Developer says Casa Aztlan mural to be replaced
September 1, 2017

Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons
A contractor painted over the mural on the former Casa Aztlan site, sparking community outrage.

Developer Andrew Ahitow has promised Pilsen Alliance’s Byron Sigcho in an e-mail to replace the former Casa Aztlan community center mural within three months.

In late June, a contractor hired to paint over the murals applied gray paint over one of the main murals on the now-shuttered community center at 1831 S. Racine Ave., prompting a swift reaction from many area residents.

Adding insult to injury, so far as Pilsen Alliance board president Magda Ramirez-Castaneda was concerned, was the online hashtag #makingchicagogreatagain that the contractor used.

Ramirez-Castaneda called that hashtag “a slap in the face.”

Ahitow at least should have checked into the mural’s significance before having it painted over, Ramirez-Castaneda said. The artwork dates to the 1960s Chicano Mexican civil rights movement.

“That murals depicting our history can be so thoughtlessly washed away is symbolic of the complete lack of consideration given to our communities by developers of luxury real estate and others who value profit above all else,” Ramirez-Castaneda said.

Carlos Tortolero, founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., said painting over the mural was “whitewashing it with color,” while Ald. Danny Solis (25th) called the mural “a reminder of where we came from, our culture and our traditions.

“I’m heartened to hear the owners are interested in working on a new mural with local artists” Solis said shortly after learning about Ahitow’s willingness to replace the mural.

Pilsen Alliance held an emergency meeting in which it created three new special committees—one for housing, another for art preservation, and a third for accountability to the community.

The group held a vigil in front of the former Casa Aztlan site, protesting Pilsen’s skyrocketing housing costs in particular and the cost of living in general.

After leaving a meeting with Pilsen Alliance, Ahitow, who is president of the Uptown-based development firm City Pads, e-mailed Sigcho promising to have muralist Ray Patlan—who had helped paint the original in 1972—come back from California to help “create a new mural.”

Ahitow made still another promise to “create and sponsor a children’s art workshop that sparks young residents’ creativity and supports their talents. We genuinely believe children are our most valuable resource, and we are dedicated to investing in their future,” he said.

“As discussed, we are committed to partnering with the Pilsen community to build new projects that will include at least 21% of affordable housing units,” Ahitow said.

“The input of the community in developing a financial plan, which may include increased density and creative financing options, is important to us,” Ahitow told Sigcho.

Ahitow said he was “truly thankful” for the chance to “develop a strong partnership with the community.”

Sigcho said he still is waiting to hear from Ashitow, who has since explained that the 21% affordable housing promise would apply only to other Ahitow-owned properties that would require rezoning but not to units inside the former Casa Aztlan.

“If we don’t hear from them [City Pads and Ahitow] soon, we’re going to begin taking action,” which Sigcho said could mean “confronting [Ahitow] in the City Council when he’s trying to get a zoning change, or even at home.”

Sigcho said he already has been meeting with other community groups such as Autonomous Tenants United, Somos of Logan Square, and North Side Action for Justice, representing the Uptown area where a number of Ahitow’s buildings are located.

Among them are the recently acquired Wilson Men’s Hotel, 1124 W. Wilson Ave., a single room occupancy hotel that Ahitow wants to improve but keep affordable for working people.

“We’ll do whatever we must to bring him to the table, even if we have to annoy him,” Sigcho said. “Anything to bring him to terms.”

Pilsen Alliance also is asking that the development be at least 60% low-income housing and that a new community center be opened in Pilsen.

—Patrick Butler