Gentrification of Wicker Park

By Anjali Patel

Gentrification: the once festive Polish triangle

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Photo by Anjali Patel

of Chicago has become littered with garbage.

Gentrification: the streets that were once lined with traditional Polish shops and bakeries has been taken over by the newer, more upscale businesses.

Gentrification: the place that was once home to many Polish immigrants looking to form a community has been compromised by wealthier urban settlers.

Wicker Park, Chicago first became a settling place for Polish immigrants in the early 1870s due to a war in their country. This was followed by two more waves of immigration. One after World War II another in the 1980s following the fall of communist Poland.

The concentration of Poles allowed for the growth of community and traditional Polish culture in this new country. And although immigrants were not always accepted as equals in American society until much later, the Poles of Chicago could group together to support each other and their lifestyles.

As times changed, however, newer Polish immigrants could no longer relate with the older immigrants; this created a division in the population resulting earlier establishments to die out. From here, it only became more difficult to keep the Polish culture alive.

Ferdinand Furnmor, 25, an intern at the Polish Museum of America moved to Chicago from Mexico. His perspective on Polish culture is reflective of the fact that he was not here to see Wicker Park as it once was– a primarily Polish community.

“I’ve only heard that this used to be a very Polish neighborhood, that it was teaming with a lot of Polish immigrants. Over the years it has changed; there are a lot of Hispanics, African Americans, and Eastern Europeans here now. But I have taken Polish classes around the neighborhood and there are still pockets of the city that still hold a number of Polish communities,” Furnmor said. “It has become very diverse.”

As more corporate entrepreneurs opened shop in the town, Wicker Park lost its sense of Polish identity. It, more or less, became a new and hip hangout for younger and richer people making property values unaffordable to locals. But, as a different crowd began to inhabit Wicker Park, the area became more diverse and the crime decreased significantly. However, with the original Poles left a lot of the culture that made Bucktown the Polish community it once was.

Julita Siegel, 39, is a photography collection curator at the Polish Museum of America and she moved to Elk Grove Village, Chicago from Poland 14 years ago. She believes in the importance of the Polish people of Chicago supporting their community by visiting the museum and making an effort to keep in touch with their roots.
“I would love to see more Polish influence in the community again and to see Poles come in here and support the museum. It’s inexpensive and if all the Poles in the city and in the suburbs would support us we would be a bigger organization,” Siegel said. “It would be great if we could have a greater support from the Polish community.”