In the heart of Lakeview East, amidst the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan, stands a powerful testament to history, resilience, and remembrance. The AIDS Garden Chicago, a vital landmark that honors the legacy of the early days of the city’s HIV epidemic, has become a symbol of strength and unity for the LGBTQ+ community and the city at large. The Lakeview East Community Partnership (LVECP) has played a significant role in not only contributing to the creation of this poignant space but also in amplifying its importance through wayfinding campaigns and support.
In 2022, Lakeview East welcomed a new resident of towering significance—Keith Haring’s “Self Portrait,” a remarkable 30-foot sculpture that pays homage to the renowned artist and his enduring impact on the world. Haring, who tragically passed away in 1990 due to AIDS-related complications, left behind a legacy that continues to inspire and ignite conversations about art, activism, and the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS.
This remarkable sculpture finds its home at the AIDS Garden Chicago, a place of profound historical significance. Previously known as Belmont Rocks, this area served as a cherished haven for the LGBTQ+ community during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was a space where individuals could openly express their identities and find solace within a supportive community. However, the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic led to the erasure of much of this history.
Tragically, the Belmont Rocks were demolished in the 1990s as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers carried out shoreline protection work along Lake Michigan. Despite the physical loss of the Rocks, the spirit of celebration, joy, and remembrance endures in the collective memory of those who frequented the site during its heyday.
In 2019, the once-vacant land that held the memories of the Belmont Rocks was transformed into the poignant AIDS Garden Chicago. Serving as the city’s first public monument dedicated to honoring the early days of the HIV epidemic and those who have persevered in the ongoing fight, the AIDS Garden Chicago is a space of reflection, education, and unity.
The Lakeview East Community Partnership recognized the vital importance of the AIDS Garden and its mission. Beyond its donation to the cause, LVECP assisted with wayfinding campaigns, helping visitors navigate and connect with this historic site. Through these efforts, the partnership played a pivotal role in bringing to life the spirit of remembrance, solidarity, and awareness that the garden represents.
Visitors are invited to take a stroll through the AIDS Garden, pay their respects to Keith Haring’s “Self Portrait,” and immerse themselves in the stories of resilience that this space embodies. By commemorating the history of the AIDS epidemic and raising awareness about ongoing efforts to combat HIV, the AIDS Garden Chicago stands as a testament to the power of community, remembrance, and collective action.
As the Lakeview East Community Partnership continues to demonstrate its commitment to the betterment of the neighborhood, its support for the AIDS Garden Chicago becomes a shining example of how partnerships between local organizations and impactful initiatives can create lasting change. By fostering connections and preserving history, LVECP showcases the potential for a community to come together in pursuit of a more compassionate and understanding society.