Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Exploring Ukrainian Village

I love urban exploration-- so you can imagine my delight when I move to a new neighborhood and there are so many unwalked streets, so many unread plaques, and so many untasted baked goods for me to try! Last year I moved to Wicker Park-- post on Algren's hang-out's to come!-- and I quickly followed the onion domes on my immediate skyline into the heart of Ukrainian Village. I loved walking around the peaceful streets of single family homes and magnificent churches.

I loved even more smiling my way through the language barrier to try some tasty treats at Anne's Bakery (corner of Leavitt and Chicago). The prune donuts and babka are killer, the unidentified other items I ate were also great-- and there are shelves stocked with Eastern European grocery items that I'm sure would send any native of that region into a bout of nostalgia, if not raging hunger. They also have a deli counter chock full of sausages and other more questionable-to-me items like head cheese; there are freezers full of frozen homemade perogi's and other delights often negate the need for crossing the street to go to Dominick's. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, I digress. This post was meant to give a little background on the history of this awesome little pocket of Chicago.

In the aftermath of the fire, German immigrants developed the area bounded by Division, Damen, Chicago, and Western. At the end of the 19th century/early 20th century, the first of wave of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants began. By 1930, there were approximately 30,000 people in the Chicago Ukrainian population and most of them lived in this neighborhood. Ukrainian Village began as a predominately working-class neighborhood. Many of the area's first residents were craftsmen employed to build the mansions of their wealthy Wicker Park neighbors.

From my light reading on the neighborhood, one of the best ways to tell the story of the area is through the story of the 3 prominent churches that it hosts. North on Leavitt, close to Division is the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral. It was designed by one of our friends from Devil in the White City, Louis Sullivan:

Apparently the building of this church in 1901 was underwritten by the Czar of Russia-- this and its status as a Russian Orthodox Church did not win much favor with the local Ukrainians. So they looked to build their own church in the coming years. What started as small plans grew into the massive and ornate St. Nicholas, a Ukrainian Catholic Church, which dominates the middle of the neighborhood:

This church and school acted as the center of the Ukrainian community for years-- until the early 60's when they switched to the modern Gregorian Calendar from the Julian Calendar. Some parishioners didn't like this move away from tradition-- and to buck the assimilation built their own church at the southern end of the village:

The Chicago Reader says this about that time in the Village:

"Irene Zabytko, author of When Luba Leaves Home, a collection of short stories set in Ukrainian Village, grew up in the neighborhood and remembers the split as 'a tremendous schism—it got to the point where people wouldn’t speak to each other . . . and it’s not like there are so many Ukrainians in Chicago that they can afford to do that!'"

By 1990, only 2,500 people living in the Ukrainian Village claimed to be of Ukrainian descent. I think, the cultural impact of Ukrainians on this neighborhood, however, is still apparent, evidenced by many institutions, including churches, the Ukrainian Cultural Center, the Ukrainian National Museum, and the bakeries! There is also an annual Ukrainian festival that I had the chance to go to this September-- I stuffed myself full of meats and starches, drank a Ukrainian beer and watched some incredible dancing, so for me the spirit of the neighborhood is still there to be found...if you're willing to eat items you can't pronounce.

Thanks for indulging me on this little tour of my neighborhood.

No comments:

Post a Comment