7 in Your Neighborhood: Jefferson Park

May 8, 2013 4:37:35 AM PDT
Jefferson Park has been called a city within a city because of its rich cultural history and longstanding sense of community.

"It's the people. Very family oriented, very family friendly, lot of single family homes, generational families, an amazingly diverse collection of folks up here, historically polish community but we're seeing a lot of folks move here from the eastern part of the city," said 45th Ward Ald. John Arena.

But it's the Polish celebrations that stand out, particularly Taste of Polonia in September, which is held at the Copernicus Center, an entertainment center with a history of its own.

"This was the first theater built in Chicago for this new type of movie called the talkies! And they weren't sure it was going to take hold. So, this was a big risk," said Greg Kobelinski, managing director, Copernicus Center.

The old Gateway Theater opened in 1930. When the Copernicus Foundation bought the building some 50 years later, they maintained much of the original splendor, while remodeling around it. They even kept the original carbon arc movie projectors. An awesome piece of nostalgia.

One of the biggest draws of Jefferson Park is the abundance of transportation options. At the transportation center, 13 different bus lines pass through, there's a Metra station, you have the CTA Blue line and just down the block, the Kennedy Expressway!

"It was always kind of a transportation hub because all the old plank roads and the old highways kind of converged on Jefferson Park here at Lawrence and Milwaukee. Even by the 1870s, there was some development happening.

That easy access makes Jefferson Park a destination. The Gale Street Inn, celebrating 50 years of mouth-watering ribs. The award-winning Gift Theatre, a professional company in a Milwaukee Avenue storefront. Jefferson Memorial Park, located on the site of the Esdohr Farm, one of the area's first settlers. And a Masonic temple! Yes, you can go inside.

"We are open to the public. We try and let the public know we're here. We have not been very successful because Masons are, by reputation, a secret society. We are not a secret society!" said Bruce Barnes of the Jefferson Masonic Association.

You can get a tour, just set it up in advance. So, Da Vinci Code right here in Jefferson Park!

The Masons just celebrated 100 years at that location. The old Gateway Theater got its name from Jefferson Park's nickname: "The Gateway to Chicago." That is a reference to the area being a transportation hub for farmers and merchants before rail and highways.


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