Little Village’s 26th Street arch could become Chicago’s next landmarkCST Editorial Boardon September 1, 2021 at 12:18 am

Mexican American communities have been part of Chicago’s fabric since the late 19th century, yet despite those long roots — and the group’s significant population here — there are almost no landmarked structures reflecting that history.

But the Commission on Chicago Landmarks might take a step toward fixing that omission.

The panel is set to vote Thursday on whether to grant preliminary landmark status to the Little Village arch, the stucco and terra cotta Spanish Revival span that has welcomed visitors to 26th Street for more than 30 years.

“Though many of the buildings on West 26th Street were built prior to the community becoming Mexican, the community has added and preserved its own significant layer of culture to West 26th Street through language, food, religion, family structure, murals, music and dance,” a city report on the structure states.

We applaud the city for seeking landmark status for the Little Village arch and encourage the commission to give it the nod.

‘Welcome to Little Village’

Built in 1990, and bearing the message BIENVENIDOS A LITTLE VILLAGE, the arch spans 26th Street between Troy Street and Albany Avenue, heralding the successful strip of predominantly Latino businesses that runs west of the structure for 2 miles.

The arch also sets the stage for other community gateway structures that have come along since, such as the steel Paseo Boricua flags built over Division Street in Humboldt Park in 1995, and the Rainbow Pylons and Legacy Walk placed along North Halsted in Lake View in 1998.

What is now Little Village had been a neighborhood mainly composed of Eastern European immigrants. Mexican Americans started moving into the neighborhood beginning in the 1940s, continuing into the 1960s and ultimately becoming the majority of the residential population — and business owners.

The idea for the arched gateway on 26th Street came from the area’s then-alderman, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, now a U.S. congressman, who in 1987 envisioned a monument honoring the Mexican American presence in Chicago.

Chicago architect Adrian Lozano designed the arch, giving it the look of gateways built at religious sites, walled towns and haciendas in Mexico, according to the city’s designation report.

Born in Mexico, Lozano also designed the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., and Benito Juarez Community Academy, 2150 S. Laflin St. He died in 2004.

A bronze clock given by Mexico’s then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was added to the arch in 1991 after Salinas visited the neighborhood.

“As president of Mexico, it’s very emotional for me to be here with you in Little Village, in the barrio with the Mexican people surrounded by Mexican flags and proud, honest hard-working people,” he said at the time.

The right thing

A yes vote by the landmarks commission would give the arch preliminary landmark status. City staffers then would complete the additional research needed before the panel recommends to the City Council that the landmark status be made permanent.

The move could rightfully bring a designation to a Latino neighborhood, which has few city landmarks and none that honors Hispanic history, architects or design.

For instance, according to a city map, the South Lawndale neighborhood — Little Village’s official community area name — has just one officially designated landmark, the Shedd Park Fieldhouse, 3669 W. 23rd St.

Honoring and protecting the Little Village arch would be a good move by the commission and the city. It would widen the cultural spectrum of landmarks in Chicago.

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