Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building
by: chicago designslinger
[University Station - Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building (1928) Henschein & McLaren, architects; (2006) adaptive reuse, Pappageorge Haymes, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In the mid-1920s so much produce came into Chicago via railcar that the Burlington and Chicago & Northwestern yard at Wood and 16th Streets was known as the "Potato Yard," where more potatoes were shipped than anywhere else in the world.
[University Station - Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building, 1550 S. Blue Island Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Like the beating heart of a massive circulatory system Chicago sat at the center of North America's rail network. After the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad first laid tracks across the city landscape in 1848, as the railroad industry boomed, so did the number of rails crisscrossing city streets. By the early 1890s the volume of train traffic had increased to such levels that hundreds of miles of grade level tracks were not only causing traffic headaches, but an increase in pedestrian deaths and injuries. Imagine having to maneuver yourself in and around airport taxiways while trying to get from one side of town to another - the time had come for the city to take action.
[University Station - Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building, Blue Island Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1893 the aldermen of the Special Committee for the Abolition of Grade Crossings recommended that their colleagues in the City Council approve a measure requiring the Illinois Central and Rock Island railroads to elevate their tracks within the city's borders. Soon all the other rail companies that had tracks laying within Chicago's corporate borders were required to follow suit. It took another 23 years, but by 1916 almost every single piece of steel rail that had once been at ground level was now 10 feet above grade level, resting on a man made embankment.
[University Station - Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Along a stretch of west 16th Street just east of the Wood Street "Potato Yard," the Chicago & North Western and the Chicago Burlington & Qunicy railroads shared an 80-foot wide embankment that supported ten lines of track. The Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad had four lines running on an embankment that the railroad had constructed about 100 feet north of the C&NW/CB&Q elevated road bed, leaving a gap between these two concrete-lined piles of earth. Seeing an advantage in a narrow strip of land bookended by three major, continental-crossing rail lines, a syndicate was formed by Laurence Cuneo, Mary S. Cuneo, Peter Costa, Edward J. Ward and Frank E. Roth who purchased a gap-lined piece of property for $150,000. Plans for an 11-story, 300,000 square-foot, $2,000,000 cold storage facility at Blue Island Avenue and 15th Place with era-appropriate Art Deco flourishes were drawn-up by the architectural firm of Henschein & McLaren, and construction got underway in the summer of 1927.
[University Station - Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Cuneo family, like the Costa's, were long time produce wholesalers in the city and had played a large role in the relocation of the old produce market from South Water Street to nearby 15th and Morgan Streets in the early 1920s. With the massive "Potato" yard located just west of their site, the syndicate hoped to profit from the proximity to the adjacent rail lines and the new wholesale produce market around the corner. The 108-foot-wide by 278-foot-long structure was to be the first in a series of cold storage warehouses the group intended to build in the embankment-splitting-opening, but only Produce Terminal Cold Storage Building #1 ever saw the light-of-day. After serving as a storage facility for over seven decades, the building was converted into residential condominiums in 2006 under the guidance of architects Pappageorge Haymes. Today homeowners at University Station live sandwiched in between the still active rail lines of of the CSX and Union Pacific railroads, tucked inside the massive concrete structure like the variety of vegetables before them.