The Story of West Town and Ukrainian Village
The official community area of West Town contains areas many would consider distinct neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, Noble Square. But most people probably think of West Town as centered on Chicago Avenue. While today this commercial strip is a hot spot for creative restaurants, as recently as the 1990s it was a predominantly Mexican shopping district, especially east of Damen.
Prior to the transformation of the area into a Mexican neighborhood during the second half of the twentieth century, it was a center of the Polish community known as the “Polish Downtown.” Meanwhile, Germans had developed the neighborhood west of Damen after the Chicago Fire of 1871, but were soon replaced by an influx of Ukrainians and some Russians. Many of these immigrants worked as craftsmen building mansions in neighboring Wicker Park. They developed the area into what is now known as Ukrainian Village, with distinctive churches such as St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Louis Sullivan-designed Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral (see below).
Like Chicago Avenue, Ukrainian Village has changed in recent years. While there are still Ukrainian institutions such as the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art and restaurants such as Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen, it has become a popular neighborhood for young professionals, especially given its proximity to the popular retail- and restaurant-filled neighborhood of Wicker Park, which has undergone its own transformation in recent years.
The Grand and Chicago Blue Line stops are located in West Town.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Despite being located just a couple of miles from downtown Chicago, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral wouldn’t be out of place in a Siberian village — because it was inspired by the rural churches of Russia found in the hometowns of its founders. With funding from Czar Nicholas II, the founders of the church hired idiosyncratic architect Louis Sullivan to design the cathedral.
Already known for buildings such as the Carson Pirie Scott department store in downtown Chicago and the influential Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Sullivan believed that form followed function. So he turned to Russian Provincial and Byzantine styles for Holy Trinity, giving it a typical octagonal dome, a bell tower over the entrance, and Russian crosses, while also including some of his signature decorative designs, thus modernizing the traditional styles. The cathedral, completed in 1903, is one of only two houses of worship Sullivan designed.
Things to Do
Discover some art that is overlooked by traditional museums at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, then explore some of the thrift stores on Chicago Avenue. Cap the night with a meal at one of the area’s many exciting restaurants, such as the German-Southern Funkenhausen or stunningly executed Korean at Jeong.