Asia on Argyle sign and pagoda come down with Red Line renovations

The Asia on Argyle sign and pagoda that have adorned the Argyle Street L stop for years were removed Tuesday, so they can be put in storage until another location for them is found.

The Argyle station is one of four North Side Red Line stops receiving upgrades as a part of the multibillion-dollar Red and Purple line modernization program.

Crews removed the pagoda and sign in the Uptown neighborhood on Tuesday. The pieces will be stored until a new location is determined, according to the Chicago Transit Authority.

Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th) said she plans on ensuring the community has a say over what happens with the two pieces.

"Signs and symbols matter, we want it to continue to be a destination for our community and celebrate the diversity of our ward," said Manaa-Hoppenworth, one of two Asian Americans on the City Council.

The sign and pagoda have paid homage to the Southeast and East Asian communities and businesses along Argyle Street for years.

The Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations are being rebuilt and replaced by modern stations with wider platforms, brighter lighting and elevators serving passengers with disabilities. The renovations on the four stations started earlier this year and are expected to be completed in 2025.

West Argyle Street was to be closed Tuesday and Wednesday from North Broadway to the CTA tracks so Walsh-Fluor, CTA’s contractor on the project, can complete the removal.

Justin Weidl, the director of neighborhood services for Uptown United, said residents have long been aware that the two pieces would be taken down from the station and relocated.


"This was not unexpected, so there’s not really any frustration or shock," Weidl said. "Most of us are happy and feel like a new station and tracks are overdue, but we are anxious to get more details from CTA on how the new station will look and how those two elements would be used."

He said his organization hopes the CTA will consult residents on what will eventually be done with the sign and pagoda.

"We understand how important these pieces are to the community, and we are working diligently to ensure both the pagoda and the sign are safely and securely preserved as we continue demolition in the area," the CTA said in a message to residents who live near the station.

Manaa-Hoppenworth said she fondly remembers coming to Asia on Argyle as a kid with her parents to pick up ingredients for Filipino dishes. She described the street as a beacon for families in Chicago and statewide.

"The signage has been significant to the area for a long time," said Manaa-Hoppenworth, the first Filipino American to lead a Chicago ward. "This is a very important economic corridor to the ward, and it should be recognized as a historic district."

Honoring and celebrating Argyle Street has never been more important, she said.

"Asians are still under attack, Asian hate is very real," she said. "If we don’t talk about it, that’s how cultures get dismissed as not important."

Charlie Soo, a businessman nicknamed the mayor of Argyle Street, spearheaded the project to build the pagoda and fix up the station in 1991. The Argyle pagoda was intended to reflect the many Asian immigrant communities in the area.

Soo’s vision for revitalizing the station extended to the surrounding community, which is home to Laotian, Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese populations. Soo pushed for a more international identity for the neighborhood, according to Curbed Chicago.

He helped form the Asian American Small Business Association in 1979, and he organized an annual Taste of Argyle festival each August, according the Chicago Reader.

"It’s incredible that one person can have such an impact on the community for decades to come because he cared about Asian pride," Manaa-Hoppenworth said.

The Asia on Argyle street sign was added by the Chicago Department of Transportation in 2013. At the time, many residents were appalled by the sign’s design.

Most of the comments on a 48th Ward Facebook post about the sign slammed the design choice and questioned its $260,000 price tag, though some commenters praised the city for updating the train stop and investing in the neighborhood.

"This looks like a ransom note that was cut and pasted from a magazine," one commenter wrote.

But others struck a different tone.

"No positive comments?….come on people, what is wrong with you all. This is helping advertise a great little neighborhood section…I always go get my pho on argyle and tell everyone about it. This is a good thing, I’m sure all the business there are thrilled," another commenter wrote.

The Chicago Department of Transportation owns the Asia on Argyle sign and will work with the CTA to determine where it should be displayed. The CTA will work with Manaa-Hoppenworth’s office to identify a new home for the pagoda.

The section of Argyle Street between Broadway and the tracks will close again the week of Oct. 10 for viaduct demolition.