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Boystown LGBTQ rainbow pylons on track for landmark status this summer

The Halsted Street pylons feature plaques commemorating famous LGBTQ people

One of 20 rainbow pylons in Boystown.
Courtesy of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development

The rainbow pylons and bronze Legacy Project plaques along Halsted Street in Boystown, which recognize significant people through LGBTQ history, will likely become a city landmark in July.

On Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks recommended landmark status and commission chair Rafael Leon noted he was thrilled to see the designation move forward.

The designs were the first streetscape in the country to represent the LGBTQ community, according to the landmark report. They were created in 1997 as part of Mayor Daley’s Halsted beautification project which gave acknowledgment from a city government to the LGBTQ community on the North Side.

In addition there will soon be rainbow crosswalks painted between each pylon on Halsted Street. Residents can expect to see 14 colorful crosswalks beginning May 13, according to 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney’s office.

Chicago-based architect DeStefano+Partners designed the pylons and at first it wasn’t well-received. The beginning iteration of the design was a lot bolder and originally featured pillars in the middle of the street with 25-foot gateways and neon-lit colored rainbows. There were over 7,000 letters sent to the city in response to the project and it made international news with stories on BBC. Some critics of the project feared that the flashy pylons would attract negative attention and violence.

As it stands now, there are 20 pylons on Halsted Street between Melrose Street and Bradley Place. The structures “shine a literal light into the darkness of ignorance and hate,” the report said.

Each pylon was designed in the style of a stepped Art Deco style skyscraper with a lighted beacon at the pinnacle. The rainbow rings reference pride “freedom rings” introduced in San Francisco in 1991, and the lighted tip appears to symbolize a beacon of hope. Other street improvements included extended curbs at cross streets, where wishing well-shaped planters were placed. Overall, the pylons stood to recognize a community while also illuminating Halsted Street and shining a literal light into the darkness of ignorance and hate.

In 2012, the nonprofit Legacy Walk Organization created 40 bronze plaques featuring famous LGBTQ people such as activist Harry Milk, artist Frida Kahlo, and social worker Jane Addams. The plaques turned the streetscape into an outdoor memorial space to educate the public on the achievements of LGBTQ people.

Regarding the possible landmark designation, LGBTQ activist and founding member of Legacy Walk Victor Salvo said it was monumental at the city meeting.

“It is very rare a person gets to see their dreams come true. It’s hard to express in words what this has meant for me and others,” he said. “It’s history in the making.”