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As Construction on The 606 Begins, Murals Come Down

 The Bloomingdale administrators are looking for new artwork ideas for railroad track walls. Needed repairs and removal of lead paint means all existing artwork will have to be removed.
The Bloomingdale artwork
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CHICAGO — After more than a decade of meeting, planning and acquiring land, construction on the Bloomingdale Trail elevated trail has begun.

On Monday, crews began the first phase of the project, which includes removing the railroad track, unused since 2001, and fixing up the walls and viaducts that will make up the 2.7-mile elevated trail.

The trail, peripheral entrances and parks comprise the broader "The 606" project.

Groundbreaking kicked off the project in August, which will run through the Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods.

Another major part of the first phrase will be removing paint, including murals, which will eventually be replaced with other artworks.

"It's unfortunate they have to be removed, but it's just not possible to preserve the existing murals," said Beth White, Chicago office director for the Trust for Public Land.

The removals aren't coming without warning. In April, White and other organizers held a public meeting to discuss how the paint would have to be removed to make repairs to the concrete. But that didn't lessen the blow for some artists who had put their work up on the walls of the 100-year-old railroad track.

Rainbow Kitty contributed to mural artwork at the Churchill Field Dog Park in 2010, and was saddened to hear her work, along with others, would be removed. But over the last few months she has come to take it in stride.

"I mean, I feel pretty bad about it, but I'll just do more art in the future," she said, adding, "I enjoyed doing it and a lot of people enjoyed it, so it's still a part of collective memory."

White said the murals — which will be taken down as early as this week — will remain in collective memory in another form.

"What we chose to do over the summer and into the fall was to hire a ... documentary photographer to document every inch of the walls and the viaduct," White said.

The photographer is now working to stitch the images together into a continuous piece, and organizers are trying to decide how to display the photographs — perhaps even putting them up on The 606 website.

"This [mural painting] is a very ephemeral art form, but we did want to capture — before the park was built — what was there now," White said.

Despite the loss of the murals, White said she and other organizers are still happy to see construction begin on the project.

"We're just ecstatic that we're seeing it come to life," she said. "This has been a long time coming."