By Erin McDermott
Within the countless coffee shops and independent businesses that line the bustling streets of Chicago’s Wicker Park lies an untold story of a culture that shaped the neighborhood itself.
Wicker Park is home to some of the trendiest restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries in all of Chicago. It attracts a growing number of young people either visiting or residing in the area. Although hipster culture and hipster residents mainly dominate the neighborhood, its strong Polish history speaks for itself in numerous ways.
“You can definitely see it in the architecture… churches, the style in which they’re made is very very Polish,” said Adam Aksnowicz, 22, Collections Care Assistant at the Polish Museum of America.
That same Polish style architecture can be seen in private residences and businesses all over Wicker Park. Polish culture in Wicker Park is celebrated more explicitly through the existence of the Polish Museum of America and the Chopin Theatre. Both places keep Polish history and traditions alive by making them accessible to the public, and offering educational opportunities in the forms of art and theatre.
The Polish roots connected to Wicker Park exist because of three major waves of immigration. The first wave was in the 1870s, the second was during World War II, and the third was in the 1980s. Each wave brought a part of Polish heritage with them in terms of the immigration of people, the construction of architecture, and the naming of the intersection between Division Street, Ashland Street and Milwaukee Avenue. The intersection is still known as, “the Polish Triangle,” today.
The history of Wicker Park is often overshadowed by the trendy element that attracts many to the area, but a rich Polish background permeates through the surface and tells the story of the seemingly new and up-and-coming neighborhood. Polish heritage lies within the passionate Polish people eager to share their history.
“It’s nice and I’m proud to be Polish… We know what we are, where we are,” said Zygmunt Aksnowicz, 63, owner of the Chopin Theatre.