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June 18, 2004
Buy a ticket and discover downtown Chicago with the Green, Purple or Brown line. You'll pass through the towering buildings and over the avenues of Chicago. It's very impressive the first time you do it. Both O'Hare and Midway airports are linked with the "L" (blue line for O'Hare, orange for Midway) and within 45 minutes of downtown.
There is a plethora of buses and the CTA's website will compute the route for you if you don't know what bus or train you need to take.
From journal Chicago-My Kind of Town
May 8, 2003
Chicago got its first elevated transit railway in 1892, on a platform of steel girders about 20 feet above Wabash St. Trains, powered by diminutive steam locomotives, ran south from the edge of downtown to the community now known as "Bronzeville". As electricity replaced steam, other "El" lines followed. In 1897, they merged their center-city operations into a rectangle of steel completely surrounding the business district.
Downtown Chicago has been known as "The Loop" ever since and a $1.50 ride on the El is a marvelous way to get acquainted with it. Viewing Chicago’s architecture from 20 feet up as well as from ground level is a rewarding experience.
If you’re travelling light, the El is also your best route downtown from either O’Hare or Midway Airport. From Midway, stay on the train for a get-acquainted spin around The Loop before heading for your hotel. Coming from O’Hare, you can make a free transfer from subway to El by using the escalators at the Clark/Lake St. station. Unfortunately, the El can be difficult if you’re luggage-laden.
If you have a little extra time, extend your El tour at least as far south as Chinatown and at least one stop north of the river to Merchandise Mart. This magnificent building, once the largest non-government building in the U.S., is now open to the general public after decades as a trade-only furniture and fashion showplace. Commercially, it’s a failure. But it’s an architectural gem.
Other especially appealing El destinations include:
- The Baha’i Temple, one of the Chicago area’s most famous landmarks, two blocks east of the Linden Ave, Wilmette, station. One of only seven Baha’i temples in the world, it’s a symphony of pure white concrete reaching skyward in a seven-faceted dome. Visitors are usually welome inside.
- The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Museum, about 1.25 miles from the end of the Green Line at Oak Park. Look for the Visitor Center near the El terminal; go there for information on other Wright-designed houses in Oak Park. You’ll walk past several en route to Wright’s home.
- Wrigley Field, known as "The World’s Most Beautiful Ballpark", at the Addison stop on the Red Line.
Also on the Red Line, at Argyle, you’ll encounter a station built to evoke an Oriental pagoda. This is the heart of Chicago’s Southeast Asian community, with signs in Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian and many ethnic restuarants. (The main Korean community is in Albany Park, at the end of the Ravenswood Line.)
Eighteenth St. (Douglas Line) is in the heart of Latino culture.
There are several variations on the $1.50 basic fare ($1.80 for two transfers within two hours). Check at the airport information booth for farecard or multi-day pass options.
Chicago is known as a city of neighborhoods. A ride on "The El" offers a whole new prospective on them. If you can’t ride, at least have a look at the Quincy/Wells station, rebuilt to appear much as it did 70 years ago.
From journal Chicago from 20' Up: The El & Other Inexpensive Diversions