All three vacant buildings are significant with the red X, yet display differing levels the disrepair. No signage indicates dangerous, structure disrepair. Allee - Kathy Chaney

Earl Liggins, right, lives in a previously vacant building on the 7000 block that S. Normal. Fifty-five red ‘X’ buildings lie within fifty percent a mile. Allee

All three vacant buildings are significant with the red X, but display varying levels the disrepair. No signage shows dangerous, structure disrepair. Allee - Kathy Chaney



All three vacant structures are significant with the red X, but display varying levels the disrepair. No signage indicates dangerous, structure disrepair. Allee - Kathy Chaney
Earl Liggins, right, resides in a formerly vacant structure on the 7000 block of S. Normal. Fifty-five red ‘X’ structures lie within fifty percent a mile. Allee
All three vacant structures are marked with the red X, however display varying levels of disrepair. No signage shows dangerous, structural disrepair. Allee - Kathy Chaney
Chicago’s Red “X”: Meaning, Myths and Limitations by by kris Bentley, chris Hagan, Kathy Chaney, Shawn Allee

Editor’s note: We have an upgrade to this story, which broadens on the red “X” program’s absence of funding.

You are watching: What does a red x on a building mean

While walking roughly her Logan Square community Chicagoan Poppy Coleman noticed something peculiar around two overview buildings: They boring metal indications emblazoned with a huge red “X.”

Poppy claims she wanted to understand more, including: “Who they to be for, perhaps what department placed them up, and if it was something that ns should know about.” So, she sent out Curious City this question: “What do those red “X” signs mean top top buildings?”

She’s not the just one who confused. Because 2012, red “X” signs have actually popped up on virtually 2,000 properties around Chicago. It’s not hard to find civilization posting in digital forums, wondering aloud whether the red “X” means a building’s condemned, vacant or for sale.

But in the course of reporting an answer for Poppy, us encountered hard questions about the regimen that support red “X” signage, including whether the city’s doing enough to connect its intentions. We also turned up some surprising news: This program, expected to conserve the stays of first responders and also others, has actually run out of money.

The sign’s origins: A mayday call

On Dec. 22, 2010, firefighters were looking for squatters within a burning, long-vacant laundromat top top the 1700 block of east 75th Street, in Chicago’s southern Shore neighborhood. Together firefighters continued their move of the building, a wall surface fell and also then the roof collapsed, death firefighters Edward Stringer and also Corey Ankum. Nineteen others were injured.

“When I first became alderman, one of the an initial visits that i paid to be to Fire Chief mark Neilsen,” said 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored two city ordinances in response. The first ordinance, passed in 2011, compelled the room to catalogue buildings with bowstring truss construction, a range that’s vulnerable to collapse throughout fires.

Silverstein’s second ordinance sought to find and mark every one of Chicago’s attention buildings. For that regimen they made decision on rectangular metal signs displaying a large red “X”, a symbol used by fire departments in brand-new York City and other some other cities. That iconography comes from a federal regimen for marking vacant structures.

Chicago doesn’t assign red “X” signs to just any vacant or exit building; a authorize is a intuitive cue that a structure is structurally unsound and that firefighters and other very first responders have to take precautions as soon as responding to emergencies there. It’s additionally an extra reminder for anyone who could wander right into a vacant building — i beg your pardon is illegal currently — that they have to stay out.

Making a list


Since Silverstein’s ordinance happen in June 2012, the Chicago Fire Department has actually placed red “X” indications on 1,804 buildings. That’s less than half of the more than 5,000 vacant properties registered in the city — chin a fraction of the estimated total of vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago — however CFD Spokesman Larry Langford claims it’s a start.

“We choose 1,800 that we want to get marked right away,” he says. As soon as the program started, Chicago’s room of buildings sent end a perform of structurally unsound properties for CFD to add to as they saw fit. The list from the room of structures included a couple of hundred nature deemed more than 35 percent deteriorated.

Langford says “It’s based on structural damages rotting in some cases, vandalism, vault fire, the as whole integrity that the building, what’s absent from the building, if there room holes in the floor, porch in poor condition, roof about to go — points that could make it an overwhelming for a fireman to occupational the fire, or because that the structure to come under quickly throughout a fire.”

That list easily grew come 1,800. Firemen took note of vacant structures as they did their rounds, discovering potentially unsafe frameworks and adding to the initial list of red “X” candidates.

‘They’re everywhere’

Records derived by display the city often put increase dozens of indicators at a time in parts of the city with a lot of vacant and structurally unsound buildings.

Poppy Coleman joined Curious City Editor Shawn Allee and reporter kris Bentley because that a short canvas of the south Side’s Englewood neighborhood, which has actually hundreds of structures sporting the signs.

(Curious City canvassed portions of the Englewood ar near the intersection of 70th and also Normal. There space 55 red “X” signs posted in ~ a half-mile that the intersection. Map: view the signs throughout the city and search by address)

Most the the citizens we speak to around the intersection that 70th and South typical Avenue explained waking increase to uncover several residences on your block significant with red “X” signs. The indications never walk unnoticed, but neighbors are regularly confused around what they mean.

“For some factor the red ‘X’ ended up being something entirely different than what us intended it to be,” said Langford. ”I thought they to be kidding me once they claimed it, but some human being thought the those to be the structures that to be being targeted by the drones when the next war started, and that the red ‘X’ is a drone target.”

The department has largely left it as much as aldermen and their offices to publicize the signs’ purpose. Langford says civilization have called to ask the fire room if red “X” structures are component of a routine by the city to sell distressed home at a discount, or come pillory home owners whose taxes space in arrears.

“It has actually nothing to carry out with ownership, it’s no a component of any kind of routine to execute anything through the buildings. For the most part they’re privately owned,” Langford says. “It’s just a marking for danger. That really just that simple.”

Simple, perhaps, yet there’s a the majority of confusion in locations where red “X”s are common. If these indications are below to save stays — both those the firefighters and anyone who might think of trespassing on perhaps dangerous exit properties — is everyone on the exact same page?

There are numerous red “X” buildings on the 6900 block the S. Normal, wherein Maria Johnson lives. Yet her next door neighborhood is an abandoned building that doesn’t have actually a red “X”. She says just because a building’s understood vacant doesn’t mean it’s unoccupied.

“Homeless people, human being with nowhere to stay,” claimed Johnson, who has actually lived ~ above this block for 3 years. “I understand they went into the building next to me and someone set it top top fire, it caught onto mine crib. So ns don’t recognize if they to be living in there, or acquiring high, or whatever, however I know there were some homeless people going with the ago door.”

There’s no signage explaining the red “X” — simply the “X” itself — therefore if you want answers, you have to discover them yourself. Many of the human being we request in Englewood thought the red “X” significant buildings because that demolition. Earl Liggins was one of the few people that knew what the signs’ actual meaning, however that’s only since he take it matters into his own hands.

“I referred to as the alderman’s office and also I heard the from the alderman civilization themselves,” the says. “I was simply concerned due to the fact that there are so many of them. Ns was just wondering what does the mean, space they going come tear this many buildings down? I simply wanted to recognize straight from them, what the situation was.”

Liggins lives in a formerly vacant building on the 7000 block of S. Normal that he fixed up a few years ago. However he claims whether they have actually a red “X” or not, many vacant structures in his neighborhood stay the way.


“For the most part they continue to be vacant forever,” that says. “The problem of the structure gets worse and also worse. That building across the street — i’ve been right here 10 years and that structure has to be vacant for about ten years.”

Removing the red ‘X’

There is a process to rehabilitate vacant and also abandoned properties, yet the city needs owners to obtain special permission prior to performing occupational on red x structures. Two years ~ the regime began, however, just one structure has effectively been repaired and had its red “X” legitimate removed.

The following red “X” home to move off the list can be one of the structures that initially sparked question asker Poppy Coleman’s curiosity: 2800 W. Logan Blvd. A fire ravaged the three-story building last summer, but owner Darko Tesanovic acquired a city permit previously this year to repair the damages and also turn a ground-floor apartment unit right into retail space. If the finishes the repairs, Tesanovic can be just the 2nd landlord in Chicago come legally eliminate a red “X” indigenous his building. In the meantime he says the X no impeding his redevelopment efforts, however it can be including to ar anxieties about the vacant property.

“I’m no bothered through it,” Tesanovic says. “I think the creating an ext confusion because that the community than myself, due to the fact that people in the neighborhood don’t know what that means.”

Our question asker was glad to discover what the red “X” means, however she still wonders about its impact. Many of the neighborhoods with high concentrations of red “X” indications are already reeling native a bottom spiral of disinvestment, blight and declining building values. She’s concerned red “X”s are like scarlet letter — just another obstacle in a rough neighborhood’s battle to boost its station.


“My disappointment is that when the ‘X’ is up, it no sound favor there’s any support to aid move that structure to a following phase, one of two people to obtain it sold, obtain it taken care of, acquire it torn down,” Coleman claims in the shade beside a boarded-up red “X” building on the 7000 block of southern Eggleston Avenue. “Putting the ‘X’ top top it appears to be where the regime stops.”

Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red “X” ordinance, says she’d be open to the city creating a task force charged through helping city agencies job-related together to resuscitate ailing properties after the fire department marks them.

“I’m not conscious of any type of talk about the various departments functioning together specifically on the red “X”, however I extremely encourage that,” Silverstein says. “I think we’re all better off if all the different departments work-related together and type a task force to settle some of this issues. It is really necessary to obtain things taken care of.”

Out the money

While in Englewood, us ask the CFD’s Larry Langford whether it makes sense to let the general public know an ext about the definition behind the “X” —maybe by putting up a smaller, much less permanent authorize explaining that dangerous to enter such buildings.

“If we expand the program, that’s a tip that will certainly be made,” that says. “It can cut several of the confusion down. Placed a long-term sign up, placed an adhesive sign up — might be.”

Whether they’ll gain a chance to do that is an open up question, since this regimen that was expected to conserve lives has run the end of money. The city received $675,000 indigenous the commonwealth Emergency monitoring Agency’s assistance to Firefighters provide program to fund the red “X” program. Many of the federal approve money visited two neighborhood contractors: AGAE Contractors and M-K Signs.

Data acquired by present the city spent every one of that money over thirteen months starting in June that 2012, and also hasn’t placed up any new red “X” signs since July 2013.

Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the initial red “X” ordinance, claims she’s passionate to find more money because that the program. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office did not return requests because that comment.

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“We great it would be funded because that a longer duration of time, yet yes us think it was a success,” says the CFD’s Larry Langford. “Are there much more than 1,800 that might be marked? Absolutely. But we’re not doing anything until we get an ext funding.”

Chris Bentley is a reporter because that Curious City and a freelance journalist. Monitor him top top Twitter at
Cementley. Shawn Allee is Curious City’s editor. Kris Hagan is a web producer and also data expert, and
Kathy Chaney is a producer.