Exploring Wicker Park ~ our new neighborhood

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.

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Circa 1900… Horse drawn carts and tramways.

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.

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A Chicago neighborhood drug store in the 40’s.

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.

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The Flat Iron building on the right, circa 1920-1930. At the corner was a bank, which is now a Walgreens, but still has the original bank vault in the basement.

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.

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An aerial view of the Flat Iron arts building with the skyline of Chicago in the background. Gives you an idea of distance to the Loop. Our loft space is on the far right hand side of the building.

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The building is triangular and shaped like an iron, hence the name.

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!

 

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Neighbor and new friend, artist and guitarist, Shaina, enjoying the street scene below our windows. Note the old radiators (with a life of their own).

 

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We don’t have much in the way of furniture yet in this photo (early days), other than the futon Shaina is on, which doubles up as a couch and bed.

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Viera, a Chilean babe, used to live with a friend in our space, and stopped by to see who the “newbies” are…

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Jojo, is a well known doll maker and make up artist in Chicago. He has been in the building for 20 years and is the epitome of creativity.

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Karlis, an artist and musician, Latvian American, is our next door neighbor. Hard core Burner!

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.

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All set up and ready for hosting the family for brunch on Mother’s Day! 3 mothers : Myself, my sister Dina and my mom.

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Or, me and Ad. 2 out of 4. Missing Josh and Ezra 🙂 LOVE you all!! Great to have my first mother’s day in 7 years, with 2 of the “boys”.

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My brainy and beautiful niece Shani.

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Enjoying family togetherness.. BK and SK present, yet camera shy 🙂

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.

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The inside of MYOPIC book store ~ directly across the street from us. A Wicker Park classic. It has been around for decades and houses an extraordinary collection of used books. From our loft, we can see right into the 2nd floor of the bookstore. (Live jazz every Monday night, free.)

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Graffiti urban art provides a surprise splash of color and creativity in the streets on Milwaukee.

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The El (elevated subway line) goes above ground in Wicker Park and goes into the city as well as directly to O’Hare airport.

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Under the El ~ an interesting mix of metal and urban art. (The graffiti is reminiscent for us, of Yogyakarta in Indonesia.)

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The structure of the El provides a very interesting architectural landscape that we walk under almost daily, to get to the park a block away.

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Although Peta is more of a nature girl than a “city girl” she clearly enjoys the urban grit and character, of which there is plenty in our neighborhood.

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.

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2 old fashioned donut stores are surprisingly full all the time. This one has a cool WWII era mural on the wall outside.

 

 

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The blue line of the Chicago El. Goes to the Loop and to O’Hare airport.

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Enjoying a spring day in the park under the blossoms, in our new neighborhood.

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Under the El on Damen Street.

“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.)

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This super cool building is on our walk on the way to the yoga studio.

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.

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A grand Church, which houses a huge impressive organ.

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Communion brings Latino families to church on this particular day.



IMG_7087IMG_7012 IMG_7040Back to our building, the Flat Iron, for an evening with a breeze and a view of the Chicago skyline.

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Rooftop with a view towards the skyline of Chicago.

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Enjoying the evening breeze on the rooftop with our neighbor, Viera.

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7 thoughts on “Exploring Wicker Park ~ our new neighborhood

  1. Andrea

    Peta and Ben! I love the look of your new place….and I especially love that you guys decided to get an espresso machine before any other furniture. That’s what I would have done too.

    besos

    Andrea

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Andrea so glad you enjoyed this post. When are you coming to visit us in Chicago? Our digs here are not as luxurious as the home exchange we shared in Marrakesh, but we do have a nice blow up mattress!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Sharon, one of the main drawbacks, aside from the lack of Vietnmese street food, is the lack of goats and chickens! ( and water buffaloes, cows and elephants.) How did you know?

  2. ezrazera

    Aww man this brings me back. Especially the shot of Myopic. You have no idea how many dozens (hundreds?) of hours I spent in that place. It was my refuge. Used to bike down milwaukee to school and work every day, for about two years. Miss it, thanks for sharing the photos. Your neighbors look rad!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yes Myopic books os really phenomenal. Look forward to having tome there..we are literally across the road! So fun to be sharing the experience of your old hood! Oh yes, we have the BEST neighbors, for sure!!

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