We are curious about the history of our immediate neighborhood ~ Wicker Park, just as we would be in any new place we live, no matter where or what country.
Turns out that the history of Wicker Park goes back as far as 1673, but we can fast forward to when the neighborhood started to take its current shape.
Industry came to Wicker Park in 1857 when the rolling mill Steel works opened a large factory. An Irish community settled here at that time, providing the major source of labor for the mill.
Then another major influx of residential and commercial structures were built as a result of Chicago’s great fire in 1871.
Germans and Norwegians were the predominant ethnic groups expanding out of the city along Milwaukee Avenue, the immigrants “path to prosperity”, as it became known. They were followed by a wave of Jewish immigrants and then a Polish community.
By 1900, Wicker Park had businesses such as stables, rented carriages, blacksmiths, tailor shops, sausage makers, coal, wood and lumber yards, laundries, greenhouses, milk depots, bakeries and drug stores.
The neighborhood suffered a slow decline, from 1930’s to 1975, culminating in a depressed community. Artists, attracted by the low rent, led the way, (as they often do) and were followed by a wave of development which made the area the hip and desirable neighborhood it is today.
What we both love about Wicker Park, is the diversity. Ethnic and alternative.
On the weekends the area becomes congested with people from other parts of Chicago. It reminds us of Granada, Nicaragua in the tourist season… The authenticity of the neighborhood is colored by the influx of tourists and visitors. It gets noisy and busy, but during the week, one really experiences the true flavor of the place.
Our loft in the Flat Iron arts building, is at the “6 corners”.
Three big avenues intersect and create 6 “slices of a pie.” The Flat Iron Arts Building has served as an artist’s colony/community since the 1980’s.
A variety of artists, musicians and creative individuals ~ all share an alternative urban life style. in a building with a long history in Chicago.
Right away we received a warm welcome by our neighbors, who drop by to introduce themselves and came bearing homemade rhubarb pie in one case, a bag of organic fruit in another and delicious peanut butter to boot!
We were happy to host our family for Mother’s Day, after being in our loft for less than 2 weeks. We realized we would have to move quickly… as we did not have a table, chairs, plates, cutlery, nada other than our bed and cappuccino maker.
Our neighbors came to the rescue and the social impact theater next door loaned us a table and chairs. Thrift stores and Craigs List provided the rest.
Now for exploring a bit of the neighborhood….
Starting with Milwaukee Avenue which is the street we look out onto. We live above the Flat Iron Bar ~ a detail we discovered on our first weekend at 4 a.m. in the morning when the bar closes. What a racket!!
Milwaukee Avenue is an “anything goes” type of street.
There are many second hand clothes stores, restaurants, bars, but it really is defined by the eclectic mix and variety of folk that frequent it. There are more people with bright blue hair than people wearing suits. Actually, there are NO people wearing suits. Scratch that!
We watch out our window at the movie that unfolds every day below us.
Damen Street has a completely different feel from Milwaukee Avenue. Damen encompasses a small park, which gets a farmers market starting soon for the summer! We walk along Damen street a few blocks to get to the place we go for yoga classes.
Damen street has a handful of high end boutique stores, trendy restaurants and upscale grocery stores with outdoor patios.
“Dove’s Luncheonette” on Damen provides a killer breakfast treat of Eggs, creamy polenta grits and sausage (Ben’s choice) and quinoa blueberry pancakes (Peta’s.)
We are loving taking long walks on the many interesting and varied streets. Once you get out of the main throng of activity, (around the 6 corners) there are tons of shady tree lined quiet streets with brown stone townhouses and grand old mansions.