"Czech California" - "Bohemian California"

Irving Cutler, Professor of Geography, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, published a book "Chicago - Metropolis of the Midcontinent" in 1973.  It went through several additional editions.

The book contained a summary of "Czech California", also called "Bohemian California".  Below is an excerpt related to that topic:

"As early as 1880 they began moving into what was to become the largest Czech community in Chicago. Known as "Czech California," it derived its name from California Avenue (2800 W). The settlement encompassed mainly the community of South Lawndale, and was bounded approximately by Rockwell (2600 W) to the east, the city's boundary with the community of Cicero to the west, 14th Street to the north and 33rd Street to the south. By 1910 Czechs owned about 80 percent of the dwellings in Czech California.

The major artery of this community was 26th Street, which was lined with Czech facilities, especially between Rockwell and Pulaski. At Lawndale Avenue (3700 W) was the three-story Sokol Havlicek-Tyrs which contained a large hall that doubled as a gymnasium. At Albany Avenue (3100 W), adjoining the Pilsen Brewery, was Pilsen Park where for more than half a century many Czechoslovakian organizations held picnics, dances, festivals, and political rallies-especially rallies for the independence of Czechoslovakia. A number of Czech churches were established in the area, including Catholic St. Ludmila at 24th Street and Albany Avenue and Blessed Agnes at 26th Street and Central Park (3600 W), and Protestant John Hus Church at 24th Street and Sawyer Avenue (3232 W).

Czech influence permeated Czech California. The Czech language was taught at Farragut and Harrison high schools, and streets in the area, such as Kostner, Karlov, and Komensky, were named for prominent Czechs. Twenty-second Street was changed to Cermak Road to honor Chicago's first foreign- born mayor, Anton J. Cermak, who was killed in 1933 during the attempted assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Douglas Park elevated line which traversed both PiIsen and Czech California was dubbed the "Bohemian Zephyr."

The main commercial street of Cicero and Berwyn is Cermak Road. At the Chicago boundary with Cicero, where the black residential population ends abruptly, stands the huge Hawthorne Works complex of the Western Electric Company, Cicero's largest employer. Large numbers of Czechs and Slovaks are employed there. Nearby, on Cermak Road just west of Cicero Avenue (4800 W), stands the hotel where the gangster Al Capone had his headquarters in the 1920s. Capone terrorized Cicero and controlled its gambling, boot- legging, and even some of its elections and public officials.

Farther west on Cermak Road today is "downtown Bohemia," with numerous store signs bearing Czech names, babushka-wearing women, bakeries displaying Bohemian pastries, and restaurants such as Old Prague with its multi-colored Old World exterior. Because of its numerous savings and loan associations, often spaced only a block or two apart and sometimes even on adjoining corners, Cermak Road has been referred to as the "Bohemian Wall Street." Next to almost every savings and loan association is a real estate office with pictures of modest bungalows and two-fiats in the window. The penchant for thrift is reflected in a Cicero Life newspaper survey in the 1960s which showed that "18 out of every 19 Bohemians in the two communities paid cash for their cars-either 100 percent down immediately or within 90 days of purchase." Off the main street are rows of similar two- story red or brown brick houses, modest but neat and well-kept, on 25- or 30-foot lots, and usually debt free.

Today the majority of people of Czech descent in the Chicago area live in the suburbs. Unlike the suburban population of many other groups, the Czech suburban population is not dispersed, being largely concentrated in a few western suburbs. The rapid and continuing movement to the suburbs, however, has largely depleted the old Czech neighborhoods of the city. Praha, on the southwestern fringe of the Loop, has long been an industrial area. Pilsen is now almost wholly Mexican, though a very few, largely elderly Czechs still live there. St. Procopius is the only church that conducts the Sunday mass in the Czech language. A Czech daily newspaper is still located on 18th Street, but the six remaining Sokol groups are all in the suburbs.

The Czech movement out of Czech California has been more recent and is still continuing. Here, too, Mexicans now occupy most of the area. Some Czech institutions are still functioning there, but others have passed from the scene. Pilsen Park, the great Czech gathering place, has been replaced by a steel-and-glass shopping center with a large parking lot."

The Website:


Provides another description of Czech California:

"With Chicago’s landscape continually expanding, and the Bohemian people becoming upwardly mobile, it was natural for their community to grow.  At the turn of the twentieth century, Bohemians began their westward migration to what could become known as Česká Kalifornie (Czech California) in the vicinity of 26th Street and California Avenue.  Chicago's long established Pilsen district to the east of the neighborhood was becoming too crowded for many of its Bohemian residents.  There were also many first-generation Bohemian-American children of immigrants who were achieving economic success and wanted to own their own homes, which served as the ultimate symbol of owning a piece of the New World.  Česká Kalifornie, or Lawndale-Crawford as the neighborhood was also known, was still largely undeveloped and had an abundance of land to build new housing.  The other great advantage of Czech California was its close proximity to many manufacturing plants that provided steady, well-paying employment to willing, hard-working Bohemians.

It did not take long for the word to spread.  The Bohemian people wanted to live among their countrymen, and once they heard of the advantages and prosperity of Czech California, they began migrating there in large numbers.  At a time of growing anti-immigrant bias and nativist sentiment in the United States, these new arrivals did not sit well with many of Lawndale-Crawford's original settlers, and the Bohemians were not given a warm welcome and were looked upon with distrust and prejudice.  The neighborhood’s first settlers felt threatened by this group who spoke a different language, had funny-sounding names, and, worst of all, drank beer.  As a result, many of the neighborhood’s original settlers moved away, and by World War One, the Bohemians had become the dominant ethnic group in Czech California.

The Czech California neighborhood expanded westward to include the small communities of Lawndale and Crawford in the vicinity of 26th Street and Crawford Avenue (Pulaski Road).  Ethnic-themed businesses now lined 26th Street and every other commercial district in the area.  “Česká Kalifornie” was now known as the center of Czech life, culture, and business in Chicago.  The neighborhood was plentiful in theatres, Sokols, (Sokol Chicago and Sokol Havliček-Tyrš), halls, churches, and schools.  Czech California had several first-class public elementary and high schools, including Farragut and Harrison Technical.  The neighborhood also had two Bohemian Freethinker schools: Vojta Náprstek, which was built in 1911 at 2548 S. Homan Avenue, and Jan Neruda, located at 2659 S. Karlov, built in 1912."

Articles from Denni Hlasatel related to "Czech California"

Denní Hlasatel -- January 18, 1906

Czechs Settle on South-West Side.

Anyone able to recall memories of Bohemian California prior to eighteen years ago must surely be filled with astonishment over the great growth of that community. At that time it was such an insignificant settlement, that it was hardly worth mentioning.

Our sportsmen remember that prior to that time they used to go there to hunt rabbits. True, there are still many rabbits to be gotten there today, but these have already been shot and in some instances are stuffed with sawdust. There, where formerly lay an expansive prairie, now are found splendid streets and business houses, such, we believe, as no city need be ashamed of, and the majority of the businesses and residences are owned by our countrymen. The immigrant movement to Bohemian California is constantly increasing and we believe the time is not far off when this quarter will be a real Bohemian California, as it is now called.

Also deserving of mention is the growth of Bohemian settlements in Hawthorne, in the vicinity of 48th Avenue; in Clyde and especially in the town of Cicero. One Bohemian settler moved there more than thirteen years ago. He settled in an American neighborhood and as he states, he did not have a bed of roses among them. As it was, they considered him as belonging to some inferior nationality, they evaded him, and in every way possible made known to him their contempt and their superiority. However, he paid no attention to them, he did not force himself upon them and strictly minded his own business.

That way he impressed them and when he was followed by a second and a third settler, and they conducted themselves in the same manner, the Americans of the neighborhood began to realize that they had intelligent people to deal with, and that they had erred when they considered them as something inferior to themselves. They drew closer to them and steadily learned that these Czech people not only were their equals, but in certain instances their superiors. Today Hawthorne is slowly but surely becoming a Czech settlement, a settlement of which we will be just as proud in the future as we are at present of Bohemian California.

Denní Hlasatel -- August 10, 1906

Bohemian Grocers of Chicago Organize Wholesale House.

A wholesale grocery house will soon be added to the already large number of wholesale establishments which have recently been organized by our Bohemian countrymen. Among Bohemian grocers this idea has been much discussed and has advanced so far, that at the last meeting held, a temporary board of directors and officers were elected.

They were given the task of continuing the work already begun, and thus bring the enterprise to the proportions it should have. Co-operating grocers, of whom there are about fifty, look forward to this undertaking with great expectancy and are convinced that the greater the number of grocers participating, the greater will be the benefit to themselves and to their customers.

The grocers participating in this association are almost all known in the circle of their countrymen as active, enterprising businessmen and, therefore, it is expected that their idea of organizing a wholesale grocery business, where they can buy everything they need in their business, will meet with success.

The idea originated from a small group of grocers in Bohemian California who agreed that they would buy all their necessities collectively in large quantities.

Purchasing commodities in this manner they soon discovered the great advantage to be derived from such action. They were convinced that through co-operative buying they were able to make a considerable saving and consequently were enabled to sell their merchandise at lower prices. Having become acquainted with this fact, they endeavored to enlarge the association as much as possible in order that quantities purchased would be as great as possible and that the advantages enjoyed by large establishments might accrue to themselves.

This endeavor led Bohemian grocers to the organization of a strong company which would concentrate as many grocers as possible and thus direct the advantages enjoyed by the big wholesale houses downtown into their own channels.

The idea is an excellent one and much depends now on how the grocers who are not yet members of the association will welcome it, that is, whether or not they see any benefit in it for themselves. The participating grocers will hold a meeting next week at which steps will be taken to incorporate and issue stock. Only active grocers will be allowed to own stock in the company.

Temporary directors elected at the last meeting are: Vojt, Vyduna, James Berk, Frank Vojak, Jos. Kalina, Frank Suchy, J. Fitchner. The following named officers were elected: Frank Suchy, president; Vojta Vyduna, treasurer.


Denní Hlasatel -- January 20, 1911

For a New School and a New Gymnasium

Preparations for two buildings in "Czech California" are being pushed with great vigor for the edifices are destined to play an important part in the life of the Czech population of the district. One is the school, Vojta Naprsteck, on 26th and Homan ave., the other the gymnasium of the Sokol Havlicek, on Lawndale ave., near 26th st.

The old school has been in need of a building for a long time, to centralize its activities and to keep the classes under one roof, again, the old gymnasium has proved utterly inadequate for the accommodation of the ever increasing numbers of the Sokol association, which began and prospered in the old locality, but now has outgrown its size. The two buildings will not only meet a pressing demand of the astoundingly thriving district, but will no doubt have a decorative effect as well.

The bids of the contractors for the school, will be opened Monday in the chambers of the Sokol Chicago gymnastic society. An outlay of $45,000 was originally planned; the sum was lowered to $25,000, as some of the leaders, Mr. Richard Dusil and a few others excepted, were afraid to go too deep into debt. The drawings were worked out in the offices of Architect Jan Klucina. They are generally acknowledged as meeting the requirements of usefulness and beauty.

The school has now six classes, four on Kedzie ave., and two on Homan ave.; the six classes in the new building are to accommodate one hundred children. The building committee will be composed of Mr. Richard Dusil, president, Mr. Adolph Rys, Mrs. Marie Stepanek, and Mr. J. F. Fisher; the construction will be started toward the end of March.

The site for the gymnasium is valued at $3,500. The plans were prepared in the offices of architects Ludvik Novy & Son. The cost of the building is to be $35,000, which will be contributed in shares. The gymnastic society has two hundred male members, eighty members in the women's section and about 150 members in the junior division. The preliminary work, propaganda and support, as well as the actual erection, are in the hands of a committee of twelve Sokols whose names follow: Velan, Jakoubek, Zeman, Prochazka, Benes, Kier, Krametbauer, Cermak, Zeman, Raska, Vlsen, and Martinek.

Denní Hlasatel -- October 27, 1912

The First Bohemian National Bank in Chicago

The live business artery of our Bohemian "California," 26th Street, will soon be enriched by a new building which will demonstrate Bohemian astuteness in the banking business. It will be the splendid building of the first Bohemian national bank in Chicago, located at 3337-39 West 26th Street, between Homan and Turner Avenues, right in the heart of the largest colony of Chicago Bohemians. It will carry the name "Lawndale National Bank Building". It will cost $50,000 and, when finished, will be one of the most beautiful, most modern, and best equipped bank buildings on Chicago's West Side.....Its stone front with bronze ornamentation.....will be a masterpiece of architecture. The main hall is 45 by 100 feet, 21 feet high, and contains two safes 18 by 22 feet square and two stories high.....The building activities will start tomorrow.

The Lawndale National Bank, which is the first Bohemian national bank in Chicago, was formed by the recent merger of two Bohemian banking houses, that of Salát, Polák, and Kopecký, and Mr. Frank G. Hájíček's bank.....

Denní Hlasatel -- 16 January, 1916

News from the "Ceska California" The Bohemian Section of the Harrison Technical High School

["Ceska California" (Bohemian California) is the name which the Czechs have given to the Lawndale district of Chicago.]

On Monday, January 10, Mr. E. S. Vraz, a friend of our School, a renowned traveler and president of the Americka Narodni Rada (American National Council), visited us for the purpose of delivering a lecture to the pupils of the Czech section of the Harrison Technical High School on the natural beauties and the architectural monuments of Bohemia. In order that all the two hundred Czech students of the seven grades might attend the lecture in the small hall assigned to us, in which a color-reproducing machine throws the pictures on a screen in colors, it was necessary for Mr. Vraz to repeat the lecture four times. It was no doubt a difficult task for the lecturer; but without doubt it brought its rich reward, as might have been expected.

The ardent words of the speaker, reinforced by sixty brightly lighted color photos showing the beauties of Bohemia and the monuments of our splendor and our great past, imbued our students with a pride that could not be disguised. These word-pictures of the speaker, along with the color pictures, showed the students that they are descendants of a nation of great renown, for which God willing, even now a great future is in store.

The lecture was attended by many Bohemian students who do not study the Bohemian language, and therefore we may say that the lecture strenghtened the race-consciousness of the Bohemian students and awakened in those who are not studying Bohemian a livelier interest in the work of the Bohemian section.

The interest in this lecture was so intense that I will try to have an illustrated lecture every semester. One will be about the natural beauty of Bohemia; another will give an account of the nation's music; and a third describe its art. Surely, in that way, understanding of Bohemian culture and love for it will be aroused.

Denní Hlasatel -- January 02, 1921

Tremendous Growth of the Lawndale State and Lawndale National Banks

Those who have had an opportunity to follow the activities of the Lawndale State Bank and the Lawndale National Bank during the past years will gladly and proudly admit that the growth of the above-mentioned banking institutions, attained through their own efforts from small beginnings, has been spectacular. The Lawndale State Bank originated from a company doing business under the name Salat, Polák, and Kopecký, founded fifteen years ago. The year following, Mr. Frank G. Hajíček established a banking department in his place of business. The real foundations for the Lawndale State Bank were laid on January 1, 1912. In the same year, during the month of September, the Lawndale National Bank was established. Therefore, the success attained by both of these really Bohemian banks of Česka Kalifornie (Bohemian California) during such a short period is not only remarkable, but also extremely great.

Credit for this rapid growth must be awarded first to the managers, consisting of conscientious and experienced men, and then to the employees who, through their accuracy, honesty, and obligingness, gained a great number of new customers for both banking institutions. Besides that, both of these banks gained favor with our people because their managers always stood at the head of our national and philanthropic activities, generously supporting every good cause.

It is not surprising, then, that both of these institutions have grown so rapidly. Today, both banks are the foremost banking institutions of Česká Kalifornie, and from the records of the American banking statistics, it is apparent that both banks are included in the list of banks of the United States, and occupy second place in the amount of deposits in relation to the capital.....

Both banks started out with deposits representing the sum of $1,200,000. Today, the deposits represent the sum of more than $9,000,000. Because of this ever-increasing growth, both of these banking institutions decided to increase their capital to $500,000 each, beginning tomorrow, January 3, 1921. Today, the resources of both banks represent the awe-inspiring sum of ten million dollars. This sum, then, is the best recommendation for the Lawndale State and Lawndale National Banks; it is also the security for accurate and honest service, guaranteed by both of these banking institutions in any financial and real-estate matters.