AVONDALE — A decades-old Avondale mural painted to memorialize firefighters who died in a massive arson fire is getting a facelift.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) is teaming up with the city to restore the large Fireman’s Memorial Park mural overlooking the busy intersection of Diversey, Milwaukee and Kimball avenues.
Originally painted in the mid-’80s after the deadly fire, the mural has deteriorated in recent years from extreme weather, Ramirez-Rosa said.
Ramirez-Rosa is using about $50,000 in aldermanic discretionary funds to replace the crumbling mural. The alderman is working with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events on the new mural, expected to debut this fall, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“The three firefighters that lost their lives in Avondale died in response to an arson fire. They were protecting our community, and that mural honors their sacrifice,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “It’s a historic mural that has been there in one shape or form for close to four decades now, and we want to ensure that it continues to be a public art project in our community.”
Daniel Nockels, Michael Forchione and Michael Talley died Feb. 1, 1985, while battling a massive fire at 2847 N. Milwaukee Ave., which required 125 firefighters and 24 fire trucks, according to the Illinois Fire Service Institute.
Authorities classified the Avondale fire as arson. An investigation deom the police and FBI ruled the owner of the electronics store in the building, Jang Bae, hired another man, Suk Joong Kim, to set fire to the building so he could claim the insurance money.
Bae and Kim were charged. The case against Kim was thrown out after a judge ruled police obtained his confession illegally. Bae was convicted of aggravated arson and murder in 1986.
Fire officials and city leaders dedicated a small park just south of the site of the deadly blaze to the three firefighters and commissioned an artist to paint a mural in tribute.
The mural, which depicts the firefighters with angel wings, was originally painted on the Bank of America building next to the park, but it was later moved to its current location, Ramirez-Rosa said.
The mural was retouched in the early 2000s, but it has since fallen into a state of disrepair. Chunks of it have broken off, and the wood and steel structure holding it up has “pretty extensive” water damage, Ramirez-Rosa said.
Ramirez-Rosa said his staffers have reattached and preserved broken pieces over the years, but those fixes are “only going to get us so far.”
“It was time to actually invest the funds necessary to truly restore the mural so that it continued to be up for there for generations to come,” he said.
City officials are putting together an advisory panel of local artist to select the muralist for Ramirez-Rosa’s restoration project. Construction is expected to begin next month. The existing mural’s panels will be preserved by the city, Ramirez-Rosa said.
Fireman’s Memorial Park made headlines last summer when the city moved to do a sweep of an encampment of people living at the park. Residents feared they’d lose their personal belongings in the cleanup, a common result of city sweeps in Chicago. Local alderpeople and neighborhood leaders urged the city to call off the sweep and help residents find stable housing.
Ramirez-Rosa said his office has helped all but one of the encampment residents find housing since last summer. The remaining resident is in the process of moving into an apartment around the corner from the park, he said.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: