Erin Schultz

Pilsen’s new persona

When Charles Roberts moved from Boston to Pilsen 10 years ago, he was drawn to the low rent prices. He was an artist and it was one of the only neighborhoods he could afford, so he’s lived there ever since.

However, because Pilsen is becoming more of a tourist destination, which Roberts attributes to the fact it’s covered in murals, the price of rent has increased.

Roberts, 40, is the manager of Knee Deep and will soon have to move because his rent is too expensive.

“[I’m trying to stay here] as long as I can. I’ve tried to stay here because I like it a lot, and I like the community,” Roberts said. “There will always be places that are affordable; it’s just getting harder to find them.”

Though the price of living has gone up, Roberts and Pilsen resident Aurelio Barrios, 69, agree that the crime rate has decreased.

According to Barrios, when he moved to Pilsen in 1959, there were killings every weekend. He now feels safer and like the area has come a long way.

“It used to be a ghetto; now it’s full of townhouses,” Barrios said.

On the contrary, the colorful town of 36,000 has signs plastered and graffiti painted all over that say, “Pilsen is not for sale.”

Some people believe that the changes have hurt the Hispanic culture and want Pilsen to stay the same. They’re fighting for St. Adalbert, a historic church in the town, to stay open.

Barrios also would like for the church to stay open, and even volunteered to help raise money for the church with a concert.

“It’s a shame,” Barrios said. “That thing — they should keep it open. It’s beautiful.”

However, Barrios believes that, at the end of the day, it’s too expensive to keep open for the small number of people who attend the church on a regular basis.

Others believe the fact that Pilsen has gained popularity has strengthened its Hispanic heritage.

“It didn’t kill the culture,” Roberts said. “I’ve actually seen more of it. A lot of it is done for the sake of tourism — When I moved here, there weren’t sugar skulls in the bakeries.”

Sugar skulls, sweet skulls sold to celebrate the day of the dead are traditionally sold in bakeries or open-air markets.

“Now they’re all over the place,” Roberts said.

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Rachel Marr



By Rachel Marr

Visitors to Pilsen see colorful murals showing the culture of its people.

They also see a Dunkin Donuts.

This neighborhood, located on the West Side of Chicago, is facing gentrification.

The neighborhood population of 35,769 is mostly comprised of people of Hispanic descent. Pilsen is filled with Mexican culture, but is now starting to be taken over by franchises.

With the local church, St. Adalbert, being shut down, gentrification is now confronts the people of Pilsen. Signs and graffiti have now emerged over town stating, “Pilsen is not for sale.”

Carwash owner Ty Kolup, 53, likes the fact that money is coming to the community because it is helping bring crime levels down. “When the gangs was here, I’d go to a funeral once or twice a week,” Kolup said, ““Gangs like poverty.”

With the new companies and wealthy people moving in, gangs are moving out.

With the new revenues coming in, rent is going up and people have to leave to seek out cheaper rent.

Charles Roberts, 40, is the manger at Knee Deep, and has been living in Pilsen for the past 10 years. He is being priced out and must move soon.

However, Roberts is not against the gentrification and said, “(the gentrification) didn’t kill the culture… I’ve actually seen more of it.”

Roberts believes it has actually made the culture stronger for the town is bringing in new tourist and the people of Pilsen want to show off their Mexican roots.

The people of Pilsen have different stances on the gentrification. Aureilo Barrios, 69, likes the gentrification and how it has brought money to the town and the crime rate down.

However, he does not like it when the people of wealth try to change Pilsen. When a corporation wanted to put in zone parking Barrios said, “(the people of Pilsen) cut their tires, broke their windows on their car, and then they moved out.”

Barrios said,” I was calling this friend mine said ‘Where do you live at?’ and he said ‘Pilsen Heights’…I said where did you get all these stupid names from… it’s Pilsen and that’s it!”



WLUW Podcast


Liz Bigham High School Digital

Gentrification in Pilsen

By Liz Bigham

Pilsen is known as a gateway for Mexican-Americans full of detailed murals, empowering posters, and family owned markets.

Yet a Dunkin Donuts sits right in the center of the community.

Pilsen is a prime example of the gentrification.

Just a train ride away on the Loop from downtown Chicago is the cultural community of Pilsen.  It’s a traditional neighborhood between Little Village and Bridgeport with a population 36,000.

Since 2010, there has been a 26 percent drop in Hispanic population and a 22 percent increase in white population, according to DNA Info.

One reason for the growth of whites is the neighboring students from University of Illinois at Chicago are lured by the cheap rent prices.

Marvin Marines, 22, is a UIC student who has been living in Pilsen for the past three years due to the close proximity of the campus.  He said he is familiar with the changes occurring in the city.

“In a way the change is good because it is bringing in more people that can contribute to revenue for the neighborhood,” Marines said. “It increases modernization.”

He also sees it as gentrification because the town is losing some of the culture it has, he said.

“It use to be big on art, you can still see that, but it is definitely changing,” Marines said.

The change in Pilsen is causing clothing store manager Charles Roberts, 40, to move out of the town because of the high rent.

“It’s unfortunate that people are getting priced out of the neighborhood,” Roberts said.

He has witnessed the revelations bringing the crime rate down and offering more variety in stores. He doesn’t agree that the change has killed the culture, he said.

“A lot of it has been for the sake of visitors and tourism,” Roberts said.

When he moved to Pilsen ten years ago there weren’t any sugar skulls, which are Day of the Dead decorations. Now they are all over the place, said Roberts.

“I really like this neighborhood and the community, but it’s getting harder and harder to find places that are affordable,” Roberts said.



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Alex Harring


When Ty Kolup, 53, bought his auto garage in 1981, the streets alongside it were riddled with gangs and fighting. Now, 35 years later, the housing market is up and violence is down.

“I took a gamble when I came to the neighborhood,” Kolup said. “The people who are protesting (gentrification) do not own property in Pilsen. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the city was bad. When the gangs were here, I’d go to a funeral once or twice a week.”

Kolup’s garage is in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood located on the West Side between Little Village and Bridgeport. The city has become a melting pot of culture and a home for many Hispanic families. Graffiti covers buildings, and “Pilsen is not for sale” is written over walls and signs.

But the Pilsen melting pot is being stirred with a silver spoon. The city’s white population is rising, and gentrification, the renovation of a district to fit middle-class standards, is at an all-time high. According to a 2013 study by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), there are 4,385 white people in Pilsen, a 22 percent jump from 2000. The total population: approximately 36,000.

Store manager Charles Roberts, 40, moved from Boston to Pilsen because of its thriving artist community, murals and vintage shopping. Now he has to leave the neighborhood because of high rent.

When he came to Pilsen 10 years ago, it was the only neighborhood he could afford. Since then he has noticed a drop in crime but a rise in house costs.

“I have people coming through here all the time asking where the murals are and I tell them ‘they’re everywhere,’” Roberts said. “I really tried to stay here because I really like the community a lot, but I have to find somewhere more affordable.”

Students are choosing Pilsen because of its close proximity to the UIC. Families and young adults are finding good house prices compared to suburbs closer to downtown.

Kolup understands the protests. However, he finds the positives of gentrification outweigh the negatives.

“What will happen is that Pilsen will change with the students because it is good for UIC,” Kolup said. “My prediction is that in 20 years Pilsen will no longer be Hispanic, it will be mixed.”




The Movement of Pilsen

Timeline of Pilsen
‘Timeline of Pilsen’ Photo by Kelsey Neumann

By Kelsey Neumann

Stepping off the train and walking through the Chicago’s Lower West Side streets, the voice of Pilsen illuminates off the brick walls. The strong spoken and talented individuals that must have created these tunnels of painted flowers, impresses new visitors.

Strangely, the streets are quiet and dreary around noon. It isn’t until following the yellow brick murals to the locally acclaimed Nuevo Leon restaurant, where the heart and soul of Pilsen’s 43,000 residents enjoy lunch.

Daniel Gutierrez Jr., 43, upholds the vibrant and authentic feel as third generation owner of Nuevo Leon.

He looks around the crowded tables and booths filled with families and little kids whose heads are constantly looking up and taking in the scene.

“There’s a mixed culture, there’s something called… Now, I don’t know the definition of a hipster,” he laughs. “People at a young age, very energetic and very artsy, they’re very carefree and they’re a lot of the people you see now in Pilsen.”

He simply states that with gentrification, “Business has increased. Lots of new stores have opened.”

Knowing the way things go, he points out that, “The downtown area is moving down here and people in Pilsen are moving out.”

While people fear the outcome of gentrification, José ‘Primo’ Sandoval, 39, from the South Side of Chicago and head manager of ‘Sabinas Tortilla’, explains the benefits he sees.

He feels like the gentrification is not a threat to a culture, but the movement, “…affects the gangs, the gangs are leaving. There are no more people to fight with… It was really bad when I started but it’s calmed down a lot.”

Pilsen is located within 16th Street to the north, Cermak Street to the south, Halsted Street to the east, and Western Avenue to the west. Although these areas hold a history of gang violence, resident Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, says, “It’s sad. We do have violence here like any other neighborhood.” But as a resident since 1951, “maybe other people don’t agree with me, but I feel safe here in Pilsen.”

With her community background as a retired Board of Education administrator, Gutierrez explains that the violence mainly occurs when gang members actually try to leave the gang life. “I know a lot of young guys that try to get out of the gangs, some have succeeded but they don’t come back into the neighborhood,” she says.

The problems in Pilsen seem to happen within gangs, which may decrease with the new demographic as well as the growing community programs.

“They’re very family oriented, there is a very strong commitment in family and in church,” Daniel Gutierrez says, “There are several big communities. And you see a lot of support in churches for children.”
Mary Jane Gutierrez overlooks the street from her window. “I love the art. They’re great inspiration for our younger ones coming up. They should have a great big art studio around here. I think that would help for some young kids who want to go into that field,” she says.

Support for the community is growing from eventful gatherings such as the Fiesta del Sol, which is open to the public.

“The church here, they have twice a year what they call a fiesta, and they sell food and they have games and they have a DJ. They sell clothes but the food is fantastic,” Mary Jane Gutierrez says.
This community still holds a unity with the change by beautifully accepting new culture.

At these fiestas, Daniel Gutierrez says, “You have your Spanish music, folk music, country music, a little bit for everybody.”


Little India

Finding the Heart of Pilsen


Murals adorn many buildings in Pilsen. Photo by Nina Molina
Murals adorn many buildings in Pilsen.
Photo by Nina Molina

By Nina Molina


Visitors taking the first step out of the Pink Line L into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood observe that each crevice and stair of the station is not wasted, overflowing with splashes of culture, displaying religion, family and colorful dancing skeletons.

Jose “Primo” Sandoval, 39, manager of Sabina’s Tortillas, has grown with the evolving Hispanic neighborhood for 14 years.

“The people here are family-oriented, church going, and focus on children and programs for them,” Sandoval said. “Your friends can be your family here.”

Snuggled in the Lower West Side of the city within the boundaries of 16th Street, Cermak Road, Halsted Street and Western Avenue, Pilsen delivers a burst of Latino flavor into Chicago’s urban vibe.

Inhabited by a population of 43,000, this once primarily Eastern European neighborhood turned Hispanic, continues to grow, now with younger faces, or “hipsters,” according to Daniel Gutierrez Jr.

“There is a diverse crowd. Now, we have hipsters coming in,” said Gutierrez, 43, a third generation owner of Nuevo Leon restaurant, “Young, artsy, carefree people increasing our business.”

Attracting younger crowds starts from the various attractions found in the neighborhood, centering on the bustling buzz of life on 18th Street.

“Fiesta del Sol is once a year. It’s at the end of July…there’s Spanish music and activities for children too,” said Mary Jane Gutierrez, 69, a 50-year Pilsen resident and ex-Chicago Board of Education member.

The life of the fiesta is the authentic Mexican food made by locals. A potluck style party can be topped off with restaurants like Milagro, Don Churro, and Nuevo Leon, local favorites.

These parties are not limited to the streets though. Since the Czechoslovakian influence in the late 19th century, the churches of Pilsen have been used for more than solely prayer.

“We have a party two times a year at the church [St. Adalbert],” Gutierrez said. “There is music, clothes for sale and food.”

Auctions, including cars, have been used to raise money at these church fiestas for art for the children of Pilsen.

Though mostly Hispanic, the Pilsen neighborhood is being changing with its fresh melting pot of people. These changes are not met without consequence though.

The increasing gentrification spurs higher rents in Pilsen, forcing some to leave the area in search of cheaper rent. Some believe this gentrification is at the fault of expansion from the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

“UIC construction forced us out of Taylor Street also,” Gutierrez said.

The Pilsen neighborhood continues to grow with its people, morphing to conform to its new groups. Life in this culturally diverse area never fails to disappoint the hungry or adventure-hungry.

Perla Delgado, 33-year-old general manger of L’amour Beauty Bar, describes the new Pilsen as, “Americanized, with a touch of Latino.”



Little India












Pillar of Pilsen: Nuevo Leon

By Zoe Davis

High School Digital Media Workshop Students interview Apel Sirngua, who says his favorite Pilsen restaurant is Nuevo Leon.
High School Digital Media Workshop Students interview Apel Sirngua, who says his favorite Pilsen restaurant is Nuevo Leon.

Mary Jane Gutierrez moved to Pilsen in 1960 when her family was displaced during the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“In those days you couldn’t fight it. You had to take what they gave you,” said Gutierrez, 69.

Many families who lived in the neighborhood that is now University Village moved to Pilsen in the 1960s. Today, the boundaries of Pilsen are 16th street to the north, Cermak Road to the south, Halsted Street to the east and Western Avenue to the west.

What was then a mostly Czechoslovakian neighborhood became populated with many Mexican immigrants.

Pilsen, a center for Mexican culture in Chicago, is home to many authentic Mexican restaurants and taquerias. According to Pilsen residents, the most popular restaurant is Nuevo Leon, located at 1515 W 18th St.

“My family eats there a lot,” Gutierrez said.

Nuevo Leon first opened in 1962 and specializes in food from Nuevo Leon, a northern state in Mexico. It serves mostly Northern Mexico cuisine.

The restaurant has many brightly colored murals on both the inside and outside of the restaurant. Upbeat music plays from a jukebox and traditional Mexican artwork hangs on the walls. The many pieces of art are gifts from customers over the years

“We are a pillar here in Pilsen,” said Nuevo Leon owner, 42-year-old Daniel Gutierrez Jr. He is the grandson of the original owners Emeterio and Maria Gutierrez.

The menu includes a variety of dishes, from tacos to tostadas to enchiladas to soups to the famous and popular Carne Asada.

“I [usually order] chicken or some soup with rice,” said Apel Sirngua, 57, who sells popsicles and ice cream in the neighborhood.

Pilsen is located on the Lower West Side of Chicago and today is home to approximately 43,000 people. The neighborhood is becoming more diverse and many college-age people are buying apartments in the neighborhood.

Despite some cultural shifts, Mexican culture is still very prevalent throughout Pilsen, especially through restaurants like Nuevo Leon.

“That’s the best one,” said Jose Sandoval, 39, manager of Tortilleria Sabinas, a tortilla factory located next door to Nuevo Leon. “If someone famous comes to town, that’s where they go.”


Little India