CHICAGO — When you drive by Division St between Western and California avenues, you can’t miss them. There are two giant Puerto Rican flags that let you know you are entering Boricua territory.
But how did these award winning structures come to be and what is the message behind them?
The Humboldt Park neighborhood in the Northwest Side of Chicago has been home to the Puerto Rican community since the 1950’s
But it wasn’t until 1995, when then Alderman Billy Ocasio and other community members decided to literally plant the flags.
The Dept of Transportation commissioned the project and hired local architectural firm De Stefano & Partners. They came me up with a few designs to honor the Puerto Rican presence and contribution in the neighborhood.
The flags are made of steel, not only because of its durability, but also to honor the thousands of Puerto Ricans who came from the island from 1946-1966 to work at the steel mills.
The mast is 55 feet tall and the flag spans 56 feet across Division Street. Both flags weigh 30 tons and can withstand 75 mile an hour winds.
They were built by Chicago Ornamental Iron in Melrose Park.
As shown in the documentary “Flags of Steel,” it was quite the endeavor to install these monuments at their permanent location in the dead of winter. The project was completed in just five months.
Former Alderman Ocasio says the economic effect of the flags was felt almost immediately on Division Street.
If you want to learn more about the flags and the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park there are tours available. Check out the website paseoboricua.org for more information.