The WOW is gone

Less than a week after ABC 7’s I-Team report, “Sign of the Times,” the huge WOW billboard disappeared from Logan Square, along with its smaller sister billboard that was located on top of the same building (“after” photo below).


Grace’s Furniture/Cheetah Gym Building
on Milwaukee Ave.

After fessing up to my lack of knowledge of the city’s sign ordinances in my previous post, ABC 7’s I-Team investigates WOW billboard, I looked into the sign regulations in the Chicago Zoning Ordinance (see Windy City Links in right column).

Why do we have sign regulations?

First, it’s important to note that the purpose of the sign regulations is to balance advertising and communication (a.k.a. free speech) with the public interest of safety, upkeep and neighborhood attractiveness.

Sign regulations can, for example, help to avoid nuisances such a flashing sign in a residential zoning district.  They can support the character of a neighborhood by banning signs that detract from that character or the size and number of signs that might overtake the appearance of an area (also see Sign of confusion and Sign, sign, everywhere a sign).

What was illegal about the WOW sign?


The WOW sign and its sister sign on top of the building (“before” photo right) were illegal on many fronts, as are many other signs on the Milwaukee Avenue corridor.

First the basics.  Among signs expressly prohibited are:

  • Roof signs (any sign that projects more than 24 inches above a roofline) like the billboard on top of the building;
  • Abandoned (for 6 months or more) sign structure like the billboard structure on top of the building, where from well before March 2008 when I took the photo posted at Take the Cheetah challenge! until October 2008, the billboard structure sat with an old, decaying, illegible sign, much like it does again now (top photo); and
  • Signs required to have a permit that are erected without a permit.

The maximum total sign area allowed for all signs on this lot (zoned B-3) is the lesser of 1500 square feet or 4 times the street frontage (on Milwaukee Avenue) of approximately 55 feet = 220 square feet.  The I-Team calculated the WOW sign alone to be 2000 square feet.

Off-premise signs (advertising a product not offered on the premises) are prohibited within 100 feet of a residential district.  The WOW sign was just an alley’s width or approximately 30 feet away from a residential district.

Off-premise signs are also prohibited on “Pedestrian Streets,” and Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Boulevard north to Central Park Avenue is designated as a “Pedestrian Street.”

Off-premise signs are also prohibited on primary boulevards.

These latter two prohibitions would be subject to the city’s interpretation of the ordinance as the WOW sign was not on the Milwaukee Avenue frontage, and, by definition, the building does not have Logan Boulevard street frontage as it does not abut and is separated from the boulevard by CTA and city property.

These are just the sign regulations I identified that relate to the WOW billboard and its sister billboard.  Different and/or additional regulations may pertain to a particular sign that may bother you.  Remember, as the I-Team video reported, the city relies on the public to bring these illegal signs to its attention.


2 Responses to The WOW is gone

  1. rachelle says:

    do you know when this Cheetah is opening? I signed up with a downtown gym, but on a month to month basis so I can switch to the local gym when it opens..

    rachelle: They hope to open by late summer, but that depends on permitting and construction going smoothly. ~ Lynn

  2. […] loves a good rebranding campaign (except when they’re executed in violation of city zoning laws), and today the Chicago Public Library opened the floodgates to Chicago designers with a design […]

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