Pilsen is a classic Chicago neighborhood story of modern-day gentrification: a flux of immigrants establishes a home, artists move in to take advantage of low-rent and finally, developers (attracted to the 'hipness') tear down the old to make way for condos and newly constructed single-family homes.
Although Pilsen's history originally began as a port of entry for Irish and German immigrants in the 1800s, it wasn't until the second wave of inhabitants immigrated that the area received its name. This fresh group of residents came from Czechoslovakia (present-day Czech Republic) and christened their new Chicago home after Plzen, a major city in their distant homeland. Along with Czechs, other groups hailed from Central and Eastern Europe including those of Polish, Austrian, Slovakian, Croatian, Swedish, Dutch and Lithuanian heritage.
As well as the namesake, the neo-bohemian baroque style architecture that characterizes the area and gives the neighborhood its Old World charm is another stamp we can thank the Czechs for. Those precious gems of the past are being put to good use as the Mexican-American Catholic residents (who now make up a large percentage of Pilsen's population) use the Cathedrals today.
While the evidence of an Eastern European cultural foundation is still present in Pilsen, following the establishment of the University of Illinois at Chicago to the north a sizeable Mexican population drifted south to the neighborhood in the 1960s, dominating the area ever since. Nowadays the myriad grocerias (Mexican grocers), taquerias (taco stands) and bric-a-brac shops will transport visitors 'south of the border.'
Pilsen's proximity to the Loop and access to low-rent housing generated a thick artist community. Now lofts and storefront galleries dominate this row, where hip youth mingle with art-collectors. Additionally, the area just to the north of the 16th and Halsted Street underpass is enjoying an explosion in real estate development of contemporary condominiums and new-construction townhomes, which is sneaking south in spurts, resulting in a hike in real estate values in east Pilsen in recent years.