1811 S. Blue Island, Chicago, IL 60608
Located at the intersection of 18th Street, South Blue Island Avenue, and South Loomis Street, Plaza Tenochtitlan is a streetscape and public gathering space in the heart of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Designed by Alphonse Guajardo Associates, the plaza was modeled to reclaim the once roaring vehicular intersection into an area that is accessible to pedestrians across all six corners. Borders of tan and terra cotta-colored tile, now grey after more than two decades of existence, were meant to emulate the vibrants colors of the architecture of Mexico.
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development set aside $500,000 in 1996 to kickstart the beautification process of 18th Street. Supported by former Alderman Daniel Solis, 18th Street Development Corporation, Pilsen Together Chamber of Commerce, and the Resurrection Project, a controversial TIF revitalization project was implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s to beautify the neighborhood, promote tourism, and bring jobs to the community. Anti-gentrification activists vehemently opposed this plan because of their fear of displacement, fears that ultimately proved to be true. Originally set to have a sunflower mosaic bricked into the six-corner intersection, an obelisk was ultimately chosen as the plaza’s centerpiece.
The obelisk is topped with the Escudo Nacional Mexicano (Mexican Coat of Arms) - a Golden eagle on a prickly pear cactus devouring a rattlesnake. The sculpture of the Mexican Coat of Arms atop the obelisk was a gift from Mexico City to the City of Chicago, presented in 1997 to celebrate their sister city status. The Mexican Coat of Arms is a take on Tenochtitlan’s foundational myth. The Aztec (Mexica) believed that their ancestors migrated from Aztlan to Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. The Aztec were the last of the Nahuatl speaking people to settle in Lake Texcoco. When they arrived they found the area almost entirely settled. Tenochtitlan would be founded on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco in 1325 after the Aztec leader, Tenoch, saw an eagle devouring a snake on a cactus - the sign the Aztec’s patron, the sun god Huitzilopochtli, told them they’d see.
- The Founding of Tenochtitlan and the Origin of the Aztecs, ThoughtCo, December 2020
- The Eagle, the Snake, and the Cactus in the Founding of Tenochtitlan, World Digital Library, 2015
- Pilsen Revitalization Project Seeks to Lure Tourists, Shoppers to Aging Neighborhood, Chicago Tribune, 1996
- Variations on a Theme District, Chicago Tribune, 1999
- Caza Aztlan, Chicagotlan