Chicago's Polish community Tuesday morning is coping with the loss of a beloved bakery that brought tastes of the homeland to the Avondale neighborhood for generations.
As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole and WBBM Newsradio's Lisa Fielding report, firefighters spent more than three hours dousing the flames at the Pasieka Bakery, 3056 N. Milwaukee Ave. A 2-11 alarm was called for the fire, which gutted the storied bakery.
Following the fire, workers cleared debris in the back of the burned out building, as neighbors mourned the loss of the bakery. It had been an institution in Avondale since the Great Depression.
To say the stubborn, smoky fire destroyed the bakery only tells part of the story.
"You could say the heart of Polish Chicago is in the Polish Village, and the heart of the Polish Village is up in flames," said Dan Pogorzelski of the Greater Avondale Chamber, as he gestured at the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that runs through Avondale.
"It's like a small part of history in this area for Polish People," said Irek Baran, owner of Andy's Deli across the street.
Its two-story side mural, which once served as a gateway to the Polish Village, is most likely a total loss, firefighters said.
It's not uncommon to hear Polish spoken on this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, or see the late Polish Pope's picture staring back from storefronts. But Pasieka's top-rate Polish pastries and breads made it a gathering place.
"Not only Polish but Mexican, Puerto Rican, American," said neighbor Maria Wojcik.
Hillary Clinton even visited the bakery during her husband's presidential campaign in 1992.
Pogorzelski said walking into Pasieka was like a time warp.
"It's completely kept up, and yet the interior is as if you're in between World War I and World War II in the 1920s, going to pick up some ethnic fare, like you're Slats Grobnik out of a Mike Royko editorial," Pogorzelski said.
The bakery offered everything from Polish bread to babkas, to paczkis.
When the fire broke out Monday morning, crews at first made an aggressive attack on the fire. But the building's age had them eventually pulling out for safety to let it burn.
The fire started in the basement of the bakery, firefighters said. Apartments are located above the bakery. The fire spread vertically throughout the structure and became difficult to fight as flames ripped through the walls and heavy smoke permeated the building.
The cause remains under investigation.