Pilsen

Pilsen, on the Lower West Side of the city, was home to working-class European immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Named after a city in eastern Europe, Pilsen was the heart of the Czech community from the 1870s to the 1950s.

Candlestick carried with immigrants to Pilsen, 1882

Gift of Caroline Benés Miller

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Pipe belonging to a Czech Pilsen household, 1900–1915
 

Gift of Caroline Benés Miller

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Czech Pilsen

Social organizations called sokols hosted events and dances that brought the community together. Czech-owned businesses sustained the neighborhood. The Nemecek photography studio in Pilsen documented the activities of the community.

 

Francis D. Nemecek, Pilsen photographer, 1903–1951

Francis D. Nemecek, Pilsen photographer, 1903–1951

Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

Plzensky Sokol, 1920s

Plzensky Sokol, 1920s

Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

Bohemian Old Settlers Association, around 1915

Bohemian Old Settlers Association, around 1915

Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

Mexican Pilsen Emerges

In the 1960s Pilsen emerged as the center of Chicago’s Mexican community as Czech residents moved to better quality housing elsewhere. Mexicans had fewer options. Forced out of their long-established communities due to construction projects, many found a home in Pilsen. There they established businesses, hosted community celebrations, and fostered a culture of political activism.

Vendor’s refreshment cart, 1959

Vendor’s refreshment cart, 1959

Courtesy of Adalberto Barrios, Estudio Azteca Archive

Milo Movie Theater, also known as Teatro Villa to the Mexican community, 1956

Milo Movie Theater, also known as Teatro Villa to the Mexican community, 1956

Courtesy of Adalberto Barrios, Estudio Azteca Archive

Blanco’s Family Market, 1962

Blanco’s Family Market, 1962

Courtesy of Adalberto Barrios, Estudio Azteca Archive

Pilsen intersection during the Mexican Independence Day parade, 1962

Pilsen intersection during the Mexican Independence Day parade, 1962

Courtesy of Adalberto Barrios, Estudio Azteca Archive