The Municipal Device
by Jacob Kaplan

Chicagoans seem to have a lot of civic pride. The most prominent example of this is the municipal flag, flown all over the city by public and private institutions alike. Another very visible example is often overlooked and mostly forgotten about; the Chicago Municipal Device. This “Y” shaped figure, which represents the three branches of the river as they come together at Wolf Point, can be found on structures and buildings all across the city. While prominent on many municipal buildings and street lighting boxes, it can also often be found interestingly hidden in the facades of older commercial and industrial buildings across the city.


Left: Interestingly integrated with an eagle, this Y is located on a commercial building on Michigan Avenue in the Roseland neighborhood.

Right: A terra cotta Y is hidden in a colorful floral design on the Western-Bryn Mawr Building, located at its namesake intersection.

Ornamentation and simplicity. The Baroque detailing of the Belmont-Central building prominently features a device. It is very similar to the Western-Bryn Mawr building, right down to the naming convention. Probably the same architect.

Conversely, the device at right was found on an old municipal building, one which has been put to numerous functions over the years. Here, the device is the ornament, almost a secular crucifix.


Left: These Y’s are nicely integrated into the steel framework of the Division Street bridge on the east side of Goose Island.

Right: As with many civic buildings (see above), the Y is appropriately positioned on this, an abandoned fire station.


Left: Easily overlooked, this commercial building on Lincoln Avenue in the Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland shopping district sports these large Y’s on its façade.

Right: A seemingly nondescript building on the corner of Damen and Grand Avenues, this façade includes an odd elongated Y.


Ron Schramm 1992.

Two examples of the Y used on the demolished Ogden Avenue viaduct. Other examples of relief sculptures similiar to the one at right can be found on WPA era bridge houses throuought the city. While it has seen past use as a symbol of brewing, the six-point star graffiti seen here can be construed quite differently. It is probably meant to signify the territory of the Black Disciples gang, but I am no expert.


Left: A very promient Y downtown in Congress Plaza. As with the sign at right, this monument contains another insignia – the Fleur de Lis. Perhaps an allusion to the first European settlers in the area?

Right and Below Right: It’s sign faded and rusting, we’re not sure if the 28th Ward office on Ohio and Oakley is still in use. This sign is probably from the 1950’s, the ward office sign below, from the same building, is probably from the 1920’s.


Left: A classic example, this one on Galileo school in Little Italy. This time, the device is paired with olive branches.


Left: This wrought iron device adorns the gate of the former Koszciusko Public Bath.

Right: This one was found on the entrance to the assembly hall of Gladstone Elementary school. This school will be closing within a year as part of a number of citywide school closings. The neighborhood it used to serve, the Valley, was obliterated by the Illinois Medical District’s landgrabbing eminent domain power in the area.

Matthew Kaplan, 1977

This long gone three flat on Clark near Schrieber featured an eagle-topped device. It was demolished when a new police station was built on the corner, shortly after this image was taken.

Read More