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Wicker Park

Wicker Park is a Chicago neighborhood northwest of the Loop, south of Bucktown. Charles and Joel Wicker purchased 80 acres (32 ha) of land along Milwaukee Avenue in 1870 and laid out a subdivision with a mix of lot sizes surrounding a 4-acre (1.6 ha) park. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 spurred the first wave of development, as homeless Chicagoans looked to build new houses. Wicker Park proved especially popular with German and Swedish 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. At the end of the 19th century, the area was known as “the Polish Gold Coast” and Hoyne was known as “Beer Baron Row,” as many of Chicago’s wealthiest brewers built mansions there. 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 was 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’.

After World War II, 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 50’s and 60’s, 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 non-violent 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 Ave. 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 away as city inspectors paid extra visits that now follow, today’s retail store expansion into these areas.

Efforts by community development groups like N.C.O. (Northwest Community Organization)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 exhibits 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 is 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 is 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. View of North Avenue in Wicker Park

The western boundary of the West Town community area is 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 Village.

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