Developer Paints Over Iconic Murals At Former Pilsen Community Center

CHICAGO (CBS) — A meeting Tuesday night prompted by the destruction of one of Pilsen’s best-known murals drew a capacity crowd that discussed how to address it, and other issues in the West Side neighborhood.

Developers and long-time Pilsen residents have been at odds for years, but developer Andy Ahitow’s decision to paint over the Latino murals that graced the outer walls of the former Casa Aztlan community center, at 1831 S. Racine Av., struck a nerve with many who attended.

Crowds spilled out onto the sidewalk outside La Catrina Cafe in Pilsen on Tuesday.

“Sometimes we protest, and we’re protesting to deaf ears, but when we have something tangible, something as tangible as art, then I think no one can say ‘Let’s destroy art,’” said Pilsen Alliance community board president Magda Ramirez-Castaneda.

Fellow board member Rosa Esquivel was one of the meeting’s organizers. She said she considered the murals historic.

“The people there are icons of Latin America,” Esquivel said. “We had Rudy Lozano. We had Frida Kahlo and Che (Guevara). Those are representations of our cultural revolution, of our Latino pride.”

Ramirez-Castaneda said Ahitow’s decision to paint over the murals was a “slap in the face” made worse by a Facebook post by Real Restoration Group, the contractor Ahitow hired to paint over the murals. The post showed photos of the murals before they were painted over, along with the hashtag #makingchicagogreatagain.

At Tuesday’s meeting, The Pilsen Alliance formed three new committees to press varied demands — one for art, one for housing, and one for accountability. The committees will meet again July 6.

Those who met with others interested in housing, for instance, spoke about the merits of co-op housing, which is far more prevalent in the northeastern U.S. than in Chicago and was proposed by several who attended as a way to keep housing out of the hands of developers while assuring that the cost remained affordable.

“Too much is being destroyed, no affordable housing (is being built, and) we definitely have an alderman (Ald. Danny Solis) who is not onto our needs as a community,” Ramirez-Castaneda said.

She said Ahitow, founder of real estate company City Pads LLC, did not discuss the mural or its significance to the community before he ordered it destroyed. Ramirez-Castaneda said other murals remain intact inside the former Casa Aztlan building, which is being converted to luxury condos, and said Pilsen Alliance hopes to save some of them.

Ramirez-Castaneda said Ahitow can expect community demands to make create more affordable housing as part of the condo development.

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