BUCKTOWN — As the demolition of the sprawling A. Finkl and Sons steel plant continues, some gardeners are eager to rescue the hearty flowers still intact amid the rubble and industrial ruin.
"I was walking through on Sunday and noticed a bright green hosta. I didn't say anything, but came back on Monday with a shovel," said Stephanie Weidner, a Bucktown resident and fine artist.
A security guard gave Weidner the OK to dig up the parkway hosta, which she replanted in her garden, one of 60 local green spaces that will be featured in this weekend's Bucktown Garden Walk, which kicks off at Club Lucky, 1824 W. Wabansia Ave.
Weidner, like many local residents, was long an admirer of the Finkl plant's extensive landscaping along the 23-acre factory site off Cortland Avenue, which has been closed to car traffic since June.
"For what is considered to be a dirty industry, you don't expect that, to see all the trees and flowers. I'm not a very serious gardener but they are beautiful plants. I did not want to see them plowed over," Weidner said.
Alisa Hauser says moving the plants helps preserve the site's legacy:
Adrian Grimaldo, A. Finkl & Sons gardening foreman who now works at the plant's South Side location at 1355 E. 93rd St. and who planted flowers and trees at the former site, oversees a crew of five who work to beautify the industrial spaces.
"We used a lot of annuals, and the perennials are all very hearty varieties," Grimaldo said before rattling off the names from memory: Stello de oro, or a "gold star lilies," yellow daises, Salvia or cobalt blue and purple flowers, special grasses, sumac, and Russian sage, among others.
Stella de Ora lilies, salvia and grasses at the former Finkl site. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
When asked how he feels about the fact the plants he planted were left behind, Grimaldo said, "We no longer have anything to do with that site," and referred questions about what to do with the abandoned greenery to the site's new owners, AFS Properties LLC, an investment group led by former Finkl president Joe Curci.
Curci did not respond to inquiries. But in 2008, he wrote an impassioned Letter to the Editor of the Tribune, where he discussed Finkl's commitment to the environment and reforestation.
Launched in 1990 and advertised on an archway, Finkl's "Forging a Fresher America" campaign resulted in the planting of more than 6 million trees — long before "carbon footprint" became a household phrase, Curci wrote.
A now removed arch at the former A. Finkl & Sons Plant in May. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]
Keith Sullivan, a retired Chicago Police officer who works on one of three shifts to guard the demolition site, said he had gotten "over a dozen requests" from gardeners that are asking him about the trees and plants.
Sullivan's boss, Bob Aberscato, a 28-year employee of Finkl and former heavy machine operator who took early retirement instead of transferring to the new South Side plant, said, "as long as they ask and only take one or two [plants], we don't have a problem with it if they want to save the plants."
Aberscato admitted to rescuing a few plants himself.
"My wife is pretty into hostas, we had a few varieties at Finkl, not the ordinary ones you see. I took two back home and planted in our garden," Aberscato said, adding, that plants are, "a connection to the past" and his family's garden also feature plants from his wife's parent's home in Peoria.
The question of what will be built on the several acres of prime real estate is up in the air.
"I'm the last employee in a way. I grew up there and have seen it all my life. As a kid you'd go biking and see the red hot glow. It's sad to see it all go but it will be neat to see what rises out of the ashes. Hopefully something that is good for the community," Aberscato said.
Greenery pokes out Wednesday in the lefthand corner near one of the last three buildings standing at the former Finkl plant. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
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