CHICAGO — The Chicago Landmarks Commission voted Thursday not to allow two large billboards to be hung on the vacant Grace's Furniture building in the heart of Logan Square.
"I was very pleased with the outcome," said Andrew Schneider, a 33-year-old resident who started an online petition to fight the billboards. "I honestly think it was an inevitable outcome looking back on it, but I'm glad."
Logan Square's boulevards and the square itself were designated an official city landmark district in 2005. Although there have been billboards there in the past, there had been none in the past eight years except for a couple that were hung illegally and that residents fought successfully to have removed.
"To permit them now would detrimentally impact our neighborhood, our quality of life and our historic landmark district," Schneider wrote in his petition.
Though the billboard company and building owner had proper permits to hang the billboards, they still had to go through the Landmarks Commission because of the area's historic designation.
More than half a dozen people came to defend the historic district and voice their opposition to the billboards Thursday.
"The character of Logan Square and the boulevards is to encourage relaxation, recreation, contemplation, and thinking about events that are historical and are symbolized by the monument," said Logan Chamber of Commerce executive director Paul Levin. "The decision [to reject the billboards] will enhance those characteristics."
The owner of the billboard company, Visualcast, and his lawyers gave their own impassioned pleas to allow the billboards, noting that signs had been hung in the same spot at various times going back to 1928.
"If the commission wishes to return the property to the way it was historically, there have always been signs on this property," said attorney Thomas Moore.
That argument didn't wash with Schneider, however. He said other buildings used to sit next to the Grace's building — then a storage company — so signs on that wall could not easily be seen from the square.
He also noted those signs were ads for the company itself and not outside advertisers, a legal distinction in terms of city code.
Visualcast's visibly frustrated owner, Mushin Okmen, lamented the trouble the billboards had caused him.
"I'm really exhausted of all these proceedings we're going through and I'm really losing a lot of money," he told the commission. "I wish I had never rented this wall."
Neither he nor his lawyers would comment after the meeting.
The owners of the building, Digna and Julio Martinez of north suburban Lincolnwood, did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment.
Ald. Rey Colon (35th) also could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon, but in a recent interview he said he was "indifferent" about the billboards.
Landmarks Commission staff also noted in the meeting that Colon sent a letter to the commission stating that he neither supported nor disapproved of the billboards.
Per standard procedure, the commission will now hold an "informal conference" with Visualcast and perhaps the building's owner to try to come up with a remedy. But a solution could be difficult as there is nowhere else to hang the billboards on the building.
"It's a victory today," Schneider said. "They made the right decision."