Lower West Side, Chicago

Lower West Side located on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, is one of 77 well-defined Chicago community areas. The area is called Pilsen by Chicago area residents.

= Neighborhoods =

Heart of Chicago

Heart of Chicago is a neighborhood located in the southwest corner of the Lower West Side community area and has an Italian restaurant strip on Oakley.



Pilsen is a neighborhood made up of the residential sections of the Lower West Side community area of Chicago. In the late 19th century Pilsen was inhabited by Czech immigrants who named the district after Plzeň, the fourth largest city in what is now the Czech Republic. The population also included in smaller numbers other ethnic groups from the Austro-Hungarian Empire including Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats and Austrians, as well as immigrants of Polish and Lithuanian Heritage. Many of the immigrants worked in the stockyards and the surrounding factories. As many early 20th Century American urban neighborhoods, however, Pilsen was home to the wealthy as well as the working class and doctors lived next to maids and laborers amongst businessmen with the whole area knitted together based on the ethnicities, mostly of Slavic descent, who were not readily welcome in other areas of the city.

The Czechs had replaced the Germans, who had settled there first with the Irish in the mid 1800s. Beginning in the early 1970s Pilsen became increasingly ethnically Mexican as people were forced to move when their former small enclave to the North of Pilsen was torn down to make way for the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mexico's racial breakdown is officially presented as 9-17% white, 60% Mestizo (Indigenous-European hybrid), 30% Indigenous, and 1% other but the majority of Pilsen's most recent immigrants are those of the Mestizaje (mixture) of Indians and Spaniards. Mexico, like the United States, is a PanCultural Society. Latinos became the majority in 1970 when they surpassed the Slavic population. The Slavs were the majority in the 1960s but the passage of the INS Act of 1965 caused a turn in the ethnic makeup of not only Pilsen but the United States as a whole. The neighborhood continued to serve as port of entry for immigrants, both legal and undocumented immigrants and mostly of Mexican descent, since. Many elderly central Europeans, some even without English language skills, also still reside in Pilsen. Pilsen's Mexican population is increasingly dwarfed by what has become the largest Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, Little Village. Famed author Stuart Dybek hails from Pilsen and explores these issues such as ethnic change and acculturation through his short stories in books such as Childhood and Other Neighborhoods or The Coast of Chicago.

There is also a former county seat in Poland named Pilsen (Pilzno) from which a number of Polish Chicagoans hail, and in 2004 their organization the 'Pilsen' Society of Chicago "Klub Pilznian" festively celebrated its 80th anniversary [ Kurier Codzienny, Chicago area Polish daily,- "Polski Klub "Pilzno i okolice" zaprasza", "80 Lat Klubu Pilzno oraz 650 lat miasta" from the weekend edition dated January 30th-February 1st 2004 p.24, 58-59.] [http://www.polorg.com/Org/Display.asp?Event=3279 ] .


Pilsen's rich Neo-Bohemian Baroque architectural heritage as well as its proximity to the Loop and the highway system continue to strengthen its position as a neighborhood set for revival as reinvestment in formerly forlorn inner city neighborhoods continue to strengthen in Chicago. While many see this development as a good thing, there are also many Chicagoans who feel this could lead to increased gentrification, pushing lower-income families to other neighborhoods. The neighborhood has also begun to see a decline in the Latino predominance, which reached a peak of 89% in 2000, mostly made up of those with Mexican heritage. Many of the new residents to the neighborhood are not Hispanic and it is projected that the neighborhood will continue to become more diversified in the years ahead. Half of Pilsen's population in 1996 had turned over by 2000.

Development adjacent to Pilsen grew significantly on its northern border over the past decade with new construction as well as restoration of National Historic Register properties such as the 800+ unit South Water Market, an old concrete Cold Storage Warehouse, and the CHA's plan for transformation of the ABLA projects. That development has now spilled over into Pilsen proper with the now nearly complete Chantico Loft development, Union Row Townhomes as well as the stalled Centro 18 on 18th Street in East Pilsen. Infill construction of Condominiums and Single Family homes is now in full force on the East Side of the neighborhood as Pilsen becomes one of the next major development area for that type of infill construction. Some local advocacy groups have formed urging the neighborhood's Alderman to curtail gentrification to preserve the Mexican-American cultural and demographic dominance. These groups have met with limited success, as many of the neighborhood's property owners are in favor of redevelopment and increasing property values. However, Pilsen became a National Historic Register District on Feb 1 2006 at the behest of the Alderman. [ [http://www.columbiachronicle.com/paper/citybeat.php?id=2316 The Columbia Chronicle - 2008-05-12 ] ]

18th Street is a lively walking district, with Mexican bakeries, restaurants, and groceries though the principal district for Mexican shopping is 26th Street in Little Village, Chicago's other formerly majority Pan-Slavic community, which is currently the main area of successful Mexican immigrant commerce. The East Side on Halsted is one of Chicago's largest art districts, and the neighborhood is also home to the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. St Adalbert's dominates over the skyline with the opulence typical of churches in the Polish Cathedral style. Pilsen is also famous for its murals. The history of the murals is often misspoken of as a purely Mexican cultural type which is historically and factually inaccurate. The original murals in Pilsen along 16th Street started as a cooperative effort between Slavs and Mexicans when the neighborhood was undergoing change. If one looks closely one finds amongst the latter Mexican images the earlier ones which are decidedly non-Mexican and include storks, scenic European farms, and Lipizzaner Horses.

The Pink Line El stops at 18th Street, in the northwest corner of Pilsen and the Orange Line stops at Halsted and Archer Avenue, just south of Pilsen. Buses run east- and west-bound on Cermak Road and 18th Street, and northeast- and southwest-bound on Blue Island Avenue; while north and south buses run along Western, Damen, Ashland, and Halsted. (For Chicago Transit Authority system map section which includes Pilsen, click [http://www.transitchicago.com/maps/maps/2006C.html here] .) Metra's BNSF Railway Line [http://www.metrarail.com/Sched/bn/bn.shtml] stops on the east at Halsted and 16th Street, and on the west at Western and 18th Street and highways run near the eastern and southern parts of the neighborhood.


Chicago Public Schools operates public schools in Pilsen.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago operates Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Pilsen area.

UNO has also opened up a new school called Bartolome De las Casas.


*Polorg.com " [http://www.polorg.com/Org/Display.asp?Event=3279 Club Pilznian- Banquet, Sat, 1/24/2004, 89th Jubilee Club Pilznian Banquet] ". Retrieved on April 3, 2007.
*http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id=3946237Mobility Rates amongst Renters in Gentrifying neighborhoods- Freeman and Frank Braconi; and a Boston study by Jacob Vigdor

=External links=
* [http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webportal/COCWebPortal/COC_ATTACH/Community_Areas_LOWER_WEST_SIDE.pdf Official City of Chicago Lower West Side Community Map]
* [http://www.chicagoartsdistrict.com/ Chicago Arts District]
* [http://www.art-pilsen.org/ Art-Pilsen]
* [http://www.midwest-croatians.org/archives/trinity.html Holy Trinity]
* [http://itsfuntobebohemian.net/historie.html It's Fun to Be Bohemian]
* [http://www.mfacmchicago.org/ Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum]
* [http://www.methodsreporter.com/category/pilsen/ Medill School of Journalism]
* [http://www.resurrectionproject.org/ The Resurrection Project]
* [http://pilsenperro.org Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization]
* [http://www.pilsenneighbors.org/org_history.html Pilsen Neighbors]
* [http://www.polvo.org/ Polvo]
* [http://www.prosarts.org/ Pros Art Studio]
* [http://www.stprocopius.com/about/ St. Procopius Church]
* [http://www.thaliahall.com/ Thalia Hall]
* [http://www.chipublib.org/003cpl/oboc/coast/qa.html Stuart Dybek Q & A on growing up in Pilsen by Chicago Public Library]
* [http://www.lannan.org/lf/bios/detail/stuart-dybek/ Stuart Dybek Bio by Lannan Foundation]
* [http://www.wmich.edu/english/fac/stuartdybek.html Stuart Dybek Bio by Western Michigan University]
* [http://www.english.northwestern.edu/people/dybek.htm Stuart Dybek Bio by Northwestern University]
* [http://www.dai5ychain.net dai5ychain community computer lab]

Geographic Location
Center = Lower West Side, Chicago
North = Near West Side, Chicago
Northeast = Near South Side, Chicago
East = Armour Square, Chicago
Southeast = Bridgeport, Chicago
South = McKinley Park, Chicago
Southwest = Brighton Park, Chicago
West = South Lawndale, Chicago
Northwest = North Lawndale, Chicago

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