After many years of advocacy, outreach and preparation, Preliminary Landmark Status was approved for the proposed Pilsen Chicago Landmark District on December 6, 2018. Pilsen has a dense and varied collection of historic buildings built by Bohemian immigrants in the late 19th century and early 20th century and preserved and enriched by Mexican immigrants over the past 50 years.
Below is Ward Miller’s public testimony to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on December 6, 2018 in support of the proposed Pilsen Chicago Landmark District.
We at Preservation Chicago support the proposed Chicago Landmark Designation of the many buildings of Pilsen, extending along 18th Street, between Leavitt on the west and Sangamon on the east, and the 13 blocks bounded between Ashland Avenue, 21st Street and Racine.
This proposed district encompasses a portion of the earliest boundaries of the City of Chicago, dating back to when the City was first incorporated in 1837. The community was initially settled in part by the builders and workers of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and the nearby railroads in the 1840s and 1850s and by the McCormick Reaper Company plant in the 1870s. Later, this was followed by other factories and industries, and also the construction of the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, opened in 1900, which reversed the flow of the Chicago River and diverted polluted water away from Lake Michigan. This area of Chicago’s “Lower West Side” has always been a “port of entry” into Chicago and its neighborhoods by waves of immigrants—very much like New York’s Lower East Side and Bowery District.
From the Irish and Germans, to the Bohemians—Czech, Slovak and Eastern European communities, to the Latino and Mexican-American’s that have settled there over the past decades, Pilsen has an amazing richness in both its built environment and its ethnic fabric. We at Preservation Chicago absolutely support and celebrate these layered histories and hope these protections and this designation will further encourage long-term stakeholders and the diversity of this community’s fabric to remain. This Landmark Designation should also protect the incredible collection of large-scale murals and artwork, located throughout the community.
Pilsen, also known as the ‘Lower West Side’ and Community Area number 31, has over 800 buildings identified as significant structures in the CHRS-Chicago Historic Resources Survey. This vast number of significant buildings puts Pilsen among the top five largest Community Areas with the most significant historic structures identified in the entire city of Chicago. Only West Town, Lincoln Park, the Near West Side and the Near North Side, have a greater concentration of these types of significant buildings, and many of those communities have multiple Chicago Landmark Districts, where Pilsen has none.
Pilsen also has some of the most continuous intact historic streetwalls, and these are among some of the oldest in Chicago, with many structures dating to the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. These structures range in a wide variety of architectural styles from Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival, Victorian, “Workman’s Cottages” and the Vernacular to name several styles represented here. Some of these buildings are defined by large corner bays, multiple groupings of dormers extending from their rooftops of the commercial buildings along 18th Street, and many exhibiting incredible craftsmanship, details and integrity. There’s also a unique selection of fine-quality buildings in Pilsen, which exhibit a certain scale and architectural quality, dating from the last decades of the 19th Century, which distinguish it from other communities and both residential and commercial districts across the City.
We’ve been honored to work with members of the community, elected officials, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, and the City, over the past four years towards this Chicago Landmark District. This outreach also includes efforts to save nearby historic St. Adalbert’s Church—called “the Mother Church of Chicago’s South Side Polish Community,” designed by architect Henry Schlacks.
We at Preservation Chicago wish to thank the Department of Planning & Development’s Historic Preservation Division, Commissioner David Reifman, Eleanor Gorski, Dijana Covello and Matt Crawford, in addition to Alderman Solis for their efforts to bring forth a Pilsen Chicago Landmark District.
Lastly, with many celebrations underway recognizing the Illinois Bicentennial this week—celebrating 200 years of Statehood on December 3rd, we cannot think of a better honor than to recognize a large unique and diverse community in Chicago, with an amazing history like Pilsen, and its contributions over time to our City, the State of Illinois and the Union, as a Designated Chicago Landmark. We are grateful for the opportunity to fully support this proposed Landmark District.