Woodard Plaza at Milwaukee, Diversey and Kimball avenues. Credit: Milwaukee Avenue Alliance

AVONDALE — The community plaza that serves as “the gateway to Avondale” could soon be renamed in honor of the area’s Polish history, thanks to a community-led effort.

Built in 2014, the triangular plot of land at Milwaukee, Diversey and Kimball avenues has been known as Woodard Plaza, named for a nearby side street.

But as gentrification continues to strip Avondale’s ethnic identity, locals are calling on the city to rename the community gathering spot Solidarity Triangle. The name is a nod to the Polish solidarity movement in the 1980s, which brought many Polish immigrants to Avondale and other parts of the city, and to the Polonia Triangle, another Polish enclave in West Town.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who represents the area where the plaza is located, introduced a City Council ordinance in December that would rename the plaza. Ramirez-Rosa said he acted after receiving letters of support from the Avondale Neighborhood Association and the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance, along with other community leaders.

Community organizer and neighborhood historian Daniel Pogorzelski, who has led the renaming effort, said Solidarity Triangle will honor the many immigrants who made Avondale into what it is today and further establish the neighborhood as culturally important. New signs would be installed along the plaza, and locals plan a renaming ceremony should the ordinance get City Council approval, Pogorzelski said.

“When there’s so many sad headlines — whether it’s been the passing of [famous Polish singer] Krzysztof Krawczyk, whether it’s been the closing of the [Polish] businesses, whether it’s just word of mouth when you hear about people who have had to leave the neighborhood … this is counter to that. It’s like, ‘Wow, we finally get something,'” Pogorzelski said.

Ramirez-Rosa said the new name would be a “great” way to honor the movement which brought many Polish immigrants and leaders to Avondale, including Pope John Paul II.

“I think it’s important that we recognize our community’s past and present and the diverse histories and stories that make up our neighborhood,” the alderman said.

One of the many concerts held at Woodard Plaza in 2021 as part of the “Moods and Foods” series. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Pogorzelski

Avondale long was the center of Chicago’s Polish community.

After the Civil War, Polish immigrants and refugees began settling in the industrial neighborhood, which led to the opening of the now-historic Polish church St. Hyacinth Basilica in 1894, an institution that brought even more Polish migrants, Pogorzelski told Curbed. Over the years, all types of Polish businesses from grocery stores to nightclubs lined Milwaukee Avenue.

But Avondale’s once-thriving Polish community has changed amid recent gentrification, compelling longtime Polish immigrants to move out and Polish businesses to close. In 2019, Avondale lost Red Apple Buffet, known for its wide array of affordable Polish food, and longtime Polish radio and TV station Polskie Radio. Not far away, Polish dive bar Mr. ZJ’s was recently replaced by a new bar from the team behind The Owl and Estelle’s.

The efforts to rename the plaza are reminiscent of Logan Square’s Unity Park, which got its name from years of persistent community organizing. Solidarity Triangle is also meant to pay homage to the many people of other ethnicities who settled in Avondale — Latino, Slavic, Black, Asian, Jewish, Roma and Indigenous — and to recognize the neighborhood’s working-class identity.

“It uniquely recognizes our aspirations to come together as a multicultural and
multiethnic community while paying homage to this neighborhood’s past as a sanctuary for refugees from Poland,” the ordinance reads.

Woodard Plaza was originally designed by landscape architect Terry Guen with flood abatement in mind, community organizers have said. The plaza has a storm water drainage system that irrigates native plants.

The city paid for the project using $500,000 in Tax Increment Finance dollars, according to Streetsblog. It was part of the city’s larger effort to convert public spaces into places where people could relax and enjoy cultural events.

In 2018, a group of neighbors led by Milwaukee Avenue Alliance leader Lynn Basa cleaned up the plaza, which had become overrun with weeds, trash and rats. Locals have pushed for more markets and events to be held at the public square in recent years.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.org Twitter @mina_bloom_