Urban Stain: A Decaying Chicago Art Canvas

Urban Stain an Artist Canvas

The "Damen Silos" are located in Chicago just off the Damen Avenue exit of Interstate 55. Built by the Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1906, back when Chicago was a big player in the grain trade

The original complex included a powerhouse, elevator with temporary storage and processing silos, and thirty-five grain storage silos. With a 400,000 bushel capacity, this complex could accommodate sixty railroad cars at the elevator and 300 railroad cars in a yard located a short distance away.


Equipment at the site included two driers, bleachers, oat clippers, cleaners, scourers and dust packers. Using filtered water from the adjacent South Branch of the Chicago River, boilers with a total of 1,500 horsepower generated the steam and electricity required by the machinery. The thirty-five grain silos south of this facility had a total capacity of one million bushels.

Grain elevators were the city’s first skyscrapers, rising up as high as fifteen stories along the Chicago River and Sanitary and Ship Canal from downtown to the South Shore, supplying the nation’s bakeries much in the way that the stockyards supplied the Armour, Oscar Mayer and Swift companies.


The property has been abandoned since 1977 after a large explosion caused significant damage to the grain elevator, from that time it was property of the State of Illinois. The state originally wanted seventeen million dollars for the property, and then later lowered the price to eleven million dollars. The property never did sell and to this day remains property of the state.

Today it is frequented by scrappers, squatters, graffiti artists, filmmakers and photographers. I've done a few photo shoots on the abandoned property. On my first visit I found it a bit scary and intimidating, but after a few visits I felt very comfortable and really enjoyed the exploration and I got some great shots. I did one photo series on the silos, entitled "Urban Series". One of my favorite shots from that series was given the title "Urban Stain" by my friend "the Redhead". In the gallery I have included a few images from my Urban Series along with some other shots I've taken while exploring this unique piece of Chicago history.

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