05 June 2013

Pilsen - Many Kilometers Away

A while back, I did a post about eastern European immigration into Chicago and their presence in various neighborhoods.  I became inspired to start searching in my own backyard for the comforts and culture of Europe, which lie thousands of kilometers and dollars away from me.  This is going to be very fun for me because it gives me a chance to dust off my camera, see neighborhoods I don't often venture, and get to know my city and Europe better.  My partner in crime is none other than the Ms. Christine Armbruster, who is slowly becoming synonymous with this blog.  She's an amazing adventure companion and her photography far, far outshines my own.  Christine and Taylor are taking over European Chicago, one step at a time.  Get ready for TONS of pictures.

Our first venture was into Pilsen, a neighborhood on the southwest corner of the Loop.  In Chicago, almost everything is either in reference to the lake (Lake Michigan), the Loop, or a highway.  I chose this neighborhood because it has become Christine's main stomping ground and I hadn't really experienced it beyond a fleeting encounter.  The first adventure needs to be something new!

The neighborhood was predominantly Polish and Czech in the 19th century, which is how the neighborhood became known as "Pilsen", which is actually the transliteration of Plzeň, a city in western Bohemia.  Other Austro-Hungarian empire nations were present, though not strong in numbers.  In the 1970s, Latino immigration trickled into the neighborhood and the effects were more strongly felt in the 1980s, when they became stronger in numbers and more prevalent in the community.  There are still Czech residents, but the neighborhood has largely turned into a Hispanic neighborhood.  

The Hispanic presence is immediately obvious, though the eastern European roots are not obvious in the same way: it was the Poles and Czechs that brought the cathedrals to Pilsen.  Most of what remains of their presence in these brick and mortar establishments.

Our first stop was at Saint Adalbert (1650 W 17th St).  The church currently offers Mass in three languages: English, Polish, and Spanish and was the third Polish parish founded in the city of Chicago.  We received a tour from the gracious Richard.  Christine and I had a blast talking to him about Polish history in Chicago and the church while photographing the beautiful interior.  The church was built from 1912 to replace the 1874 church and took two years to complete and pay off.  I remarked that typically cathedrals take 400 years to build, Richard admitted there were some shortcuts made, which meant expensive repairs in the future.  In fact, St. Adalberts is in need of funds to restore their two 185 ft. towers.  (Please click here to read more and get involved!)

While the original structure spared some expenses, it spared nothing in terms of taste.  The designer of the church, Chicagoan Henry J. Slacks, drew mainly from St. Paul for the exterior and many of the elements were shipped from Europe.  The stained glass windows were all made in Munich and shipped over, while the high altar is fashioned from 35 tons of Carrara marble from Italy with a marble dome supported by 10 spiral, fluted columns.  Not only that, but there is the marble pulpit boasts a carving of four evangelists and six prophets of the Old Testament, with the pièce de résistance being a full-size replica of Michelangelo's Pieta.  Richard told us it is often denied that it's the same size by visitors, but it was indeed a full scale replica of the original in Rome.  Above the high altar, there is a stunning painting that depicts two scenes: one is the marriage of Queen Jadwiga of Poland and Prince Jagiello of Lithuania on the right, while the other is the victory of Our Lady of Czetochowa.  It was in 1975 that a shrine was dedicated to Our Lady of San Jan de los Lagos and later a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe was gifted.  If you click at the link above, you can read more about the interior, which is stunning.


Saint Adalbert

exterior from 18th st
Richard, our delightful guide

interior from balcony - notice the paintings above the high altar
close up of high altar
ceiling above high altar - that's Tiffany glass up there!
full size replica of Pieta
Our next stop is Thalia Hall.  Built in 1892 as a replica of a Czech opera house and a space for theatrical and musical performances, it served as the epicenter of Chicago Bohemian culture, though it later became a restaurant.  The restaurant has closed and is awaiting renovations before its new owners open up shop.  While a seemingly unimportant locale, it was where the majority of the Czech constitution was drafter after WWI.  The building retains all of its art nouveau charm in the style of Alfons Mucha and there is talk that it will be restored to its original purpose.  Here's hoping!


Thalia Hall

close up of the  main door

beautiful art nouveau details on the side of the building
After getting some delicious tamales at Dia de los Tamales (what a mixture of Czech and Hispanic!), we went to Saint Procopius (1641 S Allport St).  Founded in 1875 by the Czech community, the original building became fully converted to a school building and Franciscan sisters then established a convent, which still exists today (as you will see below). A  newer church was completed on the lot in 1883 as the parish grew, designed by P. Huber.  The blessing of the cathedral was a major event, drawing Czech priests from other cities.  Interestingly enough, Czech masses were added in the 1960s, as émigrés from Czechoslovakia poured in, as well as Spanish.  I am assuming that the need for Czech had faded over time because of assimilation.

We did not have a guide for this church and I was not able to draw much information on the interior, so I will have to let the pictures suffice.  The detailing on the walls was amazing and made me think of frescos.  As you will see, there is a definite Czech influence (a stained glass window had written on it: Rodina J Dvořáček).

Saint Procopius

detail of wall painting and lamp
convent altar room

shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, dedicated 1966

We concluded our day by visiting Dvorak Park (21st and S May St) undoubtedly named after Antonín Dvořák.  It's another subtle trace of the strong Bohemian influence in the neighborhood.  You wouldn't know it otherwise, as there was a colorful mural celebrating Mexican heritage and a team of Hispanics playing softball.  It has an auditorium, swimming pool, baseball diamond, a playground, several basketball courts, and a gymnasium.  We were privy to a scuffle while wandering around, so it was a fun time.

Dvorak Park

softball in front of the gymnasium
representing their team
entrance to the gymansium - do you see the skull? Mixing a Czech-named park with Mexican art styles. God  bless Chicago.
Pilsen is a vibrant neighborhood that still has remnants of its past, while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of its newest residents.  Chicago will continue to amaze as we explore how neighborhoods once filled with Europeans have changed and shifted over time.