HYDE PARK — A wall that served as an unofficially sanctioned place for graffiti artists to display their works is no more, demolished to make way for a new development on 53rd Street.
“There was nothing else like that on the South Side. Now you have to jump fences and crawl over freight tracks,” said Doug “Dwel” Freitag, who had painted on the wall since the early 1990s.
The wall, which stretched a half-block along an alley north of 53rd Street from Kenwood to Kimbark avenues, was a giant canvas for street artists and a safe place to try out new ideas. New work, if it was good, could stay up for months on one of the 12-foot sections of the wall. Otherwise, it would be quickly painted over.
“There really aren’t any other places to watch people flex and try out new ideas,” Freitag said.
The wall and the former gas station were demolished in preparation for construction of Vue53, a 13-story residential and retail building backed by the University of Chicago. Final demolition of the wall took place over the weekend, with the last chunks hauled away on Monday.
Freitag said he got calls from friends across the city on Friday asking him to grab a chunk of the wall. He said he didn’t need to grab chunks of cinderblock because the paint was so dense after 20 years of painting it came off in inch-thick slabs.
The wall was unofficially sanctioned by neighbors and the painters as a safe spot to paint and was an easy way for those interested in the art, but not direct participants in the subculture, to come and look at new work.
Freitag said though many of the painters knew the wall was coming down, people have not coalesced around a new location yet.
“Nothing has really come up, it’s back to the old tried-and-true spots,” Freitag said, adding many graffiti artists choice to go back to painting on abandoned buildings and railway retaining walls. “It’s probably not as safe or comfortable as that place was.”
He said as the weather warms up in the coming weeks, people will start making choices about where they want to continue painting.