The neighborhood of Wicker Park, located in Chicago’s West Town community, has been one of the most desirable areas to live in for many years now. It was hip before it was trendy and it’s been trendy for an awful long time. This area south west of the fashionable Lincoln Park community has been a magnet for those seeking affordable housing in a culturally diverse neighborhood in close proximity to downtown Chicago. As with its equally popular neighborhood to the north, Bucktown, Gen-X’ers and Millennials have gravitated to the area due to its preponderance of nightlife venues and its rich artistic profile.
Wicker Park is situated in the northwest corner of the West Town community, and is bordered on the north by the Bloomingdale Trail (although historically it went as far north as Armitage Avenue), on the south by Division Street, on the west by Western Avenue, and on the east by Ashland Avenue.
The Kennedy Expressway (I-94) runs just to the east of Wicker Park and gives its residents, like Bucktown’s, easy access by car to the greater Chicagoland area. Damen Avenue is one of two main arteries, continuing a chain of restaurants and entertainment spots south from Bucktown. The other is North Avenue, running east and west the entire breath of the neighborhood, where one can find an abundance of nightlife. However, there are many popular venues also along Milwaukee Avenue, which cuts transversely through the heart of the neighborhood. All in all, it becomes quite obvious that Wicker Park, with its numerous pockets of shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities, is a highly walkable community.
What’s with the “wicker” in Wicker Park? Well, it’s not about basket weaving. What it is about is two brothers – Charles and Joel Wicker – who put down roots in the area in the mid-nineteenth century, and for whom the neighborhood is named. They were both businessmen, but Charles was also a City Council alderman (3rd Ward – Near South Side) from 1865 – 1869. During his tenure the city sought to build a park just west of Milwaukee Avenue and south of North Avenue, in an area which today is Chicago Park District land and is named Wicker Park. Being an alderman and being privy to the city’s proposal, Charles purchased 80 acres along Milwaukee Avenue with his brother Joel and began to develop the area into residential lots. It was also about this time that the neighborhood was incorporated into the city (1868).
Another piece of good fortune for them, financially, was that a few years later the city would suffer the worst catastrophe in its history – the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The northwest side in which Wicker Park is located was spared this conflagration and thus benefited from the influx of citizens looking to build their new homes. Germans and Norwegians would be the first ethnic groups to settle in the area and would be followed later in the early twentieth century by Poles and Jews. Such notable Chicago families as the Pritzker’s and the Crown’s lived in the area, and the literary giants Saul Bellow and Nelson Algren grew up around here. Wicker Park would continue to prosper until the Great Depression, after which it suffered a slow decline well into the 1970s and 1980s. At that point the neighborhood was rediscovered as a hip place to live – not to mention being quite affordable – and so began a long, slow gentrification process which continues to this day.
Only two miles from Downtown, commuting to Chicago’s CBD is fast and loaded with options. Public transportation is plentiful, with easy access to a number of bus routes (72 North Avenue, 70 Division, 49 Western Avenue, 50 Damen Avenue, and 73 Armitage) which connect to CTA rapid transit lines. There is also the 56 Milwaukee Avenue bus which goes directly into Downtown. There are CTA Blue Line stops at Division and at Damen which connect to Downtown, suburbs and O’Hare airport. Just to the northeast is the Clybourn Avenue stop on the Metra commuter railroad which connects to Downtown as well as the north suburbs. The nearby Kennedy Expressway is a great option fro drivers and, last but not least, there are numerous bike lanes along all the major streets if you prefer cycling.
Wicker Park is overflowing with great schools, both public and private, including three parochial elementary schools (St. Nicholas Cathedral, St. Stanilslaus Kostka, and St. Helen) and a Catholic High School of note, Holy Trinity, which has served the community for over 100 years. Among the public schools, to name a few, are the A.N. Pritzker and José de Diego elementary schools and the Roberto Clemente High School. As in most neighborhoods across the city, there is a healthy mix of public, selective enrollment, and charter schools in Wicker Park providing numerous options to families with children.
Crime in Wicker Park
West Town, in which Wicker Park is located, ranks as average when it comes to violent crime and quality of life crime (42nd and 37th respectively out of 77 communities) and below average in safety when it comes to property crime (14th out of 77 communities). As reported in the Chicago Tribune, from 2014 to 2015 crime is virtually unchanged, which demonstrates the need for more civic engagement of citizens through their CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) beat meetings and block club initiatives to mitigate recurrence of crimes.
Cost of Living
Though there are pockets of expensive housing, Wicker Park offers much more by way of affordable apartments. With all the various shopping options in the neighborhood, it’s possible for one to live economically here while still being conveniently close to Downtown.
Shopping and Dining
Whether you’re eating out or eating in, you’ll find a plethora of places to patronize both in Wicker Park and in its adjoining neighbor, Bucktown. Of course there’s the old stand-by Jewel Foods, and there’s Aldi, but it wouldn’t be Wicker Park without some of the quality locals such as Go Grocer, Goddess & Grocer (technically in Bucktown but also serving the Wicker Park area), and Plenty Grocery & Deli. If cooking isn’t an option for you, there are plenty of restaurants of all types and prices to cater to every foodie’s dream. Or are you looking for a great drinking establishment with terrific bar food? Hop on over to Barley & Brass. Take it up a notch and go formal at Café Absinthe, or a bit more casual at The Chop Shop. In either case, your appetite won’t be disappointed. There are so many great choices that you may never feel the need cook again!
Though Wicker Park shares many of the same urban qualities of its neighbor, Bucktown, there are more choices in the Wicker Park area for shopping and entertainment. They benefit from a joint Chamber of Commerce that works to promote them both, and of course the amenities of city living don’t stop at each other’s borders.
Wicker Park is nothing if not a wonderful arts community, and the variety of events and venues across the broad spectrum of music, art, and live theater certainly supports that notion. One of the best neighborhood festivals in the city happens every year at Wicker Park Fest. Though the storied Double Door has been rumored to be closing, this premier music venue is still rocking and booked out till spring. And if it’s browsing galleries you enjoy, then you better have a good pair of walking shoes to see them all. Certainly not to be missed are the Jackson Junge and the David Leonardis galleries, and of course there’s always a visit to the architectural gem of Wicker Park, the Flatiron Arts Building.
The rebuilding following the Chicago Fire of 1871 continued after the turn of the twentieth century, and there are still structures from that era that dot the community. Many of the Norwegians and Germans who first migrated to the area built their homes of brick and stone to avoid the threat of another major conflagration.
As with most neighborhoods going through gentrification, it has also seen considerable new construction at the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. So, today there is an eclectic mix of 100-year-old Brownstones and Greystones sitting side-by-side with modernistic condominiums. This mix gives you an opportunity to find whatever suits your style and your pocketbook.
There’s a wide choice of both affordable and high-end apartments in Wicker Park, and a variety of architectural styles to choose from, whether your inclination is toward vintage architecture or the more modern. You shouldn’t have a problem finding one that suits your taste and is within your budget. The average rent in Wicker Park is $1,974, whereas the Chicago average is $1,686, but be assured you can still find bargains!
Located only a block from the shopping and entertainment intersection at North, Milwaukee, and Damen, and only steps from the CTA Blue Line stop, this building also sits across the street from the beautiful green space that is Wicker Park. The two-bedroom, two-bath units feature granite counter tops in the kitchen, hardwood floors throughout, in-unit washers and dryers, and parking is available. And yes, pets are allowed.
What’s not to love here? It’s only steps from all the entertainment that North Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue offer, including being virtually next door to one of the city’s premier music venues – The Double Door. The park is at your doorstep as is CTA’s Blue Line stop at Damen. These two-bedroom and two bath units are spacious and come with granite counter tops, GE Energy Star appliances, and hardwood floors. Community amenities include 24 hour emergency maintenance, 24/7 concierge services, and a controlled access entrance for security.
Located along with the shops and night life of Division Street, you’ll be a short walk from the CTA Blue Line stop at Division as well. These one- and two-bedroom units feature hardwood floors, high ceilings, a patio/balcony, and an in-unit washer and dryer. Plus, the views of the city are terrific! And yes, you can bring your pets.
Ranging from historic gems to contemporary abodes, the housing options in Wicker Park are endless. You’ll find fixer-uppers from the low $200Ks as well as luxurious single-family residences catering to the most exquisite tastes – with prices to match. This professionally designed, 1,512 square-foot home at 1417 North Oakley Boulevard comes equipped with everything a modern family could desire. Its listing price? Right about $925K.
That stretches you a bit too far? Well, for almost half of that you can enjoy a top Wicker Park location as well as generous living space if you turn to condo living. Located at the south end of Wicker Park, this modern building at 1850 West Division Street is situated in the ever lively Division Street entertainment district and is only steps from the CTA Blue Line stop.
This gorgeous unit has an expansive two-bedroom, two-bathroom floorplan covering 1,600 square feet, and is located in an elevator building. The unit is in excellent condition and features a large living and dining area with a fireplace, hardwood floors throughout and a covered deck. The extra-large kitchen comes with plenty of cabinet space, a cooking island, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances. There’s parking in an indoor heated garage that comes with the unit.
Make Wicker Park Your New Home
It’s one of the Windy City’s hippest and trendiest neighborhoods with a history of great architecture and a location only miles from Downtown. It has great food, shopping, and all varieties of the arts. This is what awaits you if you choose to put down roots in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.
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Contributor: Don Gordon is an accomplished author and copywriter, having written two books, university course content, political speeches, and press releases.