Old dormant grain silos on South Side are an enduring industrial canvas for graffiti artists

The long-abandoned Damen Silos on the south branch of the Chicago River near Damen Avenue.

The long-abandoned Damen Silos on the south branch of the Chicago River near Damen Avenue. | Mark Capapas / Sun-Times

Located along the Chicago River near Damen Avenue, the hulking structures dare and draw graffiti writers to their towers and snaking caverns below. The long-time owner of the site — state government — has been trying for decades to sell it for redevelopment.

The towering, old grain silos near 29th Street and Damen Avenue, on the banks of the Chicago River’s south branch, date to Chicago’s heyday as a hub of manufacturing and food distribution.

While they haven’t been functional for decades, the dormant, weathered structures have long been a draw for graffiti artists and taggers who’ve turned the 24-acre site into something of an industrial canvas.

That includes the silos themselves, adjoining structures that are as tall as 15 floors and a series of cavernous tunnels snaking below.

Not exactly the safest place to roam — and not a legal place to visit, either, as the “No Trespassing” signs inform.

Mark Capapas / Sun-Times
A close-up of the high point of the silo complex near 29th Street and Damen Avenue.Mark Capapas / Sun-Times
The old grain silos are dormant — except for activity from graffiti artists and “urban explorers.”

Nevertheless it remains a popular spot for street artists to ply their colorful trade, whether considered art or an eyesore.

A street artist who goes by Werm has painted at the silos over the years — including on the roof in the mid-1990s when he says it wasn’t such a well known spot.

Part of the allure of the place, Werm says, was that “there’s a lot of walls and it’s abandoned, it’s a place where anyone can go practice, and there’s no rules, and you can take your time.”

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The Chicago graffiti artist who goes by Werm is shown painting inside the Damen Silos.

“Before there was no security, there were open gates and people could just walk in, it was a public underground street art gallery,” Werm says, adding security has definitely tightened up since.

Another veteran street artist who goes by Emte said a number of years ago a construction company he worked at was getting rid of hundreds of gallons of old paint, and he said, “I’ll take it.”

He brought it to the silo grounds and “we used it to roll out all the brick walls . . . we were just caking walls and inviting people to come paint.”

“It was some of the best graffiti artists at that time that I pied pipered to come in,” he said.

“It’s an outlet to express ourselves,” he said. “I wanted it to be a super-dope unsanctioned museum, and it did become that, but it only lasted five or six years.”

Courtesy of @acid_dropz_
The Chicago graffiti artist who goes by Emte (on ladder) paints with a friend at the Damen Silos in 2014.

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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