Colorful Pilsen Neighborhood Loses Landmark Nuevo Leon To Fire

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The colorful, mural-filled stretch of West 18th Street in Pilsen just lost a landmark–Nuevo Leon Restaurant at 1515 West 18th was destroyed by fire just after midnight on December 1.

An extra-alarm fire spread from Nuevo Leon to neighboring Tortilleria Sabinas. The restaurant was known for both its tacos de sabinas and its multi-colored façade.

A street musician plays on West 16th Street with one of the many colorful murals in the background.

A street musician plays on West 16th Street with one of the many colorful murals in the background.

There is no shortage of mural art along this stretch of West 16th Street and throughout the area. The practice of painting mural art actually came from a traditional style in Mexico that was transported far north to the Pilsen neighborhood with an influx of immigrants starting in the 1950s.

Mexican artists who arrived in that era carried on the practice of decorating their neighborhood with murals and mosaics. Some murals in Pilsen depict struggles of the new arrivals, and others offer a visual history of key events important to Mexican-Americans.

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The exterior of Nuevo Leon is cheery and whimsical, using bright colors to form an intricate three-dimensional café scene at ground level that accurately reflects the interior of the restaurant. On the upper floors, the exterior façade changes to (ironically) burnt orange hues.

Reports indicate that Nuevo Leon will be rebuilt.

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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