The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Andersonville Water Tank Removal Spurs Loss of Neighborhood Identity Fears

 Andersonville's iconic water tower tank is coming down and this year's brutal winter is to blame, according to the Swedish American Museum.
Water Tower
View Full Caption

ANDERSONVILLE — Images of Andersonville's iconic water tower, painted to look like a Swedish flag, grace T-shirts, postcards, artwork and neighborhood pamphlets promoting the neighborhood's robust indie business community.

It's the symbol of Andersonville for many.

"A landmark gateway to Andersonville," is how Ann Christopherson, co-owner of another neighborhood staple, feminist-focused bookstore Women & Children First, describes it.

But it's badly damaged from the brutal winter and slated to come down soon, and community members are concerned that losing it could hurt the neighborhood's branding as a former Swedish settlement.

So some are suggesting a new symbol of Andersonville's roots be erected.

The tank sits atop the Swedish American Museum at 5211 N. Clark St. It bears a yellow Scandinavian cross painted on a blue background.

A winter so cold it earned Chicago the nickname "Chiberia" froze the water in the tank and damaged the structure, so now the tank has to be removed because it's unsafe, museum director Karin Abercrombie said.

The tank is scheduled to come down Thursday.

Abercrombie wrote in an email Tuesday, "I don't believe our intent is to replace the water tower tank." But, she said, "we might find other alternatives to have something to symbolize Sweden."

Said Christopherson: "Maybe there will be a replacement of sorts that functions as that gateway."

Andersonville resident Patti Kampsen said that the neighborhood will lose an emblem of its identity if the tank is gone for good.

"It needs to come down. And I understand," the 51-year-old said. "But it's such a landmark here in Andersonville, particularly with the Swedish flag painted on it, that it's going to be kind of strange not having it here."

Ellen Shepard, executive director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, said that the tank "will be dearly missed," but "I think we're OK with branding for now," despite the looming loss.

"I think that there are going to be people who remember the water tower around here for a long time," Shepard said. "But I also trust that this is a very creative and dynamic neighborhood, and people are going to come up with something pretty quickly, some idea that is going to awesomely pay homage to the water tower."

While the structure been a fixture on Clark Street since 1927 when it first sat atop a Swedish-owned hardware store, the water tank was only painted in the likeness of the Swedish flag about a decade ago. That's when the chamber of commerce was ramping up its branding of Andersonville and leveraging the area's roots.

Shepard said the chamber has "started to talk about plans to raise money to keep the image of the water tower alive in Andersonville, in whatever form that takes."

Andersonville residents interviewed by DNAinfo Chicago said they would contribute to a fundraising campaign to help repair the structure and have it return to the neighborhood, and that their neighbors would likely hop on such an effort as well.

Ross Meyerson, 43, lives in a building on the southeast corner of Clark Street and Foster Avenue. He said not seeing the landmark outside his window every day is hard to imagine.

He wants the structure repaired and returned to its perch, assuming that's an option, and said he's confident "a lot of people would be willing to pitch in."

"I do feel like it's a community more than some other neighborhoods I've been in, and it's a little affluent," said Meyerson, a grocery store worker.

Before retail store manager Dennis Hensley traveled to north suburban Niles for work Tuesday morning, the Andersonville man paused at the northwest corner of Foster  Avenue and Clark Street to take a picture of the landmark with his phone, thinking it was his last chance to capture it intact.

Then he crossed Clark Street and walked into the alley behind the museum for another shot of the tank.

If there was a fundraiser to restore it, "hell," he said, "I'd give money to it."

"It may be too costly to replace, but something Swedish, a Swedish flag or something, should be put up there as a symbol," said Hensley, who moved to Andersonville in 2005 and is half Swedish. "But now I'm just taking pictures so I can remember this water tower."

Uptown resident and actor Amanda Drinkall, 29, said "It's going to be really sad if they take it down."

"They definitely have to put something else up," Drinkall said.

Abercrombie is behind the idea of putting something else up, but emphasized "currently the focus is on safety," which means removing the tank.

"The structure of the tank has been compromised and it would not be safe to keep it on the roof," said the museum director.

An old wooden water tank atop the 120-year-old Brewster Building at 2800 N. Pine Grove Ave. in Lakeview toppled to the ground last summer, injuring three people. Two of the people hurt quickly hired a top Chicago law firm and filed a lawsuit against the building owner seeking more than $100,000 in damages. And in February, several office buildings in River North were evacuated when a water tower began "leaning and leaking," police said.