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The Loop

The Loop

The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago

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Patrick T. Reardon


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
304 pages, 6 x 9, 32 illustrations


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About the Book

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.


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


“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 argues that the Loop is Chicago’s ‘rusty heart.’ He recounts the largely untold story of its construction, as well as the ways that the Loop has affected Chicago, its people, and its history. As a counterpoint to Chicago as the ‘city of neighborhoods,’ Reardon challenges us to think about Chicago through the Loop. Indeed, he argues that the Loop is the most important structure in Chicago history. The Loopis simply great fun! Reardon takes his reader on a wild ride through the construction of the Loop as well as the ways Chicagoans think about it.”– Ann Durkin Keating, author of The World of Juliette Kinzie: Chicago before the Fire

“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