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!
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.
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!
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.