A small piece of pre-1950 Riverside history may be in jeopardy unless the village decides it’s worth spending a bit of money to save something that’s rarely, if ever, used or even noticed.
At the center of the story is a utilitarian wood shelter, painted brown with an asphalt-shingle roof protecting benches on either side of a central partition. The shelter, on the south side of 26th Street just west of the 7-Eleven, appears to be a bus stop.
While the shelter is, indeed, along Pace Route 304 connecting North Riverside and LaGrange, it’s not marked as an official stop and, because of its awkward location – the eastbound bus must get in the left-turn lane to go north on Harlem Avenue – it’s not really functional as a stop.
Why is the little shelter there, then? Well, it’s vestige of the old Chicago and West Towns Railway streetcar line that used to follow the path now traversed by the bus route. The streetcar line used to run from the Western Electric Company plant on Cermak Road in Cicero and then wind through Berwyn, North Riverside, Riverside, Brookfield and LaGrange, where it terminated.
And while the streetcar line gave up the ghost in 1948, the shelter on 26th Street survived. And it’s not the only one still standing.
There’s an identical shelter on the east side of Desplaines Avenue at Northgate and another larger, fancier shelter on the west side of Desplaines Avenue at 28th Street. Both of those shelters are officially marked bus stops.
Not too long ago, a Riverside public works employee noticed that the 26th Street shelter appeared to be listing to the west, said Public Works Director Edward Bailey. Further examination revealed that the shelter’s concrete slab was breaking and settling, causing the wood structure to shift.
“It’s a significant maintenance and repair job,” said Bailey. “The question is, do we want to continue to maintain a structure at that site.”
Bailey said the shelter is not a safety hazard at this time, but unless the foundation is re-poured and shelter spruced up it will be at some point.
“We want to get on a path to do something with it,” Bailey said.
Part of the decision-making process was to run the matter by the Riverside Preservation Commission on June 14. And, after kicking it around, the commission wants village staff to provide more information on the history on the shelters and about what it’s going to cost to repair and maintain the 26th Street structure before contemplating whether or not to demolish it.
“We’d hate to approve demolition of something that had historical significance or lends additional charm to the area,” said Commissioner Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga.
She added that if the decision moving forward was to preserve and maintain the shelter, commissioners suggested placing plaques on one or both of the remaining shelters in Riverside, explaining their significance and context.
“I don’t know how intensely they’re used, but they’re kind of neat,” said Preservation Commission Chairman Charles Pipal, who missed the meeting because he was out of the country. “Anytime you have something that tells a story, it’s nice not to lose that story.”
Riverside Community Development Director Sonya Abt said village staff are likely to provide additional information to preservation commissioners at their next meeting, in August.