Polonia Triangle Part 2: Chopin’s Music Still Plays

In Part 1 of this two-part blog post on Chicago Polish culture and history, we left off with Chicago Polonia’s contribution to the recreation of the Polish State in 1918. Now let’s talk about the lively Polish community around the Polonia Triangle and its surrounding neighborhood today of Wicker Park, Noble Square and Ukranian Village. We always love showing these areas to locals and visitors on the Old Polonia and Wicker Park Food Tour.

While many non-Polish organizations have taken over the former homes of the Polish National Alliance, the Polish Women’s Alliance, and myriad Polish-owned stores, newspapers and restaurants, the Polish community’s heart still beats here. In addition to the formerly-competing churches mentioned in Part 1 (and  their awesome architecture), several organizations still exist.

The Chopin Theater

At the center of the Polonia Triangle is the Chopin Theater.

Built in 1918, it stands out from its neighbors with its neoclassical terra cotta facade, and the interior is dressed with a gallery of paintings, and an amalgam of baroque and renaissance style furniture and decor. The interior feels like stepping into the French-Polish Romantic world that Chopin inhabited.

The basement houses a lounge with a piano, a small stage area, a bar, and tables– reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century artists salon.

Many of the performers that started on the Chopin Theater’s stages went on to open their own theaters. Just a few of its notable Polish and non-Polish performers include actor John Cusack, jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, and flutist Joanna Turska, who just happens to be my mom! The Chopin Theater has brought literal and figurative music to my life, and to the lives of generations of Chicagoans.

The Polish Museum of America

Walk just a few blocks south on Milwaukee, and you’ll encounter one of the most interesting and overlooked collections in Chicago: the Polish Museum of America.  The thick-walled, steel reinforced concrete construction matches the fortress-like character of the organization. The horrific Iroquois Theater fire had killed more than 600 people just a few years prior. So, as a fireproofing measure, the walls were built as thick as 20″ in certain places. This Polish organization still calls the building home, and they share it with the Polish Museum.

In this four-story building, friendly staff members showed me artifacts from Poland and the Polonia Triangle. The museum library also has one of the largest collections of Polish books in the United States.

The Polish Roman Catholic Union

The Polish Roman Catholic Union started off as a fraternal organization. Its goal was to promote the Roman Catholic cultural traditions of Poland,  provide financial assistance to Poles, and help Poland become an independent country again. Today, it promotes Polish culture through traveling exhibits, concerts, national sports tournaments, social events, and youth programs. They even offer 25 Polish language and dance schools. I went to one of those Polish Saturday school for several years. So if I’ve  ever impressed you with my dance moves, you can thank the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America.

Polish Art and Artists

Polish art and architecture doesn’t only come in religious or community organization forms though. You can visit the exterior of the home of Jerzy Kenar, an internationally acclaimed sculptor from Poland living near the Polonia Triangle. He created sculptures installed at O’Hare International Airport, the Harold Washington Public Library, and several churches around the city. As a child, I connected with his sculptures in one of my favorite churches, St. Patrick’s in Wadsworth. It has a contemporary wood interior and 60-ft windows facing the woods, but I digress.

To find his home, go to the corner of Wolcott and Augusta. You’ll know you’re there when you see all the sculptural surprises. When you go, remember to look up, too. Kenar’s sculpture “Unity” was recently erected in Warsaw, Poland. It’s yet another example of the strong connection between Chicago and Poland.

He also designed the doors to Holy Trinity Church in 2000.

Photo Credit: Klaudia Siczek


Polish neighborhoods in Chicago change quickly, and in Polonia Triangle many little beauty marks have been left behind, from a sculpture, to a cathedral, to simply a note of music.

–Klaudia Siczek, Editorial Intern


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Related Posts

be a



Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

Book a chicago event

Let’s Connect!