Since 2011, Chicago graffiti artist and hip-hop documentarian Flash ABC has overseen Project Logan, a four-sided permission wall that encircles a 3,300-square-foot plot of land between Fullerton and Medill Avenues just west of Milwaukee Avenue. Over the past five years, Flash has helped hundreds of artists showcase their graffiti skills and provided Logan Square with a flood of public artwork. Project Logan’s walls have paid tribute to fallen hip-hop heroes, from Steff Skills’s mural honoring Tribe Called Quest MC Phife Dawg to Dream and Werm One’s recent homage to local underground rapper Mic One. Two of Project Logan’s four walls face the elevated Blue Line train tracks that bisect Logan Square, so commuters and tourists are likely to get a look at the art as they pass by. “I know that 80,000 people see it weekly,” Flash says. “We’ve done a lot there.”
But Project Logan’s future may be in doubt. Part of the land the permission wall sits on is part of a 9,500-square-foot parcel of land that quietly went up for sale in April; EHomes Realty listed the property at 2936-2940 W. Medill for $2.1 million. Flash hopes the high price for the land buys Project Logan some time, but he’d seen the writing on the wall. “I knew, ever since I saw the [condo] tower go up in Logan Square—on Milwaukee and California—that the neighborhood is going through a radical change,” Flash says.
Flash grew up in Logan Square and was part of a small cadre of teenager writers who helped import hip-hop graffiti to Chicago in the late 70s and early 80s. “In the Chicago Public School system, when you’re a trouble-maker, they try to send you to [Moses] Montefiore [special elementary school],” Flash says. “There was a group of us that were sent to Montefiore. My mother wasn’t gonna have that, so she sent me to Puerto Rico.” Two of his friends, Angel (aka Seen and Esteemed) and Berto (B-Boy-B), went to New York, and returned ready to spread the gospel of hip-hop—and graffiti. By 1983 Angel and Berto formed a collective, the Angel and Berto Crew (aka ABC), which they renamed Artistic Bombing Crew when Flash and three others (Syke, Gizmo, and Drip) joined later that year.
Back in the 80s, those early graffiti writers would meet at the Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square for sketch sessions and then hop Blue Line trains to write on viaducts and in tunnels. Flash says gang graffiti preceded the arrival of hip-hop graffiti in Chicago, so he and his friends slipped under the radar for a few years; the city was more concerned with gang colors than with what ABC did. The members of ABC started to spread hip-hop graffiti to other neighborhoods, bombing subway tunnels and rooftops. Flash says B-Boy-B and Seen painted the first rooftop piece on top of Logan Square’s Discount Megamall in 1984, a massive homage to a kid who was killed named Joey. “The next day I go to take pictures, and seeing peoples’ heads turn, I knew that we had something different,” Flash remembers. “I knew right there—graffiti isn’t for us, it’s for the masses.”
Flash retired from bombing in 1987 and checked out of the scene entirely until 2003, when another graffiti artist invited him to work on a permission wall on 59th and Western in Englewood, with more than 100 other artists. “I’m like, ‘So what happened to my neighborhood, where we started it?,” Flash says. “After that, from 2003 on, I did try working with the community in Logan Square and I got turned down. I heard everything from ‘That art is not done here’ to ‘We don’t do that.’ There were no permission walls in Logan Square.” Flash wanted to recreate the permission wall culture that flourished on the south side in his neighborhood by creating a legal public canvas for artists from all over the city to come and show their work.
Finally in the summer of
2013 2010, Flash arranged a partnership with AnySquared, a volunteer-run artistic network, to work on a mural with neighborhood kids. They made the images that remain on the eastern wall of what became the Project Logan permission wall. After that, AnySquared cofounder Tracy Kostenbader gave Flash the thumbs up to paint the three other walls, and so he brought in other artists to do the work as they saw fit. And they didn’t just paint: Flash and his friends cleaned up the alleyway and walkway around the walls, removing garbage, rat traps, and needles. Flash created a system to divide the walls into seven panels, using a Google calendar to schedule artists to paint each panel; most panels stay up for 30 days, though two sections are on a two-week rotation.
The neighbors enjoy the art, too. Flash recently talked to people who live next to the wall about the work, and most residents responded positively. “Here we are blocking their alley once a month and they don’t care, they understand,” he says. “They already know that it was dark and dreary, and people were doing ugly things there. I brightened up the neighborhood. I’ve raised the value of their property whether they want to say it or not. Look at the valued property of Logan Square in the last three years. The art has pushed the property value. And it happens everywhere.”
And it’s no secret what’s happened to the property value of land in Logan Square. In a 2017 Curbed Chicago story, A.J. LaTrace wrote about the unprecedented number of operating tower cranes along Milwaukee Avenue, which are helping construct roughly 3,000 apartments between the blue line stations at Grand and Logan Square. The two massive residential buildings just south of California on Milwaukee—named Mica (2293 N Milwaukee) and Logan Square L (2211 N Milwaukee), brought 336 apartments to a small section of Logan the past couple years. And the minimum monthly rent of a Mica apartment—$1,495—was as much a harbinger of the radical change Flash has noticed as the towers themselves, which dwarf the modest residential buildings in their immediate vicinity.
In the last few years much of the Logan Square that Flash identified as home has disappeared. “There wasn’t even a time to say goodbye to some of these family shops, they just came and shut them down. I feel bad because it’s a lost culture,” he says. “I’m 50 years old. I had to leave Logan Square, I couldn’t afford it no more.” Flash still returns to the neighborhood on weekends, giving graffiti tours and helping with the permission wall. And he’ll continue overseeing Project Logan as long as it lasts. “We’ll do it as long as the structure is there,” Flash says. “I just hope to talk to the person that buys it—I’ll put it out there. If we can continue to paint, that would be lovely and honorable. If it goes, I would like a fair warning just so we can give it a proper sendoff.”