Hundreds of historic buildings in the heart of Midwest’s largest Mexican-American community will be protected from significant alteration or demolition with today’s preliminary landmark district recommendation for a portion of the Pilsen neighborhood by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
"Pilsen is one of the most intact, turn-of-the-century neighborhoods in Chicago and its designation as an official City of Chicago landmark district will ensure its character will resonate for generations of local residents and businesses to come,” said David Reifman, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, which serves as staff to the Landmarks Commission.
The district includes an approximately 1.5-mile stretch of the 18th Street commercial corridor, four blocks of the Blue Island Avenue commercial corridor, and more than a dozen residential blocks bounded by 18th, Ashland Avenue, 21st Street, and Racine Avenue. The nearly 850 buildings included in the district would make it one of the largest in the city.
Landmark district designations protect the exterior elevations of contributing structures by requiring all building permit applications to be reviewed and approved by the Landmarks Commission or its staff, starting with a preliminary recommendation. A final recommendation by the Landmarks Commission for the Pilsen district could occur next year, followed by a City Council vote.
Dating to the late 19th century, district buildings are characterized by a vibrant mix of Baroque and Italianate architectural forms and expressions that reflect the area’s settlement by Czech and Bohemian immigrants that largely occupied the neighborhood prior to World War II. The community’s diverse array of mixed-use buildings, meeting halls, cottages, two-flats, schools, churches and banks subsequently evolved as the center for Mexican life in Chicago, with more than three-quarters of local residents today identifying themselves as Latino, according to the U.S. Census.
“The Commission strives to identify and preserve places that tell the stories of Chicago's many diverse ethnicities,” Commission Chair Rafael Leon said. “The Pilsen District will be unique in that it embodies the history of two groups important to the fabric of Chicago - Bohemian and Mexican communities. With this designation, the Commission will explore the intersection of cultural and heritage of both groups."
The landmark district designation is a key part of a City of Chicago preservation strategy for Pilsen and the adjacent Little Village neighborhood, which have been subject to gentrification pressures from business investors, speculators and transplants from other neighborhoods that are attracted to the area’s unique cultural authenticity. Other preservation components include numerous affordability provisions, open space enhancements, and economic development strategies that are designed to benefit local residents, businesses and workers.
The proposed Pilsen landmark district is within a National Register District approved by the National Park Service in 2006.
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