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.

  • Chicagoan

    The station looks so great, I’m proud to live in Uptown, as well as call Wilson my station.

    Infrastructure as a source of civic pride, hm…

  • DrMedicine

    Looks good, would have looked better if they had not skimped on reproducing the original details on the parapets/”clock tower”

  • ardecila

    Yes, they’re missing a wreath and some fasces details. Overall though, this restores the presence that the original brought to this corner.

    Also kudos to them for restoring the clock. I was annoyed this morning to notice that Metra or UP has removed the hands from the old clocks on Ogilvie Station… old-school analog clocks are like Rodney Dangerfield, they don’t get no respect! Especially considering the long-standing link between railroads and timekeeping.

  • DrMedicine

    Those are the big two, but there’s some others – more blank courses below in this version, the upper part was colored to look like a window, and there’s some egg and dart subbed in. There’s enough detail to get the point across but you can’t really call it restoration.

  • Carter O’Brien

    What an improvement, also a fan of the clock!

  • Chicagoan

    Yeah, it’s odd how they ‘skimped’ on the restoration after spending pretty freely on a lot of other stuff. Two missing fasces details and three missing wreath details. It’s odd, considering that I don’t think the reproductions would’ve costed that much money.

    Overall, though, it does restore the presence, as ardecila mentions.

  • The people at Uptown Update helped stuff the ballot box for that crusty station contest in an attempt to embarrass Helen Shiller. Cappleman himself acted as a whip for all that.

    Ald. Shiller made a campaign promise over 10 years ago that the Wilson L would be totally rehabbed.

  • jolondon

    I must say as someone that lives two blocks from there and bikes buy every day I am struck by the amount of work this took through all seasons of the year. I will say about Walsh Construction that their workers are always extremely courteous and I never see them texting or sitting around. A job extremely well done. Are they going to fix the East side of Broadway? Seems pretty torn up already.

  • Chicagoan

    So, kind of like Jane Byrne securing the Blue Line extension to O’Hare, only for Harold Washington to cut the ribbon. That kind of thing is common in politics. Did the old alderman just make ‘a promise’, or did she secure the financing?

  • Chicagoan

    Yeah, they were very kind in each interaction I had with them. It’s become quite normal the last few years to plan for this closure, that closure, board on this side, board on that side. It’ll be very odd to have a functioning station with no work.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I guess I don’t have the eye for detail needed to be a historic preservationist but, frankly, I can’t really see much difference between the old clock tower and the new one. Photos via 19th District Police / Uptown Update.

  • Chicagoan

    The fasces detail on the columns to the left and the right of the clock wasn’t replicated. There’s a wreath missing around the clock and there’s a wreath missing around the lights. Those are the big three complaints, though some people wish they replicated the glazing for the X-shaped detail above the clock. Also one that I’m noticing now is the fact that the clock is white before, but now the background is the facade material.

  • DrMedicine

    There’s also extra space added in between the UPTOWN STATION lettering and the clock, and between the large wreaths and the cornice.

    Smaller details: the numbering on the clock is a different typeface, the arch meets the X details somewhat more clunkily, the ornament between the dentils was foliate before and is now egg-and-dart, and there were several other simple moldings that were ignored. It looks good, but isn’t as rich or graceful as the original.

    Easiest place to see the differences is zooming in on this:

    This elevation even calls out that the grille was intended to be decoratively painted:

    Finally, this shows the color of the grille:

  • Chicagoan

    I’m wondering if they’ll decide to paint the grille.

  • sensibleone

    The alderman’s office has stated that the last piece of the Broadway streetscape from Leland to Wilson will be completed this Spring.

  • Must defend Cappleman!