Humboldt Park debuts its own ‘yellow brick road’

L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” during his time in the West Side neighborhood.

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Groundskeepers put the finishing touches on the ‘yellow brick road’ in Humboldt Park.

Groundskeepers put the finishing touches on the “yellow brick road” in Humboldt Park.

Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

A nonprofit developer has repaved a corner in Humboldt Park with yellow brick in honor of one of the neighborhood’s most famous residents.

L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” while living in the West Side neighborhood in 1899. Baum’s house at 1667 N. Humboldt Blvd. was bulldozed decades ago. In its place stands a federally subsidized townhouse with nine apartments owned and managed by Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp.

Joy Aruguete, chief executive of Bickerdike, said the yellow brick road is meant to celebrate Baum but also bring attention to the housing affordability crisis across Chicago.

“There’s such a clear idea of the importance of home in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and there’s also a clear connection of affordable housing in peoples’ lives and the importance of housing stability across the city,” Aruguete said.

The commemorative project also includes a curved wall on the corner of Humboldt Boulevard and Wabansia Avenue. Pilsen artist Hector Duarte is doing a tile mosaic on the wall, which will include scenes from “The Wizard of Oz,” Aruguete said.

Bickerdike also planted three non-fruit-bearing crabapple trees on the property, a beloved character from the book and movie.

The building that wraps around the yellow brick road is part of the West Town Housing Preservation Project, which encompasses 68 buildings in Humboldt Park, Logan Square and West Town.

“It just so happens that one of the buildings in this project was built on the site where Baum once lived,” Aruguete said.

Aruguete hopes the yellow brick road and the mosaic extend Baum’s legacy for years to come. “Every generation has seen ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ It’s such a great story. Everybody can relate to it,” she said.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

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