Millennium Station. Before there was Millennium Station, there was a parking lot. But before that was the Illinois Central Depot and the Randolph Street Station.

At one time, Illinois Central drew up plans for an elaborate and modern Randolph Street Station that looked somewhat like today’s Union Station in the West Loop. The plans were submitted to the city, but work never started.

Chicago Central Station

Chicago Central Station as seen in 1971

What we did get was the 13-story Chicago Central Station, designed by Bradford Gilbert and, like so much historic Chicago architecture, opened in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition. In the more recent past, it was where Amtrak trains from the south and east would arrive in Chicago. Then in 1971, those trains were shunted over to Chicago Union Station, and a year later Central Station had a date with a wrecking ball.

Since then, the south part of Grant Park has been mostly empty, with the exception of the 2004 installation of Agora, the somewhat-odd-but-growing-on-us sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz.

Construction began on the skate park earlier this month, and is expected to wrap in November. It has an eco-friendly design that continues Grant Park’s shift from monoculture blocks to a more diverse variety of trees. And through the use of swales and other ecologically-friendly methods, the skate park will process and filter all of its own storm water runoff, contributing nothing to the city’s sewerage system.

Bob O'Neill, President of The Grant Park Conservancy

Bob O’Neill, President of The Grant Park Conservancy, soliciting ideas for the old skate park space at a recent public meeting

Just as one train station replaced another, this skate park replaces an old temporary skate park on the other side of the tracks. Any corner of Grant Park is valuable space, so the Grant Park Conservancy is eager to hear your ideas for what to do with it. Thought currently being floated:

  • A bocce court
  • More tennis courts
  • More basketball courts
  • Beach volleyball courts
  • An expanded dog park

If you have an idea, e-mail them to Bob O’Neill at the Grant Park Conservancy at boboneill@grantparkconservancy.com.


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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