On Nov. 29, Customers of Amtrak, Metra and other users of Chicago Union Station enjoyed a holiday lighting ceremony like no other in the station’s 93-year history, showing off a Great Hall painted in its original colors, made brighter by a restored skylight and improved lighting accenting the historic space that has been Chicago’s front door since 1925.
The Amtrak-funded $22 million project was largely completed in time for what are annually the most popular weeks of the year for Amtrak travel in the national network’s fourth busiest station. With work conducted by Berglund Construction, architect Goettsch Partners devised a creative solution to maintain usage of the Great Hall by using a suspended working deck for most of the last 12 months. The iconic skylight had been obscured by the deck until the last several days.
Chicago Union Station, completed in 1925, was designed by Daniel Burnham and successor firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. The centerpiece of the Great Hall is the 219-foot-long skylight that soars 115 feet above the floor. It had deteriorated due to flaws within the original design that led to water damage to the walls of iconic space and to the skylight itself.
In order to maintain the historic appearance of the skylight from within the Great Hall, to protect it and to overcome issues with the original drainage system, the team constructed a modern energy-efficient skylight with 858 panes of clear high-efficiency glass five feet above the original skylight. Natural light into the Great Hall is increased by about 50% by replacing the 2,052 pieces of glass in the historic skylight with a textured glass surface matching the original look.
A new elevator from Canal Street is now active, the first time there has been ADA-compliant access to the Great Hall from the west side of the street. The Henry Hering figural statues representing day and night have been restored and will be illuminated, 24 ceiling chandeliers restored and re-hung, and 27 historic reproduction light fixtures installed.
The area’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and the City of Chicago have been Amtrak partners in planning for the station’s future and its redevelopment.
A new ChicagoUnionStation.com to improve station wayfinding and to book events will feature images of the renovated station when it debuts next month. Early next year, the site will host a documentary video centering on this project while looking at the station’s past and highlighting its future, including a new Clinton Street entrance for improved Great Hall access and services.