Strolling along on my way to dinner, I absently looked up to read this engraved corner stone at 2526 W. Fullerton Avenue, on the border of Bucktown and Logan Square. Curious, I did a little light research and, to my surprise, this little stretch in the heart of one of Chicago’s most popular and hip neighborhoods was once the center of the city’s Belgian population. So much so, in fact, that they erected this building and dubbed it the All Belgians Are Equal Club in 1921. Actually, I was surprised to learn that Chicago had a Belgian population at all. They apparently liked to clean things as well.
According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Belgian immigration to Chicago began in the middle of the nineteenth century, and reached its peak in the early decades of the 1900s. The vast majority of early Belgian immigrants were Flemish (from the northern part of the country) and Dutch-speaking. The other large ethnic group in Belgium are the Walloons, from the French-speaking southern region.
Belgium was overrun by the Germans in 1914 as an extension of Germany’s WWI invasion of France and Belgian immigration tapered off during the years between the World Wars. Apparently, it was during the First World War that the notion of Flemish separatism began to take hold. Many of the battles fought within Belgium were staged in that region, and under French command. In the inter-war years, the ethnic rivalry continued to grow. That the majority of Chicago Belgians were Flemish, and the Flemish were becoming more self-aware, would explain the desire to have an All Belgians Are Equal Club and put the name on a building.
Chicago Belgians loved them some clubs. The first Belgian-American cultural organization in town, Kunst-En Broederliefd (which I hope translates to something about Bro-Life), was formed in 1909. By the outbreak of World War I they had established themselves as Chicago’s preferred maintenance ethnicity, and formed the Belgian American Janitors Club and were prominent in the Flat Janitors Union – Local 1. A few years later, the Janitors Club became the Belgian American Club of Chicago and were using the clubhouse on Fullerton Avenue pictured below.
Belgian immigration experienced a re-invigoration of sorts in the 1970s in the wake an economic recession in the home country and for the first time included a large contingent of Walloons. I have not yet found the clubhouse of the Not All Belgians Are Equal (Walloons Rule, Flemings Drool) Club, but be confident that I am on the look out.
Editor’s note: this has been re-edited as a tornado struck in the middle of initial revisions. Fortunately, both the author and Belgium were not harmed.