Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Faded Glory At The Wilson El

A reader writes:  "A couple weeks ago I was on a tour of the empty retail spaces at the Wilson el station, which are being marketed by Jones Lang Lasalle.  They estimate that occupancy can happen by late 2011.  I'll reserve judgment on that, as the spaces, particularly the ones north of the station entrance on Broadway, need a lot of work (we couldn't even enter one doorway because of the fallen debris in front of it).  The empty spaces are HUGE -- 8000 square feet for the Popeye's and convenience store space.  It goes back, way back, on Wilson.

What struck me was the beauty of the original station that has been covered up so long.  We were in the space where the convenience store was, which -- with the former Popeyes space -- used to be all one area, and served as the lobby of the station.  It was supposed to be like a mini-Union Station waiting room.  I looked up and saw parts of the original carved plaster ceiling, long covered up by the drop ceiling of acoustical tiles.  I wish someone could bring it back to its original glory.  Wouldn't it be a great retail store, all retro and fixed up?"


  1. Space for artists?...we are not too picky...

    I know....not going to happen.....

  2. The ornate work along the edges of the ceiling looks surprisingly like the work in our own 920 Wilson lobby. Beautiful stuff. It sure would look great restored. (Some folks here have been restoring ours, slowly, and it will look wonderful when finished.)

  3. I wonder how much water damage has or hasn't happened over the years, how much modification has been done for the mechanicals.
    It would'nt surprise me if its in good shape. Restoring wouldn't be cheap, I think we all know that. If the property is leased by the end of the year it will not happen, the next tenant will just drop the ceiling and keep it simple.

    I see another franchise its future, maybe.

    I've seen the 920 lobby is beautiful.

  4. Can someone tell me why they shut the main entrance of the station down in the first place? I guess the obvious answer is that they can make more money by turning the lobby into a retail space, but was there another reason?

    Think of how that corner could change if they reopened it as the lobby to the Wilson station!

  5. Very neat to see the original plaster work still intact. You would think the CTA or JLL would clean the spaces up a little to at least have them show like a vanilla box. Whoever rents it will need to have some imagination.

    Jon, speaking of ornate work - any idea when the JPUSA building at Leland and Malden will get the missing cornice work fixed? Or is it gone forever? Very cool building that could use some TLC, dontcha think?

  6. @ Ms Kitty. What does JLL and Vanilla box mean?

  7. Trash Update for yesterday
    4/13/11 for Winthrop from Lawrence to Leland.

    Not bad, two trips to the can of stuff, someone threw out a plastic bag full of bags, so that I kept, it comes in handy when there isnt that much trash. The single family adjacent to the chase parking lot has a very small area of lawn before its fence, the trash was very old there and I finally got that all up.

    One of the bankers of Chase was talking and hanging out with the icee man at the corner, he recognized me and said hi and he saw me picking up trash and throwing it out at his corner can.

  8. JLL = Jones Lang LaSalle (the firm marketing the spaces).

    Vanilla box = a real estate term used to describe a space with a cement floor, plain ready-to-paint walls, working electrical outlets and lights, plumbing (bathroom), finished ceiling, and heating/AC...

    A clean, blank canvas, if you will...

  9. thanks jeffo! clean & green tomorrow everyone :)

  10. Why not involve the community in a loving restoration of the Wilson El stop? A renovated Wilson El station would be: 1) the new symbol of a functional, united Uptown; 2) the gateway to a new entertainment district; and 3) the means to bring together volunteers who would love to work on an artistic and historical project, as well as people in the neighborhood who could pick up useful construction or restoration skills.

  11. Gotcha Kitty...keep it simple.

    My guess is the CTA will do whatever takes the least amount of thought process. JLL will go along because that is what they do.

    CTA I believe sees these properties as merely circucstantial in a way a normal landlord never would. Its a tiny cog in a massive massive machine.

    Anybody got an extra $40 million?

  12. They closed it after the North Shore Line shut down. No need for a waiting room.

  13. Des Planies,,,what was the North Shore line? (this is one reason I love UU..learn something new about yoru neighborhood all the time!)

  14. One option.

    If the CTA could do the least amount of capital improvement to clear the way for occupancy. "Vanilla box" if you will.
    Subdivide the space into:

    1: artists work studios on the inside of approx. 300-500 sq.ft. Each. Lease to the artists at below market rate to incentivize quality, jury the artists...It matters.

    2. Make the corner, approx the old popeyes seating area a gallery space for the working artists to show/sell.

    3. Make the rest of the windows display as well for either the artists or better to showcase school groups/projects or local business nearby, holiday displays, etc. , light up the windows of course.

    The leases could be short term for the artists.
    This would be transitional, there is a good chance some federal dollars are going to be dedicated to the Redline, no sooner then 2015.
    Another option is to lease it to another franchise, long-term lease. Its a down market, creatve solutions welcome.

    It might even get good media buzz for Uptown.

  15. The North Shore Line was the sister railroad to the still-operating South Shore Line. It ran between the Loop and Milwaukee with cars that were more "upscale" than the typical commuter railroad of the early-to-mid-20th-Century. Back then you could actually get a drink and dinner on your way home, and it was a favorite mode of transportation for North Shore folks who would debark at the Wilson stop for points east such as the old Edgewater hotel.

    The North Shore ceased operations in the 1960s and the South Shore "downsized" into a typical Metra-type line.

  16. Uptown Arts....I LOVE these ideas of creating space(s)for art. Any creative use of this space would bring a different vibrancy to that sad corner. Why, I'd even give some thought of actually walking down Wilson again! Wouldn't that be wonderful?

  17. The Wilson stop, as is probably known by many here, used to be the last stop on the line. It has an amazing history, including briefly featuring work from Frank Lloyd Wright (torn down after only a decade or so, unfortunately). The present structure included a train terminal as well as for the "L" -- but when the trains stopped running and left only the "L" all that space was rented out. I remember a grocery story there for years...

    Kitty, re JPUSA and the Leland House... yes, we are working on getting it fixed! ;-) When we purchased that building years back, the entire back half of it was completely burned out by a previous fire. So one might say we've come a long way from there to here. Still farther to go, but appreciate the encouragement. Blessings.

    Uptown Arts, thanks... glad to know you've seen their work. One of the guys is actually hand-retouching it with gilt paint... just amazing stuff. The patience involved is, well, excruciating! Whew.

  18. Thanks for the update Jon. It will be great to see the cornice back in place some day. Really is a neat building.

  19. In Andersonville there is that exceptionally cool space just south of Reza's that is very similar to a small business incubator. It is multiple floors and probably has 50 different small companies there in an extremely tasteful setting... taking Jeffrey's ideas, put a unique Uptown spin on it, set up something similar but with the Arts, whether paint, sculpture, multi-media, etc., as the theme but borrowing that idea as a starting point... Jeffrey, I see you post on the Andersonville Incubator site, so I bet you know what I am talking about...

  20. I agree with most that this space has potential and can be a huge help to the economic development in the area if leased. However the loitering at the corner of the jimmy johns/alley would deter efforts to get customers in there.

    I don't need my girlfriend to be "holla'd" at before we try to go shopping/eat dinner/to a art gallery.

    In addition, I do firmly believe if the Wilson and Lawrence redline stops were re-done like brown line stops, it would be the foundation to build on. Until then it will be a very challenging uphill battle.

  21. Yes Josh, you are right. We should make no plans or try to move forward at all until every single piece of the puzzle is in place... lol.. Come on buddy, have some optimism... Lakeview, Andersonville, River North , Wicker Park , etc etc all were dumpy neighborhoods at one time... the common factor in its change (and what is happening in Pilsen right now).. fostering the creative arts community... think about it... Uptown will never be, nor should it, be like those neighborhoods... but I like to think that Uptown can be Chicago's version of Austin, Tx.. full of businesses, artists, music, the rich and the poor, boheminians and the well heeled.. and we should borrow/ steal their motto as well, just modified a bit... "Uptown, keep it wierd" =)

  22. Thanks again, Kitty, re Leland...

    And one other item on the wish list re the corner of Wilson/Broadway... I wish they'd think about restoring the arched bricks over the corner entrance there. It may have been removed because it was somehow viewed as getting in the way of the track edge or something... but once you've seen the old photos it just seems a shame it was summarily removed. Not high on the priority list, probably, but it was nice looking.

  23. For those who really want to drill into the history of the Wilson / Broadway L stop, none other than the CTA provides the best page on it I've seen:

    Wilson L Stop.

  24. - Rob

    You are right, I do need to be optimistic, and will try to be. As a new resident of Uptown (10 months in), I am all for fostering the arts and new business. I just really want to see less pigeon poop ha ha under the L tracks!

  25. I'm on board with any idea that spiffs up/restores that corner. Right now, it pretty much announces "Despair all ye who enter this neighborhood". Artists' space, appropriate retail---whatever, but it could be a very nice corner instead of the sh*tbox it is now.

  26. They need to get rid of the Wilson Men's Hotel...I see public drinking there even in the early morning and the resultant littered beer cans are strewn all around the Wilson Mall and empty storefronts, e.g., Popeye's. Though I do have to say that Clifton has improved quite a bit.

    Come on...if any of YOU were merchants, you wouldn't want to rent a space in such a scummy station either. When I had a date a few weeks ago, I had us walk down to Clark and had dinner in Andersonville...I didn't want her to see anything east of me.

  27. WILL - I can one up you on that one. I overheard a man ask where he can get squares; other man tells him Wilson Mens Hotel; man says "they sell crack there?"; other man says "yes!". Obviously, I called 911, but that Hotel is one of the very serious problem buildings in Uptown.

  28. @ Rob
    I believe the cool space your talking about is the Galleria. A "Galleria" model is a bit different from an incubator or a gallery but in effect does what both do in a different way. Long sentence sorry.

    The galleria rents (monthly)space from say a 4'x6'wall space to a cubicle to the artist to display there art and/or craft. In return the galleria is point-of-sale staffed normal business hours.

    It works well, an affordable option more-or-less for the artist with no time commitment beyond setting up, tearing down.

    A gallery as many know typically features one or more artists, has an "opening" then limited hours or by appointment for the duration of the show, normally 2 or 3 weeks.

    I believe Rob where you got my name from up there however was EAIM (Edgewater Artists in Motion), a program that places art in vacant store windows, last summer they organized a show in conjunction as well. My art has been on Granville (That big condo building on NE corner) for months now, the Koi fish are still sideways, but I am the only one that notices so it fine.

    This is a program James has mentioned as a working model for Uptown. Not to be confused with "pop-up galleries", another time for that.

    Getting back to Wilson Station, we could do multiple approaches with what is actually a lot of space, multiple buildings.

    I see having working studios located there with professional artists also displaying there work in an adjacent gallery as key.

    If we can attract artists of high caliber to work and do business in Uptown the rest of the art world will a nutshell. The artists would be attracted by the below-market rents and juried for quality. A preference given to artists who also use their studios to teach, drawing residents in, and students to Uptown. It can generate some revenue as well with the gallery commissions.

    The galleria could be independent and serve emerging artists and crafters, part-time artists, much better, the more the merrier. Even amateurs like me! It can generate revenue as well with space rentals.

    The art scene that eventually faded in Wicker Park had an anchor...Around the Coyote it was. The core of ATC was the Flat Iron building which housed the studios of working artists. There is a strong connection I could go on at length, much to say and many ideas, but this is but a blog post so in good time I hope.

    Rob is ABSOLUTELY correct when he said we need to put an Uptown spin on it.

    We can learn this or that, however if it is Austin, Wicker Park, Nashville, or even River North the one thing they had in common was the celebration of their very own uniqueness. We can not recreate these scenes if we tried, but we can learn a few things.

    Wilson Station can become the anchor of a creative renaissance in Uptown, its big and its central, it is a nexus. And as Ms. Kitty aptly put..."a clean blank canvas".

    OK...maybe not so clean right now, but imagine.

    I hope I have the opportunity to discuss this with James soon, and I know he is open to talking to me. It would take a special team and a lot of moral support from the neighborhood to even get started. Uptown is home.

    "Make no small plans..."
    -Daniel Burnham

  29. We are focusing on art, which is a great idea. How about "the Arts" in general ? Would be great to see a placed where pottery, music, music classes, kids classes, etc could be established in this area. I would be a bit apprehensive, I admit, to bringing my children there initially. However, if it was developed, I would look forward to being a part of it. I would love to see something akin to Lill street or Old Town Music school, or an established story time. I'm sure the "regulars" hanging out would relish a bunch of stroller pushing moms and dads heading past them. Hey, there's an idea...organizing a major family day walk through the area...with dogs (criminals hate dogs).

  30. Wouldn't it be cool if the Wilson Mens Hotel was turned into artist lofts and workspace instead of the HUGE dump it is now???


  31. Jon, I have to give you this....thanks for the link on the historic photos of the Wilson L.

    It's frankly too painful to look at the old photos.

    It's beyond me how 'some' have managed to be content with the current blight for so, so long.
    I've always thought it so strange, that the 46th Ward Office was so close to this mess.
    Can you imagine if every 'thug','miscreant', 'drug dealer' and common criminal up here dropped their self-serving wayward interest, and stopped to better off we'd be?

    Think about it all you little thugs...think about what YOUR mother would want.