LOGAN SQUARE — Over the past decade, walls facing the Liberty Bank parking lot and Medill Street in Logan Square have become a go-to destination for graffiti art, drawing artists from near and far and gaggles of camera-toting fans.
Most recently, artists covered the wall with colorful murals honoring the late rapper and producer MF DOOM.
But a new apartment complex, the latest of several to pop up near the California Blue Line station in recent years, threatens to wipe out the treasured public art display. The development proposal is in the early stages, but the artists who created the graffiti wall, called Project Logan, are growing increasingly worried their homegrown art project will be pushed out of the neighborhood.
The artists said the situation is emblematic of gentrification happening across Logan Square, which in recent years has lost more than 20,000 Latino residents, the most of any neighborhood in the city. Today, it’s a majority white community.
“They came to Logan Square for the culture. Now that they’re here, they don’t want it,” said BboyB ABC, one of the founders of Project Logan and a graffiti artist since the ’80s.
“Their strollers and their dogs — they want to change [the neighborhood]. And that’s fine. We’re not going to fight it because we can’t. But we’re just trying to work with the new people who are here, work with the new developer.”
It’s unclear if the developer wants to work with them. Wilmot Construction officials declined to be interviewed through their zoning attorney, Mark Kupiec.
Project Logan spans the bank parking lot and is visible from the ‘L’ trains whizzing by. Before the pandemic, tens of thousands of people riding the ‘L’ saw the graffiti wall every week, BboyB estimates.
Over the years, Bboy B and his crew of longtime graffiti artists have brought in artists on a monthly and sometimes biweekly basis to keep the art fresh and to give emerging and established artists an outlet. The result is an always-rotating collection of colorful graffiti, each panel different.
Last February, developer Wilmot Construction bought some of the buildings that make up Project Logan, 2934-40 W. Medill St., for $1.2 million, according to Cook County property records.
The sale came after years of speculation as to when the buildings might sell. Developers have flocked to Logan Square in recent years, in particular the area around the California Blue Line station.
“When they started putting up the ‘for sale’ signs, we kinda knew the writing was on the wall,” Tracy Kostenbader said. Kostenbader is the founder of the arts group AnySquared and has long collaborated with BboyB and his crew on Project Logan.
Wilmot Construction is appealing to Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) and neighbors in hopes of securing a zoning change to build a five-story, 56-unit apartment complex on part of the site. The developer’s plans also include a 56-space parking lot, ground-floor commercial space and market-rate rents of $2,000 per month.
La Spata is collecting community input through March and said the project is far from approved.
“Nothing has my support until [it’s] gone through our full community zoning process,” La Spata said in a text message Thursday.
Reached by phone Friday, La Spata said the developer is Stanislaw Pluta, who owns several buildings in the area. Pluta recently told La Spata he’d keep the graffiti wall if it meant he could have the zoning change, the alderman said.
La Spata called it a “frustrating starting point.”
“This is a very culturally significant space for Logan Square,” the alderman said. “We really believe regardless of what happens with the development that just in terms of being a good neighbor the developer should make every effort to preserve that wall and hopefully work with us to replace it or reconstitute it.”
La Spata said so far more than 180 neighbors have submitted feedback on the development proposal and the overwhelming majority don’t support the project as-is. Beyond concerns over Project Logan, he said neighbors are worried the project doesn’t include enough affordable apartments.
The alderman urged neighbors who haven’t submitted their feedback yet to do so in the coming weeks.
“I am hoping that the developer understands those concerns and is willing to work with us,” he said.
‘Like Taking Our Home Away’
BboyB and his graffiti squad, called the Artistic Bombing Crew, or ABC, founded Project Logan about a decade ago. BboyB and Flash, another founder, said they wanted to bring more graffiti art to the neighborhood where they grew up. The two artists grew up across the street from one another, back when the neighborhood was “gang-infested,” and came up together in the graffiti art scene.
“In 2003, over 500 graffiti artists were invited out to paint at 59th and Western, and me and Bboy were one of them,” Flash said. “We organized many walls on the South Side, but we always had a problem in our backyard.”
Project Logan began to take shape in 2010 when the crew partnered with Kostenbader’s AnySquared group on a mural project for the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival: Dozens of artists and neighbors came together to paint a mural on the Milwaukee Avenue-facing wall. Inspired, the crew got permission from the previous building owner to keep the project going. At the time, the buildings were used to store masonry.
“They liked the fact that the mural stopped all of the tagging and they didn’t have to call the city anymore,” Kostenbader said of the previous owner.
The graffiti wall has exploded in popularity. The crew has gone on to work with hundreds of artists. Artists from as far away as Brazil and Singapore have put their mark on the wall, BboyB and Flash said.
Today, people travel from all corners of the city to admire the bold artwork.
“If you go to the wall and stand there for an hour any given day, you will see five to 15 photographers go by there and take pictures — and that’s on a daily basis,” BboyB said.
The wall has become more than just a public art gallery. Over the years, it’s sparked community events like Against Da Fence, a neighborhood gathering with hours of mural painting and music. When they’re not organizing and painting murals, the crew — and AnySquared artists — take care of the area and pick up trash.
If the development were to dismantle Project Logan, neighbors stand to lose a community gem that has inspired many people, BboyB, Flash and Kostenbader said. It would also be an erasure of the artist community that built it from the ground up, they said.
“It’s like taking our home away,” Kostenbader said.
BboyB said while graffiti is a “temporary art form,” it’s critical Project Logan stays in Logan Square in one capacity or another, whether that’s through a similar wall or a public art gallery. Wilmot Construction hasn’t reached out to the graffiti crew yet.
“This wall is very important to art culture in general,” BboyB said. “We would like to work with the new owners to continue this tradition and continue giving art away for free.”
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