February 22, 2024

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The mural is meant to complement the alley plaza project, which has been in the works for about seven years and is set to be complete in a few weeks.
JEFFERSON PARK — Downtown Jefferson Park has a new mural showcasing the neighborhood’s historical buildings and founders.
Work on the mural began Monday and was completed Wednesday afternoon, said Susanna Ernst, who facilitated the project and is a member of Jefferson Park Forward and a co-founder of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society.
Painted by AmeriCorps volunteer members with the educational program City Year Chicago, the art sits in the alley plaza at 4870 N. Milwaukee Ave. between Weston’s Coffee & Tap and Popeye’s. “Jefferson Park” is painted in large, black letters, and there are outlines of historical buildings and two community founders, with Chicago flag stars behind their images.
“This is a collaborative effort between our community, the historical society and City Year and we are working on things to encourage pride in our space,” Ernst said.
City Year Chicago paid for the project while Jefferson Park Forward provided all of the materials, Ernst said. Members from the groups helped design it.
The Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, the Jefferson National Bank, Our Lady of Victory Church, the Masonic Temple, the Jefferson Park Firehouse, Copernicus Center and the Wilson Park Fieldhouse are depicted. The mural also includes buildings that are no longer standing, including the Gateway Theater — now inside the Copernicus Center — the Jefferson Train Depot and the Times Theater.
An image of Elijah Wentworth, believed to be Jefferson Park’s first non-Indigenous permanent settler, sits above the buildings on the mural. In 1830, he opened a popular tavern called The Wentworth Tavern southwest of where Milwaukee Avenue and Lawrence Avenue intersect today, Ernst said.
Opposite Wentworth is another notable community figure: entrepreneur and staunch abolitionist David L. Roberts.
Roberts moved to the area in 1844 and bought farmland and a tavern from Wentworth, Ernst said. He became the most important leader in the community, having many leadership roles and starting the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, the oldest religious institution in the region.
“He was here for generations — his children, great-grandchildren lived here … they were really entrenched,” Ernst said.
Danielle Zepeda, an artist on the mural and a civic engagement manager for City Year Chicago, said the mural is a “funky” piece of art that can boost community interaction and bring people to the alley.
“Murals can look super polished or they can look like street art, [so this] is somewhere in between; it has an organic feel,” Zepeda said. “This is a community piece … a piece you can hang out next to, not something to just look at. Hopefully, people come and take pictures with it.”
The mural is the first project for the cohort; they will complete 1,700 hours of service as part of the educational program that serves the city.
Mario Hernandez, another artist in the program who is from Aurora, said it feels rewarding to work on a project that has a positive community impact.
“I’m proud I’m doing something that people are noticing,” Hernandez said. “It’s good to know we are doing something good.”
The mural is meant to complement the alley plaza project, which has been in the works for about seven years and is scheduled to be complete before the end of summer. City officials repaved the alley and installed metallic artwork, a mini stage and an archway in late 2021 and early 2022.
Tables, chairs, hanging lights and trash cans are missing. Shipments from the manufacturer are anticipated to arrive Friday, so the final installation could begin next week, said Erica Schroeder, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Transportation.
The city-funded plaza is the neighborhood’s first pedestrian plaza and gathering space designed and planned by the community.
RELATED: Jefferson Park Alley Will Become Neighborhood’s Newest Public Plaza After 6 Years Of Planning
The plaza will serve as a space to sit and enjoy a coffee, connect with neighbors and experience arts programs organized by Jefferson Park Forward and the chamber, Ernst said.
As more development, art projects and businesses comes to the area, Ernst and other neighbors hope the plaza and the mural can put Jefferson Park on the broader map — especially after the pandemic.
“It’s finally coming all together at the right time, once we get the final pieces for the [alley plaza],” she said. Jefferson Park “is poised for a better future that people will recognize.”
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