Drive down Division Street in Humboldt Park and one cannot miss the monumental Puerto Rican Flag Arches. Commissioned by the Department of Transportation and designed by DeStefano + Partners, the Puerto Rico Flag Arches were installed in 1995 to honor the work done by Puerto Rican immigrants in the steel mills during the 1940s. These fifty-five-foot tall and fifty-six-foot-wide flags mark the entryway into “Paseo Boricua” (Puerto Rican Promenade). Created from 30 tons of steel and able to withstand 75 miles per hour winds, one arch is located on Division Street and Artesian Street and the other is at Mozart Street and Division Street. Humboldt Park is largely known for its extensive Puerto Rican community.
In an effort
to honor the Puerto Rican presence in the community and to respond to the
community’s concern about work and housing discrimination, former Alderman
Billy Ocasio began the project to install the steel flag arches on Division
Street in 1994. Under the supervision of Chicago’s Department of Transportation
and with the support of Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Mayor Richard M. Daley, architect
Edward Windhorst from DeStefano + Partners was hired to design the
installation. They were built by Chicago Ornamental Iron in Melrose Park. The
flags were designed and created from steel to honor the hard work of
generations of Puerto Ricans in the steel mills during the 1940s to 1960s.
Completed in only five months, there was a formal dedication on January 6th,
1995 on “El Día de Los Reyes Magos” (Three Kings Day). The Puerto Rican Flag Arches
solidified Humboldt Park as a Puerto Rican community and are the gateway into
is not only home to the Puerto Rican Flag Arches, but it is also home to many
Puerto Rican restaurants, stores, and sites. The installation of the flag
arches led to opening of many new businesses on Division Street. La Casita de
Don Pedro and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture are known gathering
places for the community. Opened in 1997 and finalized in 1998, La Casita
offers a gallery to showcase art from Puerto Rican artists and a garden. During
the summer, La Casita becomes an artisan market where local artists can
sell their work. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (NMPRAC)
is the only national museum that is centered on Puerto Rican arts and culture. Founded
in 2000, the NMPRAC is committed to the community by offering arts and crafting
workshops for students. The NMPRAC also partners with Chicago Public Schools whose
arts programming is lacking or non-existent to offer an arts education program.
La Casita de Don Pedro and the National
Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture are just a few of many things to do on
Division Street while visiting the flag arches.
first migrated to Chicago not from the island but from New York. The first
Puerto Ricans arrived in Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s. The migration of
Puerto Ricans into the United States was a result of “Operación Manos a la
Obra” (Operation Bootstrap) which led to working-class families to leave their
home. Many of the Puerto Rican men in Chicago found jobs working in factories
and steel mills while women typically worked as “domésticas”. When Puerto
Ricans first moved into Chicago, they settled in South Clark and State Streets
in the Loop. However, during the 1960s, Puerto Ricans were displaced to the
northwest side of Chicago in Humboldt Park. The displacement to Humboldt Park
was a result of ‘urban redevelopment’.
As Puerto Ricans began to
settle into Humboldt Park during the 1960s, this period is also remembered for
the 1966 riots known as the Division Street Riots. During the first Puerto
Rican Day Parade on June 12th, 1966, an altercation between Chicago police and
the community resulted in the fatal shooting of a Puerto Rican man. The outrage
from the unjust murder of this man at the hands of the police resulted in three
days of rioting. While these riots were a result of police brutality, activist
were also fighting for fair housing and education. The Division Street Riots
sparked numerous civil rights organizations created to fight for Puerto Rican’s
rights, such as the Young Lords.
The proud flag
arches are a reminder of the vibrant Puerto Rican community firmly rooted in
Humboldt Park. Humboldt Park is also the location for the Puerto Rican Day
Festival and Parade every year. The parade begins on Division Street near the Puerto
Rican Flag Arches. This event allows Puerto Ricans to celebrate their people,
culture, and history in the neighborhood. Also, there are preservationists attempting
to immortalize the flag arches and their history. They are organizing for the Puerto
Rican Flag Arches to be recognized as an official Chicago landmark.
Additionally, in an effort to preserve the Puerto Rican culture in Humboldt
Park, Alderman Roberto Maldonado of the 26th ward brought forth a
resolution for the extension and renaming of the neighborhood to “Puerto Rico
Town”. Though the arches honor the history of Puerto Rican’s in Chicago, the
goal of this resolution is to demonstrate the extent of the Puerto Rican
community in this area that reaches beyond the flag arches.