Pilsen residents crowded together in the room of a small cafe on Tuesday night, ready for action after last week’s destruction of the historic Casa Aztlan mural.
“When you see the gray paint going over it, you think, ‘What happened?'” community leader Laura Guerra said to a room of over 100 residents, artists and activists.
The Pilsen Alliance hosted the two-hour meeting Tuesday night at La Catrina Cafe, 1011 W. 18th St., presenting a panel that discussed the repainting of the mural, and the historical significance and possible replacement of the Casa Aztlan community center, which was shut down in 2013.
That building, at 1831 S. Racine, is now being turned into luxury condominiums, and it was during that ongoing construction that the exterior mural by artist Ray Patlan was painted over.
Andrew Ahitow, founder of real estate company City Pads LLC, is behind the development. He did not attend the meeting. He provided a statement read to the audience, that promised the start of a new mural in the next 60 days.
Also lost, Patlan told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, were the building’s interior murals. They had been damaged by fire years ago, and what was left also was lost during the condo construction, he said.
Ahitow did not respond to a request for comment.
Local artist Hector Duarte introduced the importance of Casa Aztlan to the crowd, speaking about how important the center’s services were in the 1970s for immigrants, children and even artists.
In the video below, Duarte speaks in Spanish about the important position Casa Aztlan held in the community.
Patlan, who called into the meeting over Skype from his Oakland home, painted the interior murals in 1970 in the hallways of the original community center, a place he said served as “a second home” because of the social services it offered.
A year later, in the midst of the Chicano movement, he painted the vibrant exterior mural, featuring major cultural figures, including Rudy Lozano and Frida Kahlo.
Patlan told the crowd the building that held Casa Aztlan still “needs a mark.”
“Something that says our spirit is there, that we are there,” he said.
Other community members said a new mural would only raise the property value of the building. Guerra said it would be a “contradiction” to have a “representation of our struggle where there are luxury apartments inside.”
Patlan said he also hopes if a new community center is created that it too will feature murals both inside and out — similar to the original Casa Aztlan.
In three breakout sessions after the panel, residents discussed art as activism, rising housing costs and what the next steps should be for Pilsen activists trying to preserve the original culture of the neighborhood.
Rogelio Herrera, 17, came to the meeting because he was raised in Pilsen, and he said many of his family members and friends have been losing homes because of rising housing prices in the area.
Recently his family was given three months to find a new place to live, he said.
“Taking down the murals is like erasing our history,” he said.