ANDERSONVILLE — Andersonville's iconic water tower, painted to look like a Swedish flag, came down Thursday, to the dismay of residents who have come to regard the tower as a neighborhood staple.
Two massive cranes parked on Clark Street north of Foster Avenue Thursday as the street was closed and crews began work on one of the most recognizable symbols of the neighborhood's Swedish roots, located on the roof of the Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark St.
A consultant for the museum who examined the structure Monday watched as crews prepared to take down the tank, and said a problem with the tank's heater caused the water inside to freeze earlier this month. The tank was frozen solid and compromised structurally.
"I just hope the museum can sustain this blow," said James Morgan, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood whose family has lived within sight of the tower since 1927.
Workers said that crews earlier this week had already drained some of the water from inside the tank, but its inner walls were still coated with as much as 16 inches of ice.
Late in the morning and into the afternoon, crews were being hoisted above the water tower to drop salt down into the tank through an opening at the top of it to melt the ice. Water could be seen pouring from a hole in the bottom.
The consultant said the tower was tilting to the east and could eventually plummet through the museum's roof and into the building if not removed.
The tower has been around since the building it sits on was built in 1927, but the tank was only painted to look like a Swedish flag in the early 2000s. The Swedish museum moved to the building in 1987. Prior to freezing due to the brutal winter, the water tower was connected to the museum's sprinkler system.
Community members are worried about how losing the tank could affect Andersonville's identity as a former Swedish settlement, and suggested that a replica of the tower be erected, or that a new symbol of the community's roots go in its place.
The director of the museum, Karin Abercrombie, said Tuesday that the museum didn't intend to replace the tank. But "we might find other alternatives to have something to symbolize Sweden," she said.
June Ann, an employee at specialty framing and gift shop Foursided, said the tank had "been an icon of the neighborhood for so long."
Standing in Foursided Thursday, looking at a print of the water tower being sold there, she said "it's a sad thing to see go."
Bowmanville resident Eliel Royster, 38, said he's enjoyed all the ways the neighborhood has paid homage to its Swedish heritage, from the water tower, to traditional events offered at the museum, the annual Swedish-inspired Midsommarfest and local food options, including the former Ann Sather restaurant that's being replaced by a Giordano's pizza joint this year.
"Ann Sather is closed up, but now the tower is coming down, too," Royster said. "What's happening? Change is sometime good, but sometimes not. I understand the safety issues, I just hope that they replace it."
Abercrombie emphasized "currently the focus is on safety," which means removing the tank. Other damaged water tanks have caused trouble in the city in recent years.
In February, several office buildings in River North were evacuated when a water tower began "leaning and leaking," police said. And 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.