Polish Church

Did you know? Chicago used to have the second largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland, surpassed only recently in 2012. Let's explore Chicago's former "Polish Downtown," currently known as the "Polonia Triangle"-the area surrounding Milwaukee, Ashland and Division. Polish history in Chicago is juicy, and I'm not just talking about the golabki served at Podhalanka on Ashland and Division.

Polish neighborhoods in Chicago change quickly, and in Polonia Triangle many little beauty marks have been left behind, from a sculpture, to a cathedral, to simply a note of music.  

Primarily between 1850 and 1920, many Poles immigrated to this neighborhood, where Polish community building began with the organization of Catholic parishes. Two rivaling churches, both which still exist today, were established in the neighborhood. St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church and Holy Trinity Church had different stances on religious conservatism and emphasis (or lack thereof) of the liberation of the motherland. Because Polish Chicago parishes were historically not solely spiritual sites but also community centers for Catholic Poles, this conflict created competition between the two churches in all types of programs, services, and- lucky for us today-architecture!

St. Stanislaus Church

St. Stanislaus Church, located on Noble Street just north of Division, came first as it was founded in 1867. The current structure was designed and built in 1876-1881 by architect Patrick C. Keeley in a spare Romanesque style with gray brick, a giant rose window, and stone trimmings. The more ornate Baroque ornaments were added in the early 1900s.

Marvel at the frescoes and the dome above the altar, both painted by Thaddeus Zukotynski, one of Europe's most famous religious painters. The stained glass chandeliers are purported to have been made by Louis Comfort Tiffany studios and exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Holy Trinity Church

Then just two blocks south is Holy Trinity church, which was built in response to St. Stanislaus Kostka. The current Holy Trinity Church-bigger and more opulent than St. Stanislaus-was built in 1906. Like St. Stanislaus, the church exhibits a variety of architectural styles of the 16th and 17th centuries, to evoke the time when Poland wasn't underdog.

The Holy Trinity Church's interior is breathtaking: its elaborate domed and coffered ceiling has no interior columns for support and bright frescoes are painted in every section. Each square foot of the interior is covered in icons and moldings!

Chopin Theater

Though much of the neighborhood has changed, the Polish community's heart still beats here. In the heart of the Polonia Triangle today is Chopin Theater. Built in 1918, its neoclassical terra cotta facade stands out from its neighbors. The interior is dressed with a gallery of paintings and an amalgam of baroque and renaissance style furniture and decor. The interior feels like stepping into the French-Polish Romantic world that Chopin inhabited. The basement houses a lounge with a piano, a small stage area, a bar, and tables- reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century artists salon.

The Polish Museum of America

Walk just a few blocks south on Milwaukee to one of the most interesting and overlooked collections in Chicago: the Polish Museum of America. Built for the authoritative Polish Roman Catholic Union of America in 1912, the thick-walled, steel reinforced concrete construction matches the fortress-like character of the organization. Also, the Iroquois Theater fire was still on Chicagoans' minds, so the building was built to be as fireproof as possible, with walls as thick as 20″ in certain places. This Polish organization still calls the building home, and they share it with the Polish Museum.

Home of Jerzy Kenar

Polish art and architecture doesn't only come in the form of religious or community organization though. Peak at the private home of Jerzy Kenar, a sculptor from Poland living near the Polonia Triangle whose sculptures adorn Warsaw, Poland, O'Hare, and his home, just to name a few. When you go, remember to look up!