Bridgeport & Positive Gentrification

Bridgeport has come to be my home away from home. I live on 35th Place, a quiet block of mostly single family homes or small, multi-unit homes. However, at the end of my street, a condo building, built in 1913 and converted in 2004, known as Union Lofts Condominium Association foreshadows the future of Bridgeport. Younger, diverse generations are expanding from downtown Chicago, looking for a “cute” place to stay.

Bridgeport was a result of the Irish immigrants, who came to Chicago for [cheap] labor, settling here on the south side of the city. Bridgeport attracted other white immigrants such as Italians, Poles, and Germans. Gentrification of the neighborhood is slowly leading to more and more cultures being represented here.

Gentrification is defined as, “the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper or middle-income families or individuals,thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses”[1]. It makes sense that gentrification often has a negative connotation. Local businesses and families feel the pressure of change to their neighborhoods. Despite the definition of gentrification, I believe Bridgeport is benefitting from its metamorphosis. Bridgeport has had many faces: from Irish homestead, immigrant destination, political symbol, and racist seclusion. What is Bridgeport today? I think it’s in transition towards a more welcoming, diverse culture being cultivated by the Millennials a.k.a. Generation Y.

For my trip, I decided to leave my car in front of my apartment, and experience my neighborhood on foot. In doing so, I was able to notice things I drive past everyday. As I walked around the neighborhood, I thought about what my experience in Chinatown was like. In Chinatown, I felt very obviously out of place. Here, I feel like a part of the community. But I am also white. No one questions what I am doing walking around at any given time. After living in Bridgeport for nearly a year, I was surprised to learn it has a history of being a predominantly white, racist neighborhood and unwelcoming to outsiders. Learning about Bridgeport’s history of racism made it easier to understand the stark contrast between Bridgeport and its neighbor, Bronzeville. Cross State Street heading East into Bronzeville and you will find many beautiful, old and new buildings standing next to empty lots and crumbling, boarded buildings.

I started at the Bridgeport Coffeehouse at 31st and Morgan. The little coffee shop is a place that young and old can feel comfortable. It has hip, “fancy” coffee and treats, while maintaining the simple beauty of Chicago’s old, brick buildings. It has warm colors and a design on the ceiling that we call “tin tiles” back home. They were painted a warm vanilla, so I don’t actually know if they are the same tin tiles we use. I noticed these tiles in other ships around the area as well, all painted over.

coffehouse

The coffeehouse. [1]

From the coffeehouse, I walked down Morgan, a street I only used when avoiding traffic to get to my apartment. As I walked down Morgan, I came across the Mediterranean restaurant called Zaytune. It is on the seemingly random corner of Morgan and 31st Place. The restaurant’s presence and location made me think that it is a part of the gentrification of the neighborhood.

zaytune

Zaytune Mediterranean Restaurant [3]

It speaks to how slow or new the process is, because it is not on a main street such as Halsted; when in fact there are multiple Chinese and Mexican restaurants on Halsted, two cultures that might seem more local due to the presence of Mexicans in Pilsen nearby and Chinatown just North of us.

As I continued down Morgan, bright colors caught the corner of my eye through the space in my sunglasses. BAM. There it was, a pop of many colors and designs spread across multiple buildings at the corner of West 32nd Place and South Morgan.

I don’t know a lot about art, even less about graffiti art, so I stood there and looked at, wondering what it said or meant. It was on both sides of 32nd Place, but I only got pictures of the South side of the street. It seemed like it was allowed to be there. Art is finding roots here in Bridgeport, brought by the Bridgeport Art Center and the Zhou Brothers. Both turned old warehouses into a place for expression and culture. The Zhou B Art Center is warm, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside looking in. The space is open, and the artwork is highlighted wonderfully with the lighting. I didn’t have a chance to visit the Bridgeport Art Center, however my classmates said it’s impressive inside and a great place to host events. It warms my heart and excites me to see these old buildings bring different views of life and color to this neighborhood I now call home.

Continuing South on this forgotten street, a large green dome called to me over the many apartments and houses. Intrigued, I followed it to its base. Suddenly, a large Catholic church burst from the houses around it. Two men were outside, clearly construction workers, and the church was wrapped in scaffolding. I came up on the church so quickly, that I had to back up to take it all in. Before me stood the Saint Mary of Perpetual Help church, completed in 1892.

This beautiful Roman Catholic church stands thanks to the Polish immigrants to Bridgeport in need of a large place to worship and center their community around. I was disappointed that I could not enter and explore the historic church. To see their pictures of their current restoration process: restoration link. You can find the church at 1039 West 32nd Street.

Just down the street from my apartment, I had the wonderful opportunity of receiving a tour from a generous man by the name of Bill Dennis in a little-known shop called Decorators Supply Corporation. This business uses old, hand-made carvings to continue production of the same charming pieces that are key to some classic architecture. They still work everything by hand, and their work is truly delightful. Surprisingly, Dennis said that roughly only 10% of their business is in Illinois.

I ended my tour of Bridgeport with Halsted Street. This street is basically my “last turn home,” and hosts some of my favorite restaurants, like Buffalo Wings and Rings. Although I like to frequent one or two restaurants and the convenient Family Dollar, there are many places on Halsted I never went. For example, when I moved into my apartment and had to get parking passes for game day, I stopped in the 11th Ward District building. I didn’t even notice the pump across the street. Makes you wonder what the historic Schaller’s Pump, opened in Irish Bridgeport in 1881, is doing so close to the political building.

I visited two shops on Halsted that I found interesting: Augustine’s Spiritual Goods (https://goo.gl/maps/fs7Jjr5TuJr) and Hardscrabble. I’ll admit, I never knew what Augustine’s actually was – I thought it was a Christian book store. I was right and wrong. This store is an impressive shop where many different spiritual relics, candles, cards, and pendants mingle with each other. There are so many elements to this store, I highly suggest you visit to take it all in. In Hardscrabble, you will find the Chicagoan pride and hometown feel of Bridgeport represented in posters, t-shirts, decor, and books.

File_008

Hardscrabble, a [local] shop on Halsted.

The store has a spirit; it’s fun and represents historic parts of Bridgeport and new proverbs like “Straight Outta Bridgeport”.

What I find interesting and alluring about Bridgeport is that it holds to its Irish heritage with pride, whereas in the past Irish were considered vulgar and a nuisance. Often shops have Irish or Celtic advertisements, regardless of my many neighbors actually being Italian. Gentrification of this neighborhood has a lot of potential. I believe the gentrification of Bridgeport won’t threaten locals as long as it doesn’t attack the historic heritage we like to hold up and be proud of here. Improving old warehouses or parks is harmful. This community wants to stay a neighborhood where you grow up and return to buy the house right next to your mom and dad; where your sister lives in your childhood home on Union and your family lives on Emerald. The families here cling to that identity of Bridgeport, and that identity is what makes Bridgeport seem safe and inviting

File_000 (2)

My home away from home.

Resources:

  1. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gentrification?s=t
  2. http://www.stmaryofperpetualhelp.com/p/history-of-our-church.html

Photo Resources:

  1. https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20151106/beverly/bridgeport-coffee-moving-into-former-hardboiled-storefront-north-beverly
  2. http://www.wbez.org/blogs/marcus-gilmer/2012-10/chicagos-deep-history-racism-gets-brief-national-spotlight-102925
  3. http://www.feedingofftherails.com/zaytune-mediterranean-grill-bridgeport-chicago-falafel/
  4. http://www.publicartinchicago.com/2012-temporary-exhibition-sculpture-garden-bridgeport-art-center/
  5. http://www.artslant.com/chi/venues/show/9973-zhou-b-art-center
  6. http://www.inetours.com/Chicago/photos/Saint-Mary.html
  7. http://www.chicagoarchitecture.org/2013/10/30/living-history-in-carved-wood-and-plaster-still-humming-away-in-bridgeport/bill-denis-vp-of-decorators-supply-corporation/
  8. http://www.chicagodetours.com/plastered-for-the-new-year-architecture-at-decorators-supply/
  9. https://alocalthing.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/get-pumped-at-schallers-pump/
  10. http://americanstudies-homeplaceproject.weebly.com/bridgeport.html
  11. http://yochicago.com/new-homes-reflect-the-reinvention-of-bridgeport/36621/
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