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Originally an Illinois Central Railroad line, the large set of railroad tracks that run along the lakeshore north to Millennium Station in downtown Chicago are today served by Metra and Southshore commuter trains. Along the section of this railroad line that runs through the Hyde Park and Kenwood areas of Chicago, there are a number of old railroad over highway overpass bridges that were built with an unusually large amount of attention paid to the architectural detailing and beauty of the bridges. These bridges remain today with these details intact and largely unaltered from their original design. Some of the bridges contain what appears to be a simple reinforced concrete slab superstructures. Others contain steel superstructures, but on most of these bridges, the outside face of the outermost beams are encased in concrete for aesthetic purposes. The bridges also contain decorative concrete railings. The spans of the bridges are supported by concrete column bents (piers) that are also constructed with a number of architectural and aesthetically pleasing details. The final composition is intended to make the bridges look consistent, and give the appearance of an all-concrete bridge, when in fact the superstructure may be either steel or concrete. Among this group of historic bridges there are several different styles. The superstructure designs are all essentially the same, but the railroad appears to have employed several different designs for the aesthetic treatment of the bridges. Some of the bridges were constructed with train stations whose entrances are integrated into the abutments.
These bridges are all historically noteworthy in Chicago because they are examples of railroad over highway overpass bridges that were clearly designed with aesthetic treatment being a key part of the bridge. There are hundreds of old railroad over highway overpass bridges in Chicago, but many of them are largely utilitarian in design. By today's standards these bridges might be visually attractive, containing rivets and built-up beams with lattice or v-lacing, etc, but during the time that those bridges were built such elements would have been considered utilitarian construction, not aesthetic treatment. In contrast, these bridges on this section of the the former Illinois Central line clearly were designed to be beautiful, even though the superstructure type itself is a simple and mundane type.
These historic bridges do not currently appear to be at risk for demolition. While some of them show signs of deterioration, others were being repaired at the time of documentation, so it seems likely that those which are deteriorated might be repaired in the future. This is great to see, since these attractive bridges contribute positively to the surrounding area.
This bridge is an example of a design that includes a superstructure with a pattern of simple inset rectangles that add an aesthetic quality to a mundane reinforced concrete slab bridge superstructure. The four span bridge has two central spans for vehicular traffic and at each end a span for a very wide sidewalk. The south abutment of the bridge has an integrated train station built into it.
The west side of this bridge has an extremely large permanent advertisement banner/billboard plastered on top of the railings and arches. This banner greatly (if not completely) detracts from the aesthetic qualities of this historic bridge. What is ironic is that the banner was an advertisement for a radio station with no commercials. It seems that in place of on-air commercials, this radio station would rather pollute the built environment with advertising billboards on attractive Chicago structures. There are an infinitely vast number of far more appropriate avenues for advertising in a big city like Chicago than an attractive historic bridge. This banner should be removed from the bridge.
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