By Jon Ruffolo
In the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park, the area of land squeezed between Division Street, and Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues and known as the Polish Triangle, lies the not-for-profit Copin Theater, run and owned by Zygmunt Dyrkacz, 63, of Polish descent. Chopin Theater is one of few Polish run businesses left in the previously teeming Polish neighborhood.
Chicago and its neighboring villages were formally ranked second on the planet for housing the most people of Polish descent right behind the capital of Poland itself, Warsaw. All of that changed, however, when Poland transferred to the European Union in 2003, leading to the relocation of Poles in other cities and countries. The Polish population of Chicago now ranks fifth in the world with roughly 300,000 Poles.
“Two million Poles came through the Polish Triangle,” Dyrkacz said. “I first moved to the area from Lake Shore Drive in 1990.”
Dyrkacz came to Wicker Town when it was still heavily influenced by Polish culture with shops and small businesses all run by those with a Polish background. However, according to Dyrkacz, it was run down with gangs and violence in the streets.
“Some places are uninspiring and so I told my wife I would make it inspiring,” he said.
After fulfilling his dreams and opening a live performing theater, he has become one of the few remaining Polish owned businesses in Wicker Park.
However, according to Adam Aksnowicz, 22, a collection’s care assistant at the Polish Museum of America, there are some subtle hints at Wicker Park’s past
“You can still tell the Polish influence in the architecture,” he said.
Polish writing and sculptures on top of old buildings and churches like St. Stanislaus and Holy Trinity are still very much prevalent and help strike a familiarity in the classic culture where it’s diminishing.
“You express your traditions subconsciously,” said Andrew Obarski, 26, an intern at the Polish Museum of America. “And Polish people tend to be pretty nationalistic; more so than others.”
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