Immersed in Greek Culture: Chicago’s Greektown

Haneen Ouyoun

When visitors see Greektown today—lined with festive restaurant, lively shops and friendly people—they would ever suspect the neighborhood began as a slum.

The Greek immigrants who came to Chicago in the 1800’s lived in cheap, run down tenements. Carcasses of dead animals were left outside slaughterhouses. And with inefficient sewer systems, blood covered the streets.

This was the reality for many immigrants, including the Greek-Americans, according to Chelsea Trembly, 24, a museum educator at the Hellenic Museum,

“The conditions were harsh,” Trembly said, “These people did not live in a high quality of life.”

Over time the conditions improved, said Chris Liakouras, owner of The Parthenon Restaurant.

“When I first came here, there was a bad neighborhood,” Liakouras said, “Now it’s all clean.”

But because Greek population has the highest repatriation in their country, according to Trembly, people would come to America, make money necessary for their family in Greece and would return home.

This is one reason why, today, the neighborhood is small with only 880 people.

The boundaries of Greektown include Madison Street, Green Street, Van Buren Street, and Kennedy Expressway. But historically, this is not where Greektown used to be.

“Originally Greektown was where [Kennedy has] interchanging highways,” Trembly said, “When University of Illinois, Chicago, bought this land in 1967, it caused displacement in the Greek population.  Now theses people live throughout the suburbs.”

Even with the scattered population restaurateurs like Liakouras stayed in Greektown.

“I worked as a waiter for five years,” Liakouras said, “and thought ‘Why not [start my own restaurant]?’”

Liakouras has maintained the restaurant for 45 years.

“I love [watching the town evolve],” Liakouras said, “and it’s getting better all the time.”

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