The Zoning and Landmarks Commission issued a final recommendation to the City Council in favor of the designation on May 2. The City Council approved the designation on July 24.
“I wanted to say the designation will make the Legacy Walk and the rainbow pylon streetscape the only multi-acre site in the world to be declared a landmark because of its importance to the LGBT people,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs that committee and in whose ward the pylons stand.
Tunney was joined by longtime LGBTQ activists Victor Salvo, Lori Cannon and Rick Garcia.
“On behalf of Alderman Cappleman and I, we want to thank the landmarks division, Mayor Emanuel and, of course, you Mayor Lightfoot for the strong support in seeing this process,” Tunney added.
Mayor Emanuel announced the city would be pursuing the designation last June, shortly before Pride weekend, calling the Legacy Walk “not only a historically significant legacy of the LGBT community of Chicago, but a signal that the entire city is a safe and welcoming place for everyone.”
The 25-foot-tall pylons – arranged in pairs on opposite sides of North Halsted in Boystown – were designed and installed by architecture firm DeStefano+Partners as part of a series of streetscape projects under Mayor Richard M. Daley. They were officially dedicated in 1998. It was the first time a city government officially recognized an LGBTQ community.
In 2012, the Legacy Project selected the unique rainbow pylons as the location for the first outdoor museum recognizing the significant world achievements and contributions of LGBTQ people.
As of 2018, the pylons have been enhanced with 40 illuminated bronze plaques dedicated to historically important figures, including Frida Kahlo, Jane Addams, Sally Ride and Alan Turing. The plaques are mounted with stainless steel frames on the sidewalk-facing sides of each pylon. The final plaques dedicated to activist Marsha P. Johnson and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky were installed last year.
The nonprofit Legacy Walk Organization was organized by Salvo, Cannon and Owen Keehnen.
Inspiration for the Legacy Walk came after Salvo and Cannon attended the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and witnessed the first display of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
The desire to celebrate the legacy and heritage of LGBTQ people drove Salvo to create tangible “cast in bronze” biographies about people and role models that have been hidden in history and could easily be lost.