Little Village arch gains official landmark status

City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to make the arch an official Chicago landmark, ending a months-long effort. The designation also marks the first time a Mexican architect’s work has been granted landmark status.

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The Little Village arch, 3100 W. 26th St., was approved as an official landmark Wednesday.

The Little Village arch, 3100 W. 26th St., was approved as an official landmark Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Strong. Sturdy. A broad base.

This is how Ald. Michael Rodriguez describes the iconic Little Village arch. It’s also how he describes his community.

“​​I think it represents the strength of the community,” Rodriguez said of the arch. “I think it represents the vitality of the community and the beautiful culture that the Mexican American community has not only in Little Village but throughout the midwestern United States.”

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The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to make the arch an official Chicago landmark, bringing a months-long effort to a close. The designation also marks the first time a Mexican architect’s work has been granted landmark status.

As the neighborhood has been rocked by COVID-19 and, more recently, by the devastating loss of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, Rodriguez said he sees his community use its strength to come together time and time again.

For him, and for other Little Village residents, the arch is a powerful symbol.

The arch spans West 26th Street in the Southwest side neighborhood, symbolically welcoming residents and visitors to “the Mexican capital of the Midwest” and serving as an entry point into one of the liveliest commercial corridors in Chicago, only second to North Michigan Avenue in gross retail sales, according to a report by the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

An estimated 77 percent of Little Village’s population are of Mexican descent, according to city data.

Lifelong Little Village resident Cristy Calderon, 24, hopes the landmark status will bring positive attention to the neighborhood.

“It means the world,” Calderon said. “Growing up, it felt like it was the forgotten place in the city. I think having a landmark in our community is really going to bring people in and show what we’re really about.”

“We’re more than the violence,” Calderon said. “We’re a community that comes together when it’s needed. And I think it’s important for other people who are not from here to know that.”

Little Village has for decades served as a point of entry from Mexico into Chicago and the rest of the Midwest. An influx of Mexican immigrants in Little Village between 1960 and 1980 revived commerce and retail in the neighborhood — particularly on West 26th Street.

The archway was proposed by then-alderperson Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in an attempt to build community pride and recognize the significance of the Mexican-American community to Chicago, according to a City Council landmark report.

It was built in 1990 and designed by Chicago architect Adrián Lozano in the same Spanish colonial style arches commonly found in Mexican cities, towns, haciendas and religious sites. It features a stucco and terracotta structure, a wrought-iron grille, a metal banner that reads “Bienvenidos a Little Village” and a mechanical clock.

Lozano, the architect of the arch, also designed the National Museum of Mexican Art and the Benito Juarez Community Academy, both in Pilsen. He died in 2004.

In 1991, then-president of Mexico Carlos Salinas de Gortari visited the arch. He gifted a bronze clock manufactured by Relojes Centenario, a historic clockmaker in Mexico. The clock was installed at the top of the arch, with faces on both the east and west sides.

“As president of Mexico, it’s very emotional for me to be here with you in Little Village, in the barrio with the Mexican people surrounded by Mexican flags and proud, honest hard-working people,” de Gortari said at the time to a group of 2,000 Little Village residents.

The landmark designation will protect the structure from significant alteration or demolition, preserving it for future generations.

The Little Village arch on West 26th Street near South Albany Avenue in Little Village on the Southwest Side, Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

The Little Village clock was a gift from then-president of Mexico Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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