Community Profile: Chicago
East Village: Urban enclave with trendy vibe
Close to the Loop, tiny neighborhood east of Ukrainian Village is abuzz with activity
East Village is in a desirable location, just minutes from the Loop and a few blocks from Wicker Park. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune photo)
Richard Anselmo isn't from the neighborhood either, although he's lived here most of his life and most of his neighbors consider him a lifer.
The two professionals are colleagues and both serve on the board of East Village Association (EVA), a neighborhood educational, social and civic group. They live within the same half-mile square but frequent different haunts. The geographic area of East Village, with Division Street on the north, Ashland Avenue on the east, Chicago Avenue to the south and Damen Avenue on the west, may be small but the variety in shopping, dining and entertaining — reportedly there are 20 bars in the neighborhood — certainly isn't.
A niche approach to retail is apparent in East Village. On Chicago Avenue, Elevenzees is devoted to the home and its inhabitants. On Division, Pump caters to women's passion for shoes, Cattails to flower lovers, and Nina to those passionate for textiles.
Nina Rubin opened her knit shop five years ago. "I like the neighborhood a lot because [I felt] it was waiting to be developed and I wanted to be part of the change, to be part of the growth."
Kate Leydon opened her wellness studio in 2002. Since then, the services at Ruby Room on Division have grown along with the interests of her clients in this eclectic neighborhood. "Our spa and salon provide places to relax and our retail products are geared toward those who like to feel and be healthy," she says.
An architect, Rappe also works in the East Village and likes to dine in the neighborhood. He often stops for coffee at Milk and Honey on West Division Street. Anselmo, a Realtor, suggests Barista on Damen.
Anselmo says the neighborhood was once a melting pot of the working class, citing the German workers that populated the area after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. They were followed by Swedes and Hungarians. After World War II, Polish immigrants moved into the area and most recently, Hispanics. Today, he says, East Village is especially ethnic when it comes to food.
He likes the burritos at Tecalitlan, a Mexican eatery on Chicago Avenue. Rappe prefers the pastry-like crust of the pizzas at Pizza Metro on West Division, which remind him of those sold from carts on the streets of Rome. There is one neighborhood haunt that Anselmo and Rappe agree on: the Happy Village Bar on the corner of North Wolcott and West Thomas Streets, where the EVA holds its monthly meetings.
The Happy Village event room is also the neighborhood spot for parties, family reunions, and get-togethers. On election days, it transforms into a polling place. Seven days a week it is home to table tennis league play on two permanent tables. Bartender Bill Melekis says the Happy Village is a place where patrons get their money's worth in a friendly environment.
East Village offers good value in real estate, according to Anselmo. He has a listing for a four-unit, owner-occupied building in a landmark block on North Winchester with an asking price of $899,000.
"The 2 1/2-story worker cottage is the hallmark of the neighborhood," he says.
Rappe agrees but adds that the term "cottage" can be misleading because it infers one family and that is not always the case. He says to envision a worker cottage think of what a child would draw when asked to draw a house; it would have a gabled roof, a chimney, minimum details.
Other types of housing found in East Village include three-story, six-unit buildings with flat roofs and cornices. Some corner buildings are being renovated into street-level storefronts with living spaces above, Rappe says.
"It's a lot of work to keep a neighborhood going," he says, referring to the EVA's close association with the aldermanic offices for the 1st and 32nd wards and efforts to achieve national landmark status for the area.
The acknowledgement did not come overnight.
The city created the East Village Landmark District four years ago. Last year, the Illinois Historic Preservation Society nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places. On Dec. 8, the National Register awarded the East Village Landmark District discontinous landmark status, a recognition that acknowledges sections within the neighborhood as indicative of an "Ethnic (European) Historic Settlement in the city of Chicago, 1860-1930."
According to an EVA newsletter, tax breaks are available to homeowners who renovate properties the city has earmarked as significant. Apartment buildings on the National Register can qualify for a 20 percent tax credit for the rehabbing of historic income-producing properties.
The EVA hosts two neighborhood parties each year, in August and December. It also participates in Mayor Daley's Clean and Green volunteer clean-up program each May.
Neighborhood schools include Andersen Community Academy, LaSalle II Magnet School and Wells Community Academy High School.
A walk through East Village affords a first impression of tidy yards abutting tree-lined streets that are clean and feel safe. A Chicago Police Department crime report for Jan. 22 to Feb. 4 for the area bears this out. It shows 11 incidents, including one motor vehicle theft, one burglary and nine thefts.
Public transportation is optimal in the East Village with four CTA bus lines and the Blue Line elevated train serving the area. Bike lanes on Damen, Augusta and nearby Milwaukee are well-used. And Interstate Highway 90/94 is a stone's throw away. All provide easy access to the cultural attractions, world-class entertainment and sporting events throughout the city.
The residents of East Village run the gamut from young professionals and families starting out to those who have lived there for generations. The eclectic mix provides energy to the area from one side of the half-square mile border to the other.