When Mrs. O’Leary’s cow supposedly in a fictional account set off the great conflagration that became known as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, an area subdivision known as Wicker Park attracted large numbers of Polish immigrants looking for a familiar place to call home.
Wicker Park is a Chicago neighborhood northwest of the Loop, south of Bucktown and west of Pulaski Park within West Town. It came into being when namesakes Charles and Joel Wicker purchased 80 acres of land along Milwaukee Avenue in 1870 and laid out a subdivision with a mix of lot sizes surrounding a 4-acre park. The fire seemingly spawned the first wave of development, as homeless Chicagoans looked to build new homes.
Wicker Park bears Chicago's creative soul. Strolling through this eccentric neighborhood just northwest of the Loop and south of Bucktown, it is no wonder that many refer to it as the beating heart of Chicago. Art galleries, boutiques, restaurants are sandwiched between cafes, nightclubs and theaters. Once heavily populated by Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians, Wicker Park is now an increasingly diverse neighborhood bearing the works and craft of local residents who work and play in this bustling community.
Beer and Brats
Wicker Park has been part of Chicago since 1837 and like many neighborhoods, its commercial beginnings were rooted in industry. In 1857, the Rolling Mill Steel Works opened near Armitage and Ashland, drawing many Irish immigrant laborers. Clothing, furniture, musical instrument, cigar manufacturers and breweries, to name a few, would eventually add to the industrial scene.
Wicker Park was next home to Chicago's wealthy German and Scandinavian merchants. After the 1871 Chicago Fire destroyed the city's wooden buildings, these prosperous families retaliated with opulent stone and brick mansions close to Milwaukee Avenue that were sure to withstand the harsh flames should fire break out again. Hoyne Avenue was known as "Beer Baron Row," as many of Chicago's wealthiest brewers built mansions there. Other affluent residents that settled in Wicker Park included the Pritzkers, Uihleins, Crowns, Carl Laemmle (Universal Studios), Michael Todd, Saul Bellows, and Nelson Algren. Uniquely, the upper and working class co-mingled gracefully in Wicker Park during that time, unlike in other parts of Chicago where sharp economic boundaries separated the classes.