Pilsen's Iconic Casa Aztlan Murals Are Painted Over Ahead Of Apartment Conversion

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jun 20, 2017 3:20PM

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Facebook / Pilsen Neighborhood, Ricardo Gamboa

For all those who are anxious about gentrification and displacement in Pilsen, there could hardly have been a more terribly apt visual metaphor. The iconic murals that adorned the front-facing exterior of Casa Aztlan's former space were painted over on Monday by crews ahead of the property's conversion into apartments.

A wave of lament poured out across social media after photos spread of the new paint job—a uniform gray replacing the vibrant, colorful portraits of historic Chicano leaders. Neighborhood advocacy group Pilsen Alliance has now organized a vigil, called Mourning of Casa Aztlan, for Tuesday evening, in response.

The mural was painted back in 1971 by students under the tutelage of beloved Pilsen muralist Ray Patlan. It featured portraits of key figures such as Rudy Lozano, Frida Kahlo and others. Casa Aztlan was an important focal point of the city's Chicano movement, dating back to 1970s. The community group lost the space, at 1831 S Racine Ave., in 2013 amid mounting debt and escalating repair costs.

"It’s a loss," said Byron Sigcho, Executive Director of Pilsen Alliance, about the murals being covered over. "It’s a big loss for what they represents, which is not only a space, but culture, identity, decades of community services like adult education classes, immigration services… It really reflected the history of the community."

About the remembrance planned for Tuesday, Sigcho added, "We want to make sure we raise awareness of what’s happening—not even slowly anymore—in terms of displacement and shifts from the community space now to condos."

City records show a limited-liability company plans to convert space in the former Casa Aztlan into at least 10 residential units—"luxury apartments," according to Univision—with nearby off-site parking. The LLC could not be reached for comment.

Sigcho said he was aware of chatter that the developers plan to create a new mural on the exterior but he has been unable to reach representatives for the development to learn more about "a complete plan."

Pilsen Alliance asks attendees to Tuesday's event to bring candles and flowers. "History is more important than profit... Let's show how we do it in the Barrio," the group wrote.

Alderman Daniel Solis expressed regret at the decision to paint over the mural while also acknowledging that the developers were within their rights. He said he hopes the developers work with the community to create a new mural.

Solis said:

"I am deeply saddened by the developer's decision to paint over our beautiful mural at the former Casa Aztlan. The mural was a reminder of where we come from, our culture and our traditions. Unfortunately, the developers have the rights to their property, however, I want to encourage everyone to remember that being a good neighbor means respecting the culture and wishes of your community. I sincerely hope these developers are interested in creating another mural with community artists, who share our culture and history through their creativity and talents."

This post has been updated.