HUMBOLDT PARK — Humboldt Park’s beloved Puerto Rican flags may soon become official Chicago landmarks.
The Chicago Commission on Landmarks on Thursday unanimously approved landmark designation for the towering steel flags that bookend the half-mile stretch of Division Street between California and Western avenues known as Paseo Boricua, the center of the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican community.
Commissioners said the recognition is overdue. The nearly 60-foot-tall flags are among Chicago’s most celebrated civic art, serving not only as markers of the Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican enclave but also as a powerful symbol of Puerto Rican pride throughout Chicago and the Midwest.
“I can’t express how happy I am to see that we’ve come to this,” commissioner Alicia Ponce said. “I can’t pass under this gateway without singing the song, ‘Que Bonita Bandera’ — what a beautiful flag. It’s such a sense of pride and culture. This is a great step forward.”
The flags were erected June 6, 1995, on Three Kings Day, one of the most celebrated holidays in Puerto Rico.
Local architecture firm DeStefano & Partners designed the sculptures to serve as gateways to Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community. The firm used steel to honor the Puerto Ricans who came to Chicago to work in the steel and welding industries.
Jose Lopez, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and one of the community leaders who pushed for the flags to be built, previously told Block Club a portion of I-290 had to be shut down in the middle of the night so trucks carrying giant pieces of the steel could get to the installation sites.
Speaking at Thursday’s hearing, Lopez said the landmark designation “will usher in a new chapter of the history of Puerto Ricans in Chicago.”
The landmark review comes as local leaders push to create a state-designated cultural district along Division Street called “Puerto Rico Town,” Lopez added. Both efforts aim to preserve the cultural identity of Humboldt Park, which has gentrified in recent years.
Thursday’s vote was the first step in the Puerto Rican flags becoming a Chicago landmark. The designation still needs to be reviewed by the city’s planning department and City Council zoning committee, and pass a City Council vote.
If the city signs off on the designation, the flags will be the latest gateway project in Chicago to get landmark status.
Despite their age, the Puerto Rican flags are in “very good condition,” said Dan Burke with the city’s Department of Transportation. Still, the city plans to do regular maintenance and apply fresh coats of paint, Burke said.
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