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Once An Eyesore, Community Works to Turn Underpass into Point of Pride

By Heather Cherone | December 19, 2012 6:50am | Updated on December 19, 2012 11:20am
 After repairs to its walls and sewer, the underpass that connects the Edgebrook, North Edgebrook and Wildwood communities got a pressure cleaning and a whitewash.
After repairs to its walls and sewer, the underpass that connects the Edgebrook, North Edgebrook and Wildwood communities got a pressure cleaning and a whitewash.
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Neighborhood Connection Project

EDGEBROOK — Not long after moving to North Edgebrook, Kara Johnson took a walk with her baby daughter in a stroller and ended up on the path under the Metra tracks at LeHigh, Hiawatha and Kinzua avenues.

Johnson, who bought a house in the Northwest Side neighborhood after considering communities all over Chicago, was appalled. The walls were covered with graffiti, the concrete walls were crumbling and a sewer seemed to be sinking into the ground.

“I thought, 'How could this be so bad?' ” Johnson said. “And then I thought, 'I really want to fix this.' ”

Johnson, along with other residents of Edgebrook, North Edgebrook and Wildwood, did just that.

Now, the group is working to design artwork that will turn the path, which connects the three communities, into a place that reflects the character of the three neighborhoods.

It cost about $30,000 to replace the sewer that often overflowed and flooded the underpass and to reinforce the structure to ensure its structural integrity, said Jason Hernandez, senior advisor to Ald. Mary O’Connor (41st). The underpass also got a thorough pressure cleaning and a whitewash, Hernandez added.

The underpass is a critical link for the communities, and a safe way to cross the train tracks without using Devon Avenue, said Erick Robertson, the president of the North Edgewood Community Association.

“The shops on Devon have a lot to gain from the underpass being improved,” Robertson said.

Jac Charlier, a member of the Edgebrook Community Association board of directors who has been coordinating the Neighborhood Connection Project, said the ultimate design of the artwork will be determined by a vote of residents.

“It is not just a mural,” Charlier said, adding that improving the underpass has been a two and a half year project. “I’m not sure what it will actually be, because that’s up to the community.”

Residents can vote for one of four designs – modern, historical, green or a combination of the green and historic themes — in the lobby of the Edgebrook Public Library, 5331 W. Devon Ave.

The modern theme, which Charlier said has not attracted much support, includes colorful geometric designs and architectural shapes.

The green theme reflects the area’s lush vegetation and trees that form a canopy over many streets.

The historical theme depicts several landmark houses in the area as well as the building of the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

Johnson, an artist, designed the mixed theme, which features faces of residents, handprints, clouds and a tribute to the Potawatomi Tribe, which was one of the area’s earliest settlers.

It is unclear how much the artwork will cost, Charlier said. A design is scheduled to be selected in the spring, with the work complete by the fall, he added.

A painted mural along both walls could cost about $10,000, while a three-dimensional bricolage mural could cost around $70,000, based on similar projects.

Plans also call for students from St. Mary of the Woods and Wildwood Elementary School to create some of the artwork, along with residents.

Johnson said she was excited to get to work on the mural, whatever shape it takes.

“I keep telling people, just call me when it is time to paint,” Johnson said. “I’ve got my paintbrush.”