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The Loop: The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago (Paperback)
The structure that anchors Chicago
Every day Chicagoans rely on the loop of elevated train tracks to get to their jobs, classrooms, or homes in the city’s downtown. But how much do they know about the single most important structure in the history of the Windy City? In engagingly brisk prose, Patrick T. Reardon unfolds the fascinating story about how Chicago’s elevated Loop was built, gave its name to the downtown, helped unify the city, saved the city’s economy, and was itself saved from destruction in the 1970s.
This unique volume combines urban history, biography, engineering, architecture, transportation, culture, and politics to explore the elevated Loop’s impact on the city’s development and economy and on the way Chicagoans see themselves. The Loop rooted Chicago’s downtown in a way unknown in other cities, and it protected that area—and the city itself—from the full effects of suburbanization during the second half of the twentieth century. Masses of data underlie new insights into what has made Chicago’s downtown, and the city as a whole, tick.
The Loop features a cast of colorful Chicagoans, such as legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow, poet Edgar Lee Masters, mayor Richard J. Daley, and the notorious Gray Wolves of the Chicago City Council. Charles T. Yerkes, an often-demonized figure, is shown as a visionary urban planner, and engineer John Alexander Low Waddell, a world-renowned bridge creator, is introduced to Chicagoans as the designer of their urban railway.
This fascinating exploration of how one human-built structure reshaped the social and economic landscape of Chicago is the definitive book on Chicago’s elevated Loop.
About the Author
For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is https://patricktreardon.com/.
"In simple and memorable prose, Reardon describes the Loop as 'the place where Chicago is most Chicago.' This could have been a dry book about infrastructure, but Reardon keeps it lively with descriptions of the history and the characters behind the Loop’s development."—Mary Wisniewski, Third Coast Review
“The Loop will engage the casual Chicago reader as well as the academic, and serves as an important contribution to Second City history. With Reardon driving, The Loop reliably and entertainingly takes us where we need to go.”—David Steven Rappoport, Windy City Reviews
“It is an odd paradox that few Chicagoans would call the ‘L’ beautiful, yet we’re quite sure and happy that it defines the very essence of our town. It is a set of trains screeching overhead, yet also a place—the Loop!—and a state of mind. Now a superb reporter, Patrick T. Reardon, tells the full and fascinating story of how Chicago built the ‘L’ and how the ‘L’ built Chicago. Read this book on the ‘L’ and you might miss your stop.”—Tom McNamee, editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times
“Patrick T. Reardon’s The Loop is a wonderfully engaging study that goes well beyond a descriptive historical account to tell us how much this remarkably dynamic piece of urban transportation planning and engineering has meant and continues to mean to Chicago and Chicagoans. This exceptional book enables us to see, as if for the first time, something that is right under our noses. It is almost impossible to imagine downtown Chicago and the Loop ‘L’ without each other, and Patrick T. Reardon explains just why that is so in a lively narrative full of information and insights.”—Carl Smith, author of Chicago's Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City
“Reardon offers readers his considerable skills as a journalist and detective. Read this before your next trip downtown.”—James Grossman, executive director, American Historical Association
“Years spent as a newspaper reporter have given Reardon the gifts of great storytelling and the doggedness to separate fact from myth. If you’re looking for dry transit history, buy a different book.”—Tim Samuelson, cultural historian for the city of Chicago
“Reardon, Chicago’s preeminent urban affairs journalist, has written a fascinating and indispensable history of one of the nation’s most distinctive public works projects. It’s the rare Chicagoan that hasn’t ridden the tracks that gave the downtown area its famous name. I once lived on the third floor of a Chicago walkup that sat hard against the ‘L’ tracks, and could not only see and hear but also feel the trains that lumbered past on their infinite travels in and out of the Loop. But Pat’s deep and detailed reporting reveals so much we didn’t know about the life (and near death) of those elevated tracks and the colorful cast of Chicagoans—from Pulitzer-winning reporters to corrupt politicians—who secured the Loop’s legacy. Given the city’s famous architectural riches, it’s pretty brazen to crown anything 'the single most important structure in the history of Chicago.' But that’s what Pat concludes about these historic tracks. And damn if he isn’t right.”—Ann Marie Lipinski, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting and head of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University
“A dean among Chicago’s estimable cadre of historians and journalists, Reardon has revealed all the drama and corruption as well as the genius and triumph that created a structure dubbed ‘the city’s rusty heart,’ the squeaky elevated public transit train tracks that encircle downtown. Usually seen as prosaic and functional, if not a noisy atavism, the ‘L’ tracks are transformed through Reardon’s brilliant storytelling into the focus of a century-long, zero-sum contest to define the iconic center of the great American metropolis, with a cast of complex characters, mayors and urban planners, writers and architects, dreamers and schemers all.”—Ethan Michaeli, author of The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, from the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama
“Author Patrick T. Reardon examines how the visual dominance of the Union Elevated Railroad’s ‘downtown loop structure’ became so intertwined with the identity and fortunes of Chicago’s growing downtown that its citizens began referring to the city’s central business district as ‘the Loop.’ More important, he documents how the term ‘Loop’ as a proper noun-place name came into common use. Reardon’s thoughtful and reasoned research is both ground-breaking and long overdue. Not content with simply documenting the origin of the term, he also examines how this unique transit infrastructure has maintained its relevancy through changing times.”—Bruce G. Moffat, author of The Chicago "L's" Great Steel Fleet: The Baldies
“This fascinating book lays out a strong case for why the ‘L’ is the most important structure ever built in Chicago. Although noisy and rusty, that unique ribbon of riveted steel solidified the downtown and kept the city vibrant. Reardon describes how—despite umpteen plans to tear it down—the Loop ‘L’ defines Chicago.”– Greg Borzo, author of The Chicago “L” and Chicago Cable Cars