Historically a working-class community, Avondale has been characterized as a “neighborhood of smokestacks and steeples.” Making up the "smokestacks" half of this were the numerous companies that set up shop and produced goods here for the entire country. Avondale was home to the factories for Florsheim Shoes, Olson Rug, and Dad's Root Beer, among others, all of who took advantage of the neighborhood's proximity to the Chicago River and the city's extensive rail network.
Avondale's Basilica of St. Hyacinth (pictured above) and the nearby St. Wenceslaus help illustrate the second half of the "smokestacks and steeples" characterization. The two massive churches are gathering places not only for the Poles in Avondale, but also for Poles throughout the rest of Chicago and the surrounding areas.
These Poles, "who have today become synonymous with Avondale," first arrived in the area in the 1890s. Their arrival helped solidify Chicago's infamous "Polish Corridor (Milwaukee Avenue)," and made the neighborhood a port of entry for many arriving immigrants. While Avondale has been experiencing gentrification in recent years, "much of its Polish character, with Polish bakeries, restaurants, businesses and even a department store visible in its landscape," remains strong.
* Special thanks to Daniel Pogorzelski for spending a few hours on a recent Saturday morning showing me around the neighborhood. Here's a great article he wrote about Avondale for Forgotten Chicago.