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Focus On The Future:
Designing Main Street, East Union
From Rail & Wire Issue 192, November 2001

By Dave Diamond

Hammond, Indiana, was just one of hundreds of American cities and towns with streetcar or interurban tracks running down Main Street. In Hammond, the big orange interurban cars of the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad ran on Chicago Street. Although the scale is larger than IRM has room for, it shows the atmosphere the Museum will try to achieve with its projected street scene. Postcard from Greg Heier Collection

The Summer of 2001 has seen East Central Avenue at the Illinois Railway Museum take on a new identity. For the first time in IRM history it has been paved. The new road will draw more visitors than ever to the Museum's east side. Attractions such as the historic bus fleet will be discovered and more photos of equipment in Yard 5 will be taken. Visitors will enjoy a smooth, dust-free ride when traveling to Electric Park on a trolley bus. This project has been made a reality by grants from the North American Railway Foundation and the Hoffman Family Trust, and 2,000 tons of gravel donated by Material Service Corporation over the last two years to build up the road prior to paving.

With the completion of East Central Avenue, it might be time to "Go West" Central Avenue, that is. If you stand at the corner of Central Avenue and Depot Street and look due west past 50th Avenue Station into the hay field (our overflow parking lot), you will be looking at the site destined for IRM's Main Street scene.

Small photos: Library of Congress
The street scene concept has been included in IRM's master plan since 1981. As a roundhouse and turntable are integral to the Steam Department's historical interpretation, the street scene is essential to present a historically accurate environment for our streetcars to operate.

The 700'-long street is envisioned to be 51' wide with double track provisions for AAR and street railway wheel configurations. Each side of the street would be lined with historic and replica structures. The back of the buildings on the north side of the street would include a main entrance for visitors coming to the Museum. This long-awaited formal entrance would be at the south end of the current parking lot. Overflow parking would be expanded to Museum-owned land on the west side of Olson Road. After entering through the new entrance, visitors would walk out onto the street scene. Streetcars could bring visitors to Depot Street to change for mainline trains.

Small photos: Library of Congress

The development of a street scene will do more than create a historic backdrop--it should also ensure our longevity through additional revenue. The operating season could be extended with more heated facilities onsite. The street could offer Museum visitors more attractions to visit, and some buildings might even accommodate interests of non-railfans.

The possibilities are unlimited as to the types of business and features that could be among the street's offerings. Museum-related facilities such as a theater (with a historic marquee), expanded Museum stores and additional concession services would all fit in. The theater could feature informational and historic films about the Museum and railroad history. An old-time soda fountain or ice cream parlor would be a popular attraction. A hobby shop, gas station, street railway car barn, and fire station are some of our initial concepts, but the possibilities are limitless.

Small photos: Library of Congress
While some of the buildings will be authentic structures, several would be of new construction made to look old. By building new structures you can combine multiple facades under one roof. Storefronts on some buildings would be for display only. This allows other uses inside such as offices or additional exhibits for the proposed Visitors Center facility. Storefront-only displays create an opportunity for corporate sponsorship. Interested retailers could reutilize their old signs and display their products in the window display which would be viewed by over 70,000 visitors annually.

The recently constructed Diner Annex building forms an eastern anchor for future progression of the street scene. The eventual restoration of the O'Mahony Diner will typify an American nostalgic scene. The Museum's Sunoco Gas Station is in good condition and could create an interesting scene to be placed on the street. In 1999, a group of interested members met with Northwestern University's Adjunct Professor of Civil Engineering, David Shulz, and faculty at the Institute of Infrastructure Technology in Evanston, Illinois. After a lengthy meeting, a consensus recommending the development of a Visitors Center or public entry building along the proposed street was reached. Prior to the development of this structure, firm street design plans will be required.

Small photos: Library of Congress
Although it was known that the street scene would be many years away, the Museum has had an eye out for historic materials over the years. In the 1980's, Frank Sirinek contacted officials in Chicago city affairs and was able to acquire several antique traffic signals for eventual installation on the street. During the last several years, we have called upon the City of Chicago and its contractors, and they have supported our preservation efforts most generously by donating former CSL/CTA line poles, granite paving blocks, traffic signals, numerous drawings, and technical manuals. We extend our sincere thanks to each of the following: Mayor Richard M. Daley; Commissioner Al Sanchez and former Commissioner Eileen Carey of the Department of Streets and Sanitation; Deputy Commissioner Bryan Murphy, former Deputy Commissioner James Heffernan, Mike Quinlan, Larry Holloway, George Kosicki, Fred Hince, Phil Doty, Joe Bozi, and the late Leroy Pretzie of the Bureau of Electricity, all of whom have provided assistance through the years. Former Streets and Sanitation Coordinating Engineer Samuel Polonetzky provided many contacts before his retirement and is still supportive of our efforts today. Contractors including Hecker and Company, Lindahl Brothers and F&V Cement Construction have assisted us as well. The cooperation that the individuals and companies provided us is sincerely appreciated, and we look forward to their continued assistance.

While some of the plans previously described seem like they will be enormous undertakings, we have never made small plans. The continued support of members may make the sight of streetcars traveling down a city street in East Union a reality. Please consider contributing towards the design of our street by donating to the Main Street Scene Fund today!

From the Rail & Wire Issue 192, November 2001


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