Six Corners: Which is the Real One? Portage Park or Wicker Park?
CHICAGO — When a new Kanye West video screened on the side of a building in Wicker Park this month, people took to Twitter to talk about the big crowd it drew to the "six corners" intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues.
It made perfect sense to many. After all, the three converging streets form six corners, several businesses there have adopted the name, and some residents refer to it as "Six Corners."
The problem, however, is there's already a Six Corners in Chicago — and it's not in Wicker Park.
The Portage Park intersection of Milwaukee, Cicero and Irving Park for decades has been referred to as Six Corners. It's a proud name for nearby residents, a specific name for a specific part of the Northwest Side.
And some people aren't happy about Wicker Park using it.
"Six Corners is a designated area that is located at Milwaukee, Irving Park and Cicero Avenues in Chicago," Deborah Robison, a Belmont Cragin resident, wrote on a comment on a DNAinfo.com story that referred to Six Corners in Wicker Park.
"The area is even marked by City of Chicago street banners. Just because North, Damen and Milwaukee has six intersections, it is not Six Corners no matter what the newcomers to Chicago think."
Ed Bannon, executive director of the Six Corners Association in Portage Park, said he mostly hears new arrivals to the city refer to Milwaukee, North and Damen in Wicker Park as Six Corners.
"It tells me that person doesn't know their Chicago neighborhoods very well," said Bannon, adding that he has heard people locate Six Corners in Wicker Park more often in the last year. "If you grew up here, you know where Six Corners is."
Bannon — who works with businesses in Portage Park to revitalize the area around Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero Avenue and Irving Park Road — said the dispute over the name isn't just a marketing or branding issue.
"It is an emotional issue," Bannon said. "There is so much that identifies this area as Six Corners, capital S, capital C."
Bannon said he always corrects people when they refer to Six Corners as being in Wicker Park.
"It feels a little bit like someone is trying to steal our identity," Bannon said. "We can't sit by and let them."
Although the area around Irving Park and Milwaukee and Cicero has struggled for decades, it was once the city's premier shopping destination outside the Loop, with dozens of stores offering shoppers their hearts' desire and a chance to see a movie at the Portage Theater, built in the 1920s.
The heart of the shopping district was the Sears store, which opened in 1938.
On its first day, more than 99,500 customers poured into its aisles — which were the first to be air-conditioned, according to news reports. Its huge display windows looking out onto Cicero and Milwaukee were the largest in the Midwest, and drew shoppers from all over the city and suburbs.
Signs surrounding the busy intersection proclaim the area Six Corners, and the association's website is sixcorners.com.
Earlier this year, the city commissioned a study of the area, calling it the Six Corners Master Plan. It found the area must become more dense and pedestrian-friendly to thrive. Ald. John Arena (45th) has been working to turn the area into an arts and culture mecca that would draw people from all over the city with the promise of a show and dinner.
Meanwhile, as Portage Park strives to bring new energy to its "Six Corners," Wicker Park and Bucktown cannot stop the surge of crowds flocking to Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues at all hours.
The popularity of the intersection, crowded with restaurants, bars, retailers, a historic arts building and a Walgreens, has even prompted businesses to incorporate "Six Corners" into their names.
In September 2009, Dion Williams rebranded a hip-hop club called Devine, at 1950 W. North Ave. into "6 Corners Sports Bar."
"I grew up on the South Side, and my mom was a police officer in the 19th District. I remember in the 1980s everyone called Milwaukee, Damen and North 'Six Corners,' " Williams said. "This is an area so integrated with everyone, you feel comfortable going everywhere. Everyone feels a togetherness, and I love it so much, I wanted to call it [Six Corners]."
Though the bar's awning numerically spells "6 Corners," on Williams' website the name is spelled out as www.sixcornersbar.com.
The name has even drawn tourists, Williams said,
"No joke: We had two girls from Japan come in and said their friends told them to visit Six Corners in Wicker Park, and they thought we were the Six Corners," Williams said.
Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, owner of Dimo's Pizza Six Corners at 1616 N. Damen Ave., said that when he named the Wicker Park outpost of his Wrigleyville pizza restaurant, he "wasn't trying to make a statement in any shape or form."
"My thought process was that the intersection is iconic in itself, it's not Wicker Park, not Bucktown," Syrkin-Nikolau said. "I respect the old without any question. After reading about Six Corners I biked up by Portage Theater. I don't see any reason that they both can't exist. I named it more so because I think that the intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North is in its own right worthy of a name, and that's the name I always heard people calling it."
Adam Burck, director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said that "Typically, people call it Six Corners because it's the easiest way to address it."
The only entry in the Encyclopedia of Chicago for Six Corners places it in Portage Park. A joint effort of the Chicago History Museum and the Newberry Library, the encyclopedia is considered the definitive word on Chicago history, Pogorzelski said.
"There are lots of six-corner intersections in Chicago, but there is only one Six Corners," Pogorzelski said.
The development of Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues into a vital commercial district happened in the 1970s as part of the rise of the counterculture, Pogorzelski said.
"It's a must-see area of Chicago, but it is much more recent than Six Corners," Pogorzelski said.
As Wicker Park's main intersection continues to grow, Syrkin-Nikolau predicted that the name "Six Corners" as it applies to Wicker Park will gain traction.
"I suppose there's an ebb and flow and names come and go," Syrkin-Nikolau said. "The prevailing wind is blowing toward [Milwaukee, Damen, North] being known as the six corners. I feel like there is a significant amount of economic development going on in that area, and that's where life is taking shape and forming."