West Town - Chicago neighborhood
Now let's take a look at the West Town neighborhood.
Most of this neighborhood information was contributed by
Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article may be viewed in its
entirety by clicking here.
West Town, located in Chicago, Illinois, northwest of the Loop, is one
of 77 officially designated Chicago community areas. Its name may refer
to Western Avenue, which was the city's western boundary at the time of
West Town's settlement, but more likely was a convenient abstraction by
the creators of Chicago's community areas. Then, as now, West Town was a
collection of several distinct neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods within West Town
Wicker Park is a Chicago neighborhood northwest of the Loop, south of
Bucktown and east of Pulaski Park. Charles and Joel Wicker purchased 80
acres of land along Milwaukee Avenue in 1870 and laid out a subdivision
with a mix of lot sizes surrounding a 4-acre park. The Great Chicago
Fire of 1871 spurred the first wave of development, as homeless
Chicagoans looked to build new houses.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Germans and Scandinavians tended
to live in the north and northwestern sections. Wicker Park became the
abode of Chicago's wealthy Northern European immigrants. Wicker Park
proved especially popular with merchants, who built large mansions along
the neighborhood's choicest streets—particularly on Hoyne and Pierce,
just southwest of North & Damen, known then as Robey. Hoyne was known as
"Beer Baron Row," as many of Chicago's wealthiest brewers built mansions
At the end of the 19th century the area was subsumed into the
surrounding Polish Downtown and became known as "the Polish Gold Coast".
In the 1890s and 1900s, immigration from Poland and the completion of
the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Lines greatly boosted the population
density of West Town, especially in areas east of Wicker Park. The
corner of Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland once known as 'Kostkaville',
retains the moniker "Polish Triangle" to this day, and the provisional
government of Poland met in Wicker Park during World War I. The area is
home to many of the most opulent churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago,
built in the so-called 'Polish Cathedral style'.
Beginning in the 1950s, many Poles moved to newer, less crowded housing
further northwest, and Wicker Park became more ethnically diverse with a
large influx of Puerto Rican immigrants. Split from the Lincoln Park
neighborhood only by the Kennedy Expressway in the late 1950s and 60s,
it contained the second largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in
Chicago. It was the original home to the largest Latino gang at the
time, the Latin Kings. The Young Lords, a human rights movement, held
sit-ins with L.A.D.O. at the Wicker Park Welfare Office and large
nonviolent marches to city hall. Urban renewal projects were undertaken
to combat "urban blight" in some parts of the neighborhood, but
disinvestment continued at a rapid clip. Wicker Park was also promoted
by the city's urban renewal plans, as a good "suburb within the city"
because of its easy access to downtown, via Milwaukee and the elevated
train (via Damen and Division stations). Chicago and Wicker Park reached
a nadir in the 1970s, a decade when the city overall lost 11% of its
population. During the 1970s, hundreds of cases of insurance-motivated
arson were reported in Wicker Park, near St. Elizabeth Hospital. Many
small factories near the area (many in woodworking) also closed or moved
Efforts by community development groups like Northwest Community
Organization (NCO) to stabilize the community through new affordable-
housing construction in the 1980s coincided with the arrival of artists
attracted by the neighborhood's easy access to the Loop, cheap loft
space in the abandoned factories, and distinctly urban feel.
In 1989, the "Around the Coyote" festival was launched to help the
hundreds of working artists and micro-galleries in the neighborhood to
gain a level of local and international prominence. This 501(c)3 non-
profit was established with the mission to "bring to the art community a
professional organization that will help artists network and exhibit
their art." For decades, the festival centered around the Flatiron Arts
Building and was typically held during the month of October, Chicago's
Artist Month. As of 2008 "Around the Coyote" revised its preferred
locations for the annual festival, which in 2008 was held coincidentally
with Looptopia in May in Chicago's Loop.
Today, the neighborhood is best known for its numerous commercial and
entertainment establishments and being a convenient place to live for
downtown workers due to its proximity to public transportation and the
Loop. Gentrification has made the area much more attractive to college-
educated white-collar workers, although it faced considerable resistance
from the working-class Puerto Rican community it displaced. Crime has
decreased and many new homes have been built as well as older homes
being restored. This has led to increased business activity, with many
new bars, restaurants, and stores opening to serve these individuals.
Property values have gone up, increasing the wealth of property owners
and making the neighborhood attractive to real estate investors.
The borders of the neighborhood are generally accepted to be North
Avenue to the north (at 1600 N) (but the official boundary is the
Bloomingdale Trail train tracks just north of North), the Kennedy
Expressway on the east north of North Avenue and the Chicago River south
of North Avenue, Division to the south (at 1200 N), and Western Avenue
to the west (2400 W). Both the East Village and Ukrainian Village are to
the south, Humboldt Park is to the west, and Bucktown is to the north.
Notable past and current residents include Nelson Algren, who lived on
the third floor at 1958 W. Evergreen Ave between 1959–1975, Liz Phair,
who penned her first album Exile in Guyville in and about Wicker Park,
James Iha, former guitarist of the band Smashing Pumpkins, Pro Wrestler
Colt Cabana who can be seen on WWE Smackdown as Scotty Goldman, and
singer/guitarist Matt Skiba of The Alkaline Trio. Pro wrestler CM Punk
of World Wrestling Entertainment currently resides in Wicker Park. Much
of Wicker Park was designated as a Chicago Landmark District in 1991.
Wicker Park is the setting of a 2004 film by the same name. However, the
filming of this movie was done on location in Montreal, Quebec. Another
film of note that uses Wicker Park as its background is High Fidelity
(2000) directed by Stephen Frears and starring Evanston-born John
Cusack. It is also a primary source of inspiration for the Skinny Puppy
album Too Dark Park.
Ukrainian Village is south of Wicker Park. Settlement of the
neighborhood was largely spurred by the 1895 construction of an elevated
train line along Paulina Ave (1700 W); the "L" was decommissioned in
1964 but still partly exists to shuttle trains through the CTA rail
system. In past decades, it has been a safe, middle-class neighborhood,
populated by older citizens of Eastern European ethnicity, bordered (and
affected) on many sides by more dangerous areas. It was insulated
somewhat from surrounding socioeconomic change by large industrial areas
on its south and west borders and by the staying power of the Orthodox
and Ukrainian Catholic congregations. Although Ukrainian village
continues to be the center of Chicago's large Ukrainian community, the
gentrification of West Town is rapidly changing the demographic.
The small area within West Town east of the Kennedy Expressway and west
of the south branch of the Chicago River, between Division Street
(1200N) and Grand Avenue (500N) is referred to as River West,
complementing the River North area of the Near North Side. The small
area is bisected by the elevated Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It
contains several large loft buildings, most converted in the mid 1980s
for residential use; several housing developments; St. John Cantius
church; the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center printing facility; some
nightclubs and restaurants and a few blocks of historic residential
The western portion of the West Town community area is referred to as
"Humboldt Park". The 104-block area east of Humboldt Park, west of
Western Avenue, and north of Chicago Avenue is commonly referred to as
part of Humboldt Park, even though it is not in the Community Area of
that name. It is perhaps best known for Paseo Boricua, a half-mile
stretch of Division Street between Western and California Avenues. This
stretch of Division is bookended by two 59-foot (18 m)-tall steel Puerto
Rican flags, and contains many Puerto Rican stores and restaurants, with
a community very resistant to the forces of gentrification that have
moved them further west from West Town, Wicker Park, and Ukrainian
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