Abandoned but certainly not forgotten, the Damen Silos showcase some of the city’s most extraordinary graffiti.
A series of grain silos tower over the Chicago River at the intersection of Damen Avenue and the Stevenson Expressway. Abandoned since an explosion in 1977, these 15-story behemoths at 2860 S. Damen Ave. are leftover icons of Chicago’s agricultural past, with their 400,000-bushel capacity literally epitomizing the “stacker of wheat” line from Carl Sandburg’s famous poem.
In the decades since, however, the Damen Silos have increasingly become a destination for adrenaline junkies and street artists. Layer upon layer of spray-painted artwork covers the guts of the building: monikers, memorials and masterpieces that remain intact until another enterprising artist comes along, paints over them, and starts fresh.
And that’s just the lower level. Some daredevils have accessed a rickety staircase (via a broken window and a rope precariously knotted to a rusty fire escape) that leads to the roof. Not only does this vantage offer stunning (but illegal) views of the city, it’s also the site of the silos’ largest and most visible graffiti, courtesy of “Cab Crew” (aka 312 Crew), a group of graffiti artists that began in 1986 but occasionally initiates new members. One artist—who goes by the handle Werm One—tagged the Stevenson-facing roof more than 20 years ago and still returns to leave his mark on the silos. “When I come and paint, it gets my mind off things and I can focus on one piece, and I can forget about whatever troubles I have in life,” he says in a short documentary about his work. “You can just paint away the pain.”