Consider my original take on the Historic South Side, the old Polish stronghold bordered by Greenfield and Oklahoma avenues between 1st and 27th streets. "One of the neighborhood's most impressive qualities," I fearlessly declaimed in 1987, "is its sense of continuity. Institutions developed in the last century have evolved to serve new generations. ... Mitchell Street's stores — including Kunzelmann-Esser Furniture, Goldmann's Department Store and a cluster of eight bridal shops — continue to draw loyal patrons from throughout the region."Yes, and it's been even longer since you could go shopping by Schuster's or be assisted by the parking lot controller in a tower behind Sears.
Well, look again. Kunzelmann-Esser is now an apartment building, Goldmann's is a memory, and the bridal shops have dwindled to a couple. Although Mitchell St. is still a bustling commercial corridor, most of its current business is done in Spanish.
In the single decade between 2000 and 2010, the metro area's Latino population surged a remarkable 56% — one of the largest proportional gains for any group in Milwaukee's history. The greatest number of new arrivals — Mexicans, primarily, but also Puerto Ricans, Central Americans and Cubans — settled on the south side. The Walker's Point neighborhood provided a home for Milwaukee's first Spanish-speakers in the 1920s, and the community has expanded naturally from that base, annexing blocks south of Greenfield Ave. once dominated by Polish families.Those changes have been in progress for a long time, does Mr Gurda forget the theater near the old Christian Center that relabeled itself El Cine about the same time the North Shore Line quit, or the "Little Spain" neighborhood near the collection of Prairie School houses west of Layton Boulevard?
I feel the changes personally. Ever since my ancestors emigrated from Poland in the 1880s, the south side and its suburbs have been my extended family's home turf. When friends with roots on the north side would speak wistfully about their old neighborhoods, most of which had long since become African-American, I found it difficult to relate, since so little had changed on my side of town.
It's difficult no longer. The landscape of my childhood and early adult years has been utterly transformed. Although the landmarks are still there, the group that built them has moved on. That can be a trifle unsettling, but it's also oddly energizing. The changes currently under way demonstrate that the city is a dynamic system, constantly in the process of reinventing itself. You can walk the streets of the south side and see Milwaukee changing before your eyes.
Icon of the Black Madonna at St. Stanislaus.
The churches have been adapting for a long time.
Businesses can change with the stroke of a pen, but churches have to straddle the border between two cultures until the transition is complete. Although the process has hardly been pain-free, most south side parishes have demonstrated a will to adapt and survive. A sign above the entrance to St. Hyacinth's Church — my grandmother's home congregation — bids visitors Witamy and Bienvenidos — "Welcome" in Polish and Spanish. The Basilica of St. Josaphat, gloriously restored in recent years, displays two matching Madonnas on its side altars: Our Lady of Czestochowa for Polish worshipers and Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Mexican faithful.And St. Helen's have recently introduced a "Polka Fiesta." That's not so much as a stretch, as anyone even a little bit familiar with Texican music can tell you. I have a couple of tapes of oom-pah music for road trips that I've picked up at taquerias.