Pilsen is a neighborhood in the southwest corner of the 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 Plzen, the 4th largest city in what is now the Czech Republic. They replaced the Germans And Irish who had settled there before them in the mid-19th 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. The approximate borders for Pilsen are West 16th Street to the north, the Dan Ryan Expressway to the east, Interstate 55 to the south and South Ashland Avenue to the west. In 2006, Pilsen Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. By 2018, Pilsen began to gentrify, and working class ethnic Mexican residents and businesses were displaced by wealthier non-Mexican ones.
On a bright, sunny afternoon I drove around the Pilsen neighborhood to look for murals to photograph. I started at 18th & Jefferson where I photographed the Bodhi Thai Bistro mural. I then headed over to the Lacuna Artist Lofts on 21st & Canalport where I captured
‘Nightfall’ (Wrdsmth), ‘Courage Has No Gender’ (Meg Zany) and ‘Bless This Mess’ (Kashink). Across the way was the ‘El Abrazo’ mural (Eric J. Garcia, Katia Perez-Fuentes, Diana Solis) on W. 19th Street. I also photographed the 9MAG tattoo shop, shown on VH1's hit show
'Black Ink Crew: Chicago '. The location was also at the Lacuna Artist Lofts. A life-sized mural by Lauren Asta adorned the exterior wall of Lacuna. Driving back and forth between 16th Street and 18th Street, I captured great murals by Cesar ‘Czr Prz’ Perez, Manuel ‘Matr’ Macias, Raul ‘Rawooh’ Ramiraz, Brenda ‘KOZMO’ Lopez, Sam Kirk and Sandra Antongiorgi, Salvador Jimenez w/Yollocalli Arts and Hebru Brantley (Fly Boy). On 16th Street, I spotted a cool mural by Joseph ‘Sentrock’ Perez and JC Rivera called 'Fight Harder, Fly Higher', which featured Sentrock's trademark bird and JC's yellow bear champ. Also on 16th Street & Newberry Avenue was the touching mural tribute to ‘Marlen Ochoa-Lopez’ (Milton Coronado). Marlen was a pregnant young lady who was kidnapped, killed and her baby cut out of her.