Gerber, Baby! Restoration of the 1923 Gerber Building Marks the end of the Wilson Rehab

The clock tower of the Gerber Building has been restored to its Roaring Twenties-era glory. Photo: John Greenfield
The clock tower of the Gerber Building has been restored to its Roaring Twenties-era glory. Photo: John Greenfield

With the recent restoration of the clock tower of the 1923 Gerber Building at the northwest corner of Wilson Avenue and Broadway, the cherry has finally been placed atop the sundae of the $203 million CTA Wilson station renovation.

The construction project, which began in 2014, transformed the stop into a transfer between the Red and Purple lines, built new island platforms with big translucent blue weather canopies, and added elevators and escalators. A light-filled station house was created on the south side of Wilson, including a dazzling art installation by U.K. artist Cecil Balmond, and new auxiliary entrances were opened on the north side of Wilson and on Sunnyside Avenue.

New tracks were built, replacing infrastructure that was more than a century old, and clearing the sight lines of the formerly gloomy block of Broadway north of Wilson. And as of last week, the Gerber Building has been completely restored, including new retail space that will likely hold the Chicago Market food co-op, judging from comments by Mayor Rahm Emanuel at today’s station ribbon cutting.

The new platforms. Photo: John Greenfield
The new platforms. Photo: John Greenfield

“There will be in the future, a grocery store, right where we’re standing,” Emanuel said. Local alderman James Cappleman has previously stated that he is in favor of the CTA renting the Gerber Building retail space to the co-op. After the ribbon cutting, CTA spokesman Brian Steele told me that the tenant for the space has not yet been finalized, but this info should be announced in the near future.

The mayor noted that the station rehab “has been done… incredibly [respectfully] of the past… restoring it to its glory but, without a doubt, also looking to the future by making it a modern station in a great transportation system. So it’s a perfect balance.”

Emanuel added that this project, in one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods, is a reflection the city’s values, including welcoming immigrants from around the globe, who have settled in the community and opened businesses. He also touted the project’s high participation rate by minority- and women-owned businesses. “This is an uplift for Uptown,” he said.

Maria Barnes, owner of Uptown Bikes (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), located across the street from the station, is one of Chicago’s few female bike shop owners, and possibly the only woman of color to own a bike store in this city. An immigrant from the Philippines, she has live in the neighborhood since 1991. “There is always a lot of talk about fixing our country’s crumbling infrastructure,” she told the crowd at this morning’s event. “But the city of Chicago and the CTA are getting it done. In my opinion the financial cost for this project was taxpayer dollars well spent.”

“As a Chicagoan whose business is transportation-focused, I am excited that the new Wilson station and Red and Purple Line tracks is literally right outside my storefront door,” Barnes added. “This location has real potential to develop into a multi-modal transportation hub, with trains, buses, calm street traffic, bike lanes, and safe, walkable pedestrian pathways. I am so glad we chose to invest on this block 22 years ago.”

Cappleman noted that the station previously won RedEye’s “Crust Station” contest three years in a row as the gnarliest stop in the ‘L’ system. “Many years ago when I first spoke to Mayor Rahm Emanuel about redoing this, the community was hoping and pleading that we would get $20 million to rehab this Wilson station,” he said. He noted that the city wound up lining up ten times as much funding for the project.

The ribbon cutting. Photo: John Greenfield
The ribbon cutting. Photo: John Greenfield

CTA president Dorval Carter thanks the residents and merchants present “for your patience in putting up with the noise, the dust, and the other unavoidable construction hassles associated with this project. While there were many challenges, I hope you all will agree that it was worth it.”

However, the project still isn’t completely finished yet. It’s still not possible to head west to Truman College from the Sunnyside exit. Spokesman Brian Steele said work on a new pedestrian walkway at this location should be completed soon.

It also must be noted that both of the station’s escalators have been out of commission for roughly the last two months, possibly due to the fact that they are partly exposed to the elements, but they were repaired just in time for the mayor’s visit.

That said, the Wilson station renovation will go a long way towards improving transportation access for Uptown residents and making the neighborhood more livable. It is, indeed, an example of taxpayer dollars well spent.

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