Vacant, closed and off-limits: Behind the scenes at Chicago Union Station - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Vacant, closed and off-limits: Behind the scenes at Chicago Union Station

What secrets is Chicago Union Station hiding?

MPC's 2013 Placemaking Contest, Activate Union Station, is seeking creative ideas to temporarily enliven the wide-open public spaces at Chicago Union Station: the Great Hall, the Canal Street Arcade, and the riverfront Fifth Third Plaza. Most of the 120,000 people who pass through the station every day are familiar with these areas. But the massive station, originally built in 1925, also hides a lot of areas that are now closed, vacant or inaccessible to the public.

Want to go behind the scenes to some of these areas? MPC has an exclusive photo tour.

For instance, the area off the west end of the Great Hall once housed a sprawling lunch counter, formal dining room, and a women's lounge. Which is behind this door? Check out the full set of photos (with captions) for the answer.

Where can you find this vacant, crumbling office?

Or this swank, recently-renovated office? Check out the full set of photos (with captions) to find out.

Where is this vacant retail space, just waiting to become a restaurant or boutique, with grand views of the Great Hall and Canal Street arcade?

And where does this staircase lead? Check out the full set of photos (with captions) to follow them up.

Once you've completed the photo tour, don't forget to check out the Activate Union Station contest!


  1. 1. Roland Solinski from United States on July 10, 2013

    Thanks! I've always wanted to get a look at these spaces. Do you know if Amtrak is willing to host a tour for Open House Chicago in October?

  2. 2. Paula Wallrich from DuPage County on July 11, 2013

    My thoughts exactly! This should be on the list of Open House Chicago locations for October! What an interesting place!

  3. 3. Steve T. Sobel from Farmington, Michigan on July 16, 2013

    I agree, I would find the time to come from Michigan to Chicago if a tour of the station was offered! I'm a railfan, belong to MARP/NARP, a photographer and I love trains.

  4. 4. Steve Rippeteau from 1108 Ave G Ft Madison, IA on July 16, 2013

    Thanks! I worked on the Santa Fe during the transition to Amtrak into CUS. Yes, there were also some interesting areas down in the locker rooms and baggage areas. Let's keep up the work to preserve and use these grand buildings. Now that I'm retired I volunteer at our local museum that is housed in four RR depot buildings in Fort Madison, IA. Good thing our North Lee County Historical Society preserved the buildings because Amtrak plans to move into the Santa Fe waiting room and ticket office. We get to keep our lease from the city on the rest of the Historic complex.

  5. 5. Louise Knight from Evanston on July 19, 2013

    While people are thinking about renovating and improving Union station, I hope serious consideration will be given to providing general passengers with a dignified and beautiful place to wait for the trains. Like, um, how about the Main Hall? Move all those fine benches Amtrak has put elsewhere back into the Hall. Let it's classic elegance be enjoyed by passengers, the way it was meant to be. Now, of course, they sit in a low ceiling cramped set of rooms that makes one feel like a sardine in a can. (If the first class passengers can have an elegant space back, why not the masses, I mean, us?)

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