Wicker Park, Chicago
In late 1868, the Chicago Board of Public Works announced the desire to build a park "lying west of Milwaukee avenue and south of North avenue. The grounds are of considerable capacity and are laid out in a tasteful and attractive manner as a park." Present at the meeting was alderman Charles Wicker, who, with his brother Joel, purchased 80 acres (32 ha) of land along Milwaukee Avenue in 1870 and laid out a subdivision with a mix of lot sizes surrounding a 4-acre (1.6 ha) park. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 spurred the first wave of development, as homeless Chicagoans looked to build new houses.
Before the start of the 20th century, Germans and Scandinavians tended to live in the area's north and northwestern sections. Wicker Park became the abode of Chicago's wealthy Northern European immigrants. The district proved especially popular with merchants, who built large mansions along the neighborhood's choicest streets—particularly on Hoyne and Pierce, just southwest of North & Damen, known then as Robey. Hoyne was known as "Beer Baron Row," as many of Chicago's wealthiest brewers built mansions there.
With the end of the 19th century the area was subsumed into the surrounding Polish Downtown and the area adjacent to the park which gave the neighborhood its name became known as "the Polish Gold Coast". In the 1890s and 1900s, immigration from Poland and the completion of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Lines greatly boosted the population density of West Town, especially in areas east of Wicker Park. The area around Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland was once known as 'Kostkaville', and the intersection retains the moniker "Polish Triangle" to this day. The provisional government of Poland met in Wicker Park during World War I. The near Northwest Side is home to many of the most opulent churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago, built in the so-called 'Polish Cathedral style'.
Polish immigration into the area accelerated during and after World War II when as many as 150,000 Poles are estimated to have arrived between 1939 and 1959 as Displaced Persons (DPs). Like the Ukrainians in neighboring Ukrainian Village, they clustered in established ethnic enclaves like this one that offered shops, restaurants, and banks where people spoke their language. Division Street was referred to as Polish Broadway. Poet John Guzlowski whose parents first came to the area as DPs commented on growing up in the area in the 1950s that "it felt like everyone was a Pole", a place where the local store owners, priests, cops, trash men, teachers, librarians all either spoke Polish or had family that did.
Nelson Algren's literary output lionized the Division Street strip in his books such as "The Man With The Golden Arm" and "Never Come Morning" focusing on the stories of junkies, gamblers, hookers, and drunks in the Polish ghetto. Writing about the area's Polish American underclass against the background of prevalent anti-immigrant xenophobia was taken by Poles as blatant Anti-Polonism and resulted in the book Never Come Morning being banned for decades from the Chicago Public Library system over the massive outcry by Chicago Polonia. Later controversies to commemorate Algren would bring these old wounds back to surface, most recently when Polonia Triangle was to be renamed to honor the deceased author.
1960s and 1970s
Beginning in the 1960s, Wicker Park began to change radically. Construction of the Kennedy Expressway, completed in 1960, had displaced many residents and torn holes in the sustaining network of Polish-American churches, settlement houses, and neighborhood groups. Additionally Puerto Ricans and other Latinos displaced by urban renewal in Old Town and Lincoln Park began moving in. In 1960 Latinos comprised less than 1 percent of West Town’s population, but by 1970 that number was up to 39 percent. Split from the Lincoln Park neighborhood only by the Kennedy Expressway in the late 1950s and 60s, it contained the second largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in Chicago. It was the original home to the largest Latino gang at the time, the Latin Kings. The Young Lords, a human rights movement, held sit-ins with L.A.D.O. at the Wicker Park Welfare Office and large nonviolent marches to city hall. Urban renewal projects were undertaken to combat "urban blight" in some parts of the neighborhood, but disinvestment continued at a rapid clip as downtown banks redlined West Town for much of the mid-20th century. Wicker Park was also promoted by the city's urban renewal plans, as a good "suburb within the city" because of its easy access to downtown, via Milwaukee and the elevated train (via Damen and Division stations). Chicago and Wicker Park reached a nadir in the 1970s, a decade when the city overall lost 11% of its population. During the 1970s, hundreds of cases of insurance-motivated arson were reported in Wicker Park, near St. Elizabeth Hospital. Many small factories near the area (many in woodworking) also closed or moved away.
1980s to present
Efforts by community development groups like Northwest Community Organization (NCO) to stabilize the community through new affordable-housing construction in the 1980s coincided with the arrival of artists attracted by the neighborhood's easy access to the Loop, cheap loft space in the abandoned factories, and distinctly urban feel.
In 1989, the "Around the Coyote" festival was launched to help the hundreds of working artists and micro-galleries in the neighborhood to gain a level of local and international prominence. This 501(c)3 non-profit was established with the mission to "bring to the art community a professional organization that will help artists network and exhibit their art." For decades, the festival centered around the Flatiron Arts Building and was typically held during the month of October, Chicago's Artist Month. As of 2008 "Around the Coyote" revised its preferred locations for the annual festival, which in 2008 was held coincidentally with Looptopia in May in Chicago's Loop.
In 2001, a season of MTV's The Real World was filmed in Wicker Park. A protest began, as residents of the neighborhood felt the exposure may lead to a quicker gentrification of the neighborhood. While the protest began somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it soon intensified and there were a 11 arrests by the time the cast of the show left the city.
Today, the neighborhood is best known for its numerous commercial and entertainment establishments and being a convenient place to live for downtown workers due to its proximity to public transportation and the Loop. Gentrification has made the area much more attractive to college-educated white-collar workers, although it faced considerable resistance from the working-class Puerto Rican community it displaced. Crime has decreased and many new homes have been built as well as older homes being restored. This has led to increased business activity, with many new bars, restaurants, and stores opening to serve these individuals. The neighborhood is known for hosting local art stores and independent businesses.  In a September 2012 Forbes article, Wicker Park was named the #4 hippest hipster neighborhood in the country. Property values have gone up, increasing the wealth of property owners and making the neighborhood attractive to real estate investors.
The borders of the neighborhood are generally currently accepted to be North Avenue (at 1600 N) to the north although historically it has ranged as far north as Armitage (2000 N) at times, and the Chicago River south of North Avenue, Division to the south (at 1200 N), and Western Avenue to the west (2400 W). Both the East Village and Ukrainian Village are to the south, Humboldt Park is to the west, and Bucktown is to the north.
Notable past and current residents include Nelson Algren, who lived on the third floor at 1958 W. Evergreen Ave between 1959–1975; Liz Phair, who penned her first album Exile in Guyville in and about Wicker Park; Scott Molenhouse,honorary "mayor" of wicker park James Iha, former guitarist of the band Smashing Pumpkins; professional wrestler Colt Cabana; and singer/guitarist Matt Skiba of The Alkaline Trio. Professional wrestler CM Punk of WWE fame currently resides in Wicker Park. Musicians who live, work, or spend time in Wicker Park include Wilco, Tim Kinsella, Joan of Arc (band), Mike Kinsella, Naked Raygun, Tortoise, Pegboy, Veruca Salt. Urge Overkill, Eleventh Dream Day, Trenchmouth, The Jesus Lizard, and many more.
Wicker Park is the setting of a 2004 film by the same name. However, the filming of this movie was done on location in Montreal, Quebec. Another film of note that uses Wicker Park as its background is High Fidelity (2000) directed by Stephen Frears and starring Evanston-born John Cusack.
- "THE COUNCIL. Regular Meeting of the Board Aldermen.". Chicago Tribune. December 15, 1868.
- Odd S. Lovoll, A Century of Urban Life: the Norwegians in Chicago before 1930 (Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1988)
- A. E. Strand, A History of the Norwegians of Illinois (Chicago: J. Anderson, 1905)
- Wallace Best (2005). "Wicker Park". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago History Museum. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- The Ways and Means Chief of Kostkaville : Politics: It's all the little things that 'Danny' Rostenkowski does for the 5th District that make his neighborhood so loyal. - Los A...
- Martha Byrne (8 May 2008). "A Tale of Two Villages". Chicago Reader (ChicagoReader.com). Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- "DPs in the Polish Triangle, Chicago, 1950s". Lightning and Ashes Blogspot. 14 September 2007. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- Reader Archive-Extract: 1998/981120/ALGREN[dead link]
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- "City of Chicago – Chicago Artists Month".
- Baty, Chris; Zimmerman, Karla. Lonely Planet Chicago (City Guide). Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. p. 90. ISBN 1740597966.
- Casillas, Ofelia (September 25, 2009). "Wicker Park's artsy reputation proves a good fit for vintage clothing sales". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
- Belsha, Kalyn (April 22, 2011). "Could Wicker Parkers’ app be the next big thing". Chicago Redeye. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
- Brennan, Morgan (20 September 2012). "America's Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods". Forbes. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
- Chicago Landmarks | Wicker Park District
- McGuire, Judy (February 28, 2009). "Romance, Movie Style - Love on Location - High Fidelity". Time. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- Media related to Wicker Park, Chicago at Wikimedia Commons