Encyclopedia of Street Art and Murals in Uptown Chicago

Uptown Chicago: Located just 3.6 miles north of the loop while having the reputation for being one of the most dense and ethnically diverse Chicago area. Not only did uptown welcome many people of different backgrounds, predominately white (55%, 2015), black (21%, 2015) and Hispanic (12%, 2015), it has many options of living situations that allowed people from different living classes to adapt. This was made possible by John Cochran, near the lakefront mansions were built; however, by Evanston Avenue multifamily housing was made available expanding the class demographic.

Uptown has been known historically for its entertainment where it is home to many various music venues, nightclubs, restaurants, and shops.

Argyle Street also known as little Chinatown or Little Vietnam features many different background of Asian roots. From Sheridan to Broadway you will notice many Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, French Vietnamese and Cambodian bakeries and restaurants. Argyle can easily be reached by simply taking the Red Line L’ on the CTA. About one block away from the Argyle stop, at the corner of argyle and Winthrop “The Roots of Argyle” mural can be seen.

This mural depicts years of immigration and daily life that can be seen in Argyle, where the mural itself stands at a generous 100 ft designed by members of the community and was painted by the world famous muralist Br. Mark Elder along with his muralist students from DePaul University.

The Great Depression pushed many cities in an economic crisis that causes for immigration of different states to uptown. These places included people from Appalachia, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oklahoma where housing was significantly cheap mostly due to the condition of the housing not being so tidy.

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Although not so neat, it allowed living areas for recent migrants and Chicago’s poor; Not only were migrants and the poor located in uptown during the great depression, the State of Illinois made halfway houses for the mentally ill that were trying to connect back to society. Uptown soon earned a reputation for being a hillbilly slum, and a place full of destitution and poverty. The active changes made in uptown attracted the attention of many business owners, community organizers and public officials. By this attention the improvement of local conditions and up keeping of uptown were protested often, especially that of Truman College in 1976 which segregated hundreds of residents.

History of Uptown Chicago Gang Violence: The Great Depression hit Uptown especially hard in 1930 with the extension of Lake Shore Drive to Foster Avenue. This allowed people to pass Uptown by, while making it up to the northern suburbs , instead, to shop. From here the reputation of uptown started to crumble, by the 1960’s uptown became even more deteriorated while crime was also on the rise. By the late 60’s Puerto Ricans and African Americans started to settle into uptown due to its low living wages, along with this came the rise of gangs such as the Black P Stones and Black Gangster Disciples. To combat the arrival of minorities, white supremacy groups started to form such as the Uptown Rebels and the Gaylords. By the 1970’s Uptown had become a war zone to several gangs like the Latin Kings, La Familia Stones, Gaylords, Black Gangster Disciples and Black P Stones.

In 1991, 4848 North Winthrop Avenue had been identified by the police as a center for a long-standing drug operation that was ruled by national gangs and reported confiscating a storage of automatic weapons. This was able to happen after years of mismanagement of the government owned building. Uptown was not the safest area in Chicago to live in with the amount of murders that stacked up between the 1980’s and 1990’s, heavily due to gang violence. However, by the mid 90’s Uptown became more of a favorable area for urban renewal due to the very first dilapidated buildings being destroyed by demand for new apartments and condo development. This brought more attention to Uptown in the 2000’s which kick started its makeover, causing gang violence to drastically decrease and crime rates to drop. This area then started to attract more people with higher income that benefitted the area in terms of increased rent pay and, thus, increasing the neighborhoods value.

Gang violence varied in many parts of Uptown, located in Lawrence and Troy during 1994 the Latin kings tried to conquer that territory. La Familia Stones, however, were not going to allow the Latin Kings to take over that area, causing a gang war with serious violence. The Stones had also spread to Sunnyside and Kedzie claiming large areas of territory around the Chicago land suburbs including Streamwood, Mount Prospect and Hanover Park. Along with the stones there has been gang activity from the Black P Stones along Sunnyside/Racine, Magnolia Avenue between Montrose and Wilson Avenue which have been known for attracting gang and drug activity. As of 2013, Chicago has installed police cameras on the corners of Montrose and Magnolia avenues.

Street art/murals in Uptown Chicago: From the beginning of time, the human race has always felt a need to show some kind of mark to leave behind as evidence of life. One way of doing this was through paintings or carvings onto walls or ceilings also regarded to as murals. Murals themselves are an ancient form of art that expresses dreams, needs, desires, political changes, or to celebrate local heroes’. Street art picked up influences from France and Spain based of the Paleolithic rock creations and politically charged frescoes of revolutionary Mexico to Contemporary Street art based on the great American Cities. Murals and street art as a form of expressive art allow us to describe our feelings, attitudes, thoughts, and changes in a given community simply through imagery; Allowing us to speak on things that words cannot describe.

John “Vietnam” Nguyen was a young rapper based in Uptown Chicago who would create lyrics based on his experiences in Uptown. Growing up in Uptown where gangs, drugs, and violence were prevalent he didn’t get influenced by such things, but instead turned to music. On August 30th , John had died in an apparent drowning in Lake Mendota, where he had went with his friends to watch the sunset. While by the Lake, one of his friends had been struggling in the water, and in order to save them John jumped in to bring them back to safety. John growing big as a Chicago artist was remembered for his realistic lyrics towards the area of uptown, where he would bring light to police brutality, violence, greed, and his experiences being half.

On Argyle Street there has been a mural in John Vietnams remembrance, as he played a big role in his community. To uptown, John was looked at as a role model based on his character, dedication to helping others, and lyrical influence to his city. To remember John, a mural was created that depicted his life and love for things. In big letters you can see his name John “Vietnam” Nguyen, where Vietnam is emphasized in big betters each symbolic to who John was. In the Letters “V”,”E”, and “T”, his Vietnamese culture is represented where the “V” contains a south Vietnam war flag symbol, and the “E” and “T” showcasing Asian culture in itself. Contained in the “I” and “A” you can see reference to the uptown theater and red line stop on argyle, where argyle can be known as little Vietnam. On both left and right sides of the mural you can see portraits of John break dancing and rapping. In the background you can see a purple (As purple was his favorite color) sunset by the lake, showing the last thing John was doing before his passing.

On the Corner of Sunnyside and Hazel placed on the building of an apartment complex a mural showing unity was created. In the image you ca see 3 hands coming together with the complementary colors blue, red, and yellow. On these hands are labeled Hazel, Lawrence, and Magnolia which are 3 streets in uptown that have had a history with gang violence and territory wars. By these hands coming together it represents unity and resolve that has improved greatly since the 1960’s between turf wars and gangs. By having the three complementary colors in the centers of these hands it shows that anything can be made and done by these three streets now that there has been peace; just as the three complementary colors combined can produce any color. From the makeover of uptown, this mural shows that there has been positive benefits from the gentrification of the city while still keeping its roots intact.

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Encyclopedia of Street Art and Murals in Uptown Chicago. (2022, Feb 14). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/encyclopedia-of-street-art-and-murals-in-uptown-chicago/

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