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 including:
Today, the Wicker Park 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 the Kennedy Expressway on the east, south to North Avenue and the Chicago River south of North Avenue, Bloomingdale Avenue to the north (at 1800 N), Division to the south (at 1200 N), and Western Avenue to the west (at 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.
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.
East Village or “East Ukrainian Village” is a neighborhood directly east of Ukrainian Village. The generally accepted boundaries of East Village are Ashland (1600 W) on the east, Damen (2000 W) on the west, Division (1200 N) on the north, and Chicago (800 N) on the south (although some people extend the southern border to Grand Ave). This area’s historic proximity to the elevated train and higher population density gave it a more working-class population than Ukrainian Village. Much of the original housing stock has been torn down for new construction in recent years. Several blocks of East Village have recently been designated a Chicago Landmark district to preserve its character with these development pressures.
Smith Park or “The Patch” lies within Chicagoâ€™s West Town community. Its formal name comes from the city park on its southern border. Bounded by Chicago Avenue (800N) on the north, Grand Avenue (550N) on the south, Western Avenue (2400W) on the east and Washtenaw Avenue (2700W) on the west; the majority of the neighborhood sits within Chicago’s 26th Ward, with a small portion a part of the 1st Ward.
Noble Square is directly east of East Village. The generally accepted boundaries of Noble Square are the Kennedy Expressway on the east, Ashland (1600 W) on the west, North (1600 N) on the north, and Chicago (800 N) or Grand (500 N) on the south. The name apparently refers to Eckhart Park, a one-block square park at the northeast corner of Chicago and Noble (1400 W). Its identity may be disappearing: realtors have been including its northern half as an eastern section of Wicker Park, while the southern end of this neighborhood has been identified as West Town since the beginning of the decade. Please note that this neighborhood is listed as West Town in 19th Century census.
The small area within West Town east of the Kennedy Expressway, along and east of Milwaukee Avenue between roughly Hubbard (330 N) and Augusta (1000 N), is referred to as River West, complementing the River North area of the Near North Side. The small area is further bisected by the elevated Union Pacific railroad tracks. It contains several large loft buildings, most converted in the mid-1980s for residential use; several infill housing developments; St. John Cantius church; the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing facility; and a few blocks of historic residential fabric.
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