The memory of the late activist Elise Malary will soon become a permanent part of Andersonville's Catalpa Avenue.
The renamed "Elise Malary Way" will encompass the Catalpa Plaza area, a planned pedestrian plaza between Ashland Avenue and Clark Street, cementing the legacy of Malary, who worked extensively on both transgender-rights and racial-justice issues. She died in March 2022 at the age of 31.
Malary co-founded the Andersonville-based Chicago Therapy Collective (CTC) and was a born-and-raised Andersonville local. More than a year after her death, her impact still looms large over the community.
CTC co-founder Iggy Ladden submitted the form to rename the street after Malary a year ago, after Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) encouraged the collective to put in that request.
After not hearing back from the City, Ladden said they expressed their frustration to Vasquez, who got the ball rolling and committed to making the announcement on the Trans Day of Remembrance.
Vasquez, who met Malary while he first ran for office in 2019 and developed a professional rapport, said he wanted to find a way to honor her.
"Elise's impact can't be overstated," he added. "She brought a lot of folks together who are now working and are friends, because of what she meant to all of us."
Malary notably rallied support for the CTC's downstairs neighbors, the Women & Children First Bookstore, in 2019 after the business was vandalized with transphobic stickers. More than 100 people used chalk and spray paint to counteract the bigotry, writing affirming messages in a show of solidarity with the neighborhood's trans community.
Mallary's legacy was apparent in the immediate aftermath of her deatha vigil in Andersonville brought together hundreds to honor her. The neighborhood paid further tribute to her with a vigil the following November to mark the 2022 Trans Day of Remembrance.
"She was here and she is here," Ladden said. "I want people to feel her presence. She's not just a memory, she's palpable in this neighborhood."
Malary was a powerful speaker with a magnetic presence, Ladden further noted, adding that the street's proposed name of "Elise Malary Way" is very intentional: "There really was a 'way' about her."
Ladden recalled that their colleague had "this warmth, and this fire and fierceness at the same time. She was a powerful speaker and representative for the community. And she brought so much grace and fierceness to the causes that she cared about."
Malary loved the arts, with many of her favorite events within the collective being arts-focused, Ladden said. A chalk mural honoring Black trans lives was created in the area in 2020 with Malary's involvement, and a tribute to her was added after her death. In the years since, the existing mural has "gotten kind of worn away," Ladden said.
Plans for a new mural at Clark and Farragut Streets, where the Chicago Therapy Collective is located, are in the works. Ladden hopes to see queer artists take the lead with the mural's creation, particularly those vested in speaking up about Black trans lives. The process of curating the mural is underway, with a committee including many of Malary's peers, as well as representatives for the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, being formed.
As the proposed Catalpa Plaza looks to become more of a community center, Vasquez said he hopes the street renaming leads to people inquiring about Malary's impact, whether they knew her or are seeing her name for the first time as they pass the street.
"I think that has ripple effects that are beautiful and important," he added. "It could be something as simple as [Googling her name], then leads to more awareness and an awakening."
Once the weather warms up, Vasquez plans to host a ceremony honoring the name change and celebrating the repurposing of the plaza, in the event the ordinance passes in the City Council. The approval could come by the end of the year.
With both the street renaming and planned mural, Ladden is relieved knowing Malary will soon be immortalized in the area.
"It feels like it has been too long without getting to see and have some more of a physical representation of her and her legacy," they said.