Let's liven up the Wilson station with a soundstage and French Market

Jeffrey Littleton, August 16, 2012
Wilson

As the Wilson CTA station is designed and rebuilt in 2012 and 2013, we should include a small sound stage in the historic Gerber building at Wilson and Broadway. This may sound like an odd idea, but please allow me to explain. 

- The stage would complement the proposed French Market (more on that below) by slowing down traffic long enough for CTA riders to patronize the vendors. 

- It would brand Uptown as a live music district as the Mayor has proposed and the people of Uptown support. It would be like the small stages that enliven the airport in Austin, Texas. Wilson station is our airport, our gateway, with 6,100 incoming passengers each weekday.

- It would provide gigs and exposure for local musicians. Performances would be at rush hours, which typically would not conflict with a gig later that night.

- Musicians who would never play in a public setting will have a place to play. To perform on CTA property right now requires a license from the city. The great majority of musicians do not have this permit and will never apply for one.

The Gerber Building with its original arch. (Drawing by Jeffrey Littleton)

Operations

As riders at Wilson know, there is plenty of room in the Gerber building to add both the stage and the French Market. If designed into the project from the beginning, it would cost next to nothing. It should be large enough to accommodate a trio or quartet, and include a storage closet nearby for music stands, stools and the like. If possible we could have an upright piano that rolls in and out. Perfectly fine vintage upright pianos are available on Craigslist for free or a pittance, transport being the only hurdle.

The stage would be administered by a soon-to-be-created local arts council, which would lease the space from the CTA ($1 a month?) and do the bookings. 

It would be available to all musicians, including for example a classical violinist in his/her last year of grad school at Northwestern, a jazz saxophonist from Columbia College, a local professional musician, or touring musicians in Chicago.

Some gigs could be paid, funded by the French Market or through grants and fundraising activities of the local arts council. But it would not be a big-buck job, rather supplemental income for the musicians, who would gain exposure to a large general audience.

A positive vibe

Adding a soundstage to the Gerber building will promote the cultural development of the Uptown community, attract artists of all stripes, and generate a positive vibe.

It will improve the experience of catching the train at Wilson, incentivize more ridership which would mean fewer cars on local streets, and create more customers for the French Market ensuring fewer vendor vacancies. 

It would be the perfect complement to the previously announced renovation of the Gerber building's greyish blue terracotta facade, which will be beautiful once repaired and cleaned of rust and grime. Also the original arch is supposed to be restored to its former glory.

And the French Market, by bringing produce and food vendors into the same space as the musical performances, would create a genuine community space and a nexus for positive interactions. By supporting multiple vendors rather than a few national chains, the station would reflect the diverse population of Uptown, become a safe and inviting location, and become something much more than a place of ingress and egress.

Wilson station needs advocates. Those who would like to see a soundstage and French Market, please make your voices heard.

Editor's note: Jeffrey Littleton is an Uptown artist and resident; see his work at uptownarts.blogspot.comThis opinion piece is adapted from his comments here and on our Facebook page

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