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City seeking landmark status for Boystown Legacy Walk

The Legacy Walk pictured at its unveiling in 2012. | Sun-Times file photo

Boystown’s iconic rainbow pylons along North Halsted Street could soon be designated as a city landmark under a new proposal from city officials and an LGBTQ history group.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to formally announce the push for landmark status for the Boystown Legacy Walk on Sunday, when more than a million people are expected to descend on the neighborhood for the annual Pride Parade.

“The Legacy Walk is not only a historically significant legacy of the LGBTQ community of Chicago, but a signal that the entire city is a safe and welcoming place for everyone,” Emanuel said in a statement.

The stretch of Halsted from Briar Street north to Grace is being considered for “its unique cultural, historical and social heritage, its celebration of individuals who significantly contributed to the development of Chicago, and its distinctive physical presence as a visual feature of the Boystown neighborhood,” according to a city statement.

“This strip is a magnet for people all over the United States,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said Friday. “When you’re a gay or lesbian person and you see those affirmative pylons, it not only says that this place is safe, it gives a sense of identity for people who are questioning their own identity. . . . There’s really nothing else like it in the country.”

In their effort to attain landmark status for the area, historic preservation staffers from the city Department of Planning and Development will research the site and make a recommendation to the Landmarks Commission, which will then make its own recommendation before a full City Council vote — a process that could take at least six months, Tunney said.

The pylons were first installed in 1998, and in 2012 the Legacy Walk was dedicated as an outdoor museum — the only one in the country highlighting the achievements of LGBTQ individuals. It includes kiosks and plaques that now recognize 38 prominent LGBTQ figures including Frida Kahlo, Oscar Wilde, Jane Addams, Sally Ride, Harvey Milk and Walt Whitman.

Jane Addams. Sun-Times archives.
Jane Addams. Sun-Times archives.
Sun-Times archives

The push for landmark status began about a year ago at the recommendation of the Legacy Project, which manages the museum, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the streetscape, Tunney said.

American poet Walt Whitman in undated photo. (AP Photo/Files)
American poet Walt Whitman in undated photo. (AP Photo/Files)

“A beacon to the world, the Legacy Walk is a vitally important safe and affirming place in an era when historically ‘gay’ places are rapidly disappearing,” Legacy Project co-founder Victor Salvo said in a statement.

Frida Kahlo. Smithsonian Institute photo
Frida Kahlo. Smithsonian Institute photo

Two more inductees will be commemorated on the Legacy Walk later this year.