Lower West Side
In the late 19th century, Pilsen was inhabited by German, Polish, Italian, and Czech immigrants. Czech immigrants were the most prominent and named the district after Plzeň, the fourth largest city in what is now the Czech Republic. They replaced the Germans and Irish who had settled there before them, in the mid-nineteenth century. These German and Irish residents lived in poor conditions throughout the 1850s and ‘60s. The Pilsen area was overcrowded and suffered from flooding, lack of indoor plumbing, and illness. A cholera outbreak that killed hundreds, eventually led the German and Irish residents to move in search of better living conditions. The population also included smaller numbers of other ethnic groups from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats and Austrians, as well as immigrants of Polish and Lithuanian heritage. Many of the immigrants worked in the stockyards and surrounding factories. Like many early 20th century American urban neighborhoods, however, Pilsen was home to both wealthy professionals and the working class, with the whole area knitted together based on the ethnicities, mostly of Slavic descent, who were not readily welcome in other areas of the city.
Although there was some increase in the Hispanic presence in the late 1950s, it was not until the early 1960s that there was a great spurt in the numbers of Latinos in Pilsen. This was due to the displacement of Latinos from the neighborhood UIC currently occupies, south of Hull House, and from other urban revitalization projects. In 1970, Latinos became the majority population in Pilsen, with about 25,000 people out of the community's 43,341 people surpassing the population of people of Eastern European descent. In particular, Mexicans made up about 36% of the residents of Pilsen in 1973.
In the 1980s, the Mexican-origin population grew. During that decade 95% of the people in Pilsen had some Mexican descent, and 80% of the overall population of Pilsen were first or second generation immigrants from Mexico and Mexican-Americans. Mexican growth continued into the 1990s. During that decade 40% of the Mexican-origin population in Pilsen had migrated directly there from Mexico, and about 33% of the Mexican-origin population in the Chicago area lived in Pilsen.
As of 2005 many of the newer residents of the neighborhood were not Latino, and it is projected that the neighborhood will continue to become more diversified in the years ahead. The non-Latino population in Pilsen is still a minority as of the 2010 Census.
The Chicago Housing Authority's plan for transformation of the ABLA projects has spilled over into Pilsen proper, with the now nearly complete Chantico Loft development, Union Row Townhomes, as well as the defunct Centro 18 on 18th Street in East Pilsen. Infill construction of condominiums and single-family homes is now in full force on the east side of the neighborhood, as Pilsen becomes one of the next major development areas for infill construction. Some local advocacy groups, including one led by Michael A. Martone, have formed urging the neighborhood's alderman to curtail gentrification to preserve the Mexican-American culture.
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