Chicago Gang History

Garfield Ridge

NameGarfield Ridge
LocationThe intersection of Pershing Road and Cicero Avenue at the northern most point running down along the railroad tracks by Interstate 55 on the north, 59th Street and halfway through Midway Airport on the south, railroad on the east, Harlem Avenue on the west
Settled1835
FounderWilliam B. Archer
Year annexed1889, 1915

 

This area was first discovered in the year 1835 when William B. Archer (Archer Avenue named after him) bought acres of land in this area.  After the area was mapped, Irish and German Illinois & Michigan Canal workers settled in the area along with some bands of Native Americans but no one ever stayed long because of the swampy prairie lands that did not make ideal farmland, the on and off settlement would continue all through the 1840s. 

In the year 1853 John “Long John” Wentworth (Wentworth Avenue is named after him) bought acres of land here but the area still remained barren; however, the city of Chicago annexed part of his land in 1889. 

After annexation in the 1890s Dutch farmers began settlement in this area mainly in the area that is known as “Sleepy Hallow” and eventually a community was present by 1907.  In the 1900s decade Polish immigrants came to this area and expansion even happened outside Sleepy Hallow, especially since there were new industrial jobs like Argo Corn Products that opened in 1907 at 63rd and Archer Avenue in the neighboring Clearing neighborhood.  In 1912 a new subdivision started called “Bartlett Highlands” near Narragansett to Meade between 51st Street and 55th Street. 

In the year 1915 the rest of this area was annexed into the city of Chicago which created the “Garfield Ridge” neighborhood. 

In the year 1923 an airport was built in the southern part of the neighborhood that transported U.S. mail only, then by 1926 the city of Chicago bought the airport and turned it into the Chicago Municipal Airport which provided many more jobs for the mostly Polish community.  In the year 1931, the airport now had passenger lines which prompted a greater need for employment. 

The Great Depression years in the 1930s were not real harsh on this community because the airport and other industries supported this small community of fewer than 7,000 people, the only side effect of the depression was a lack of heavy growth in the neighborhood. 

In the 1940s decade the area boomed mainly because of the airport industry as workers and frequent travelers took up residence.  In July of 1949 the airport was renamed “Midway Airport” after the battle of Midway in 1942 during World War II.  Midway Airport was the only passenger airport in Chicago and became the busiest airport in the country. 

In that same year of 1949 the Chicago Housing Authority began the construction of the Leclaire Courts public housing projects in response to the severe housing crisis African Americans were facing around the city.  There was immediate massive protest by the Garfield Ridge all-white community that objected to these projects that were planned to run from 43rd Street to 45th Street north to south then Cicero Avenue to Lavergne Avenue going east to west.  By 1950 the projects were completed and the first African Americans took up residence in this community as they exclusively lived in the housing projects. 

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s there were major racial tensions between blacks and whites in this neighborhood because of the projects.  White greaser street gangs began popping up by the 1960s that battled black street gangs that migrated from other neighborhoods like the Black Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords

In the mid to late 1970s many of the white greaser clubs joined up with the South Side Insane Popes from the nearby Archer Heights neighborhood to fight against Latino and black gangs in and around the area.  The Popes were known to be a tough group and by the 1980s they began taking in Latinos. 

By the 1970s and especially by the 1980s the Leclaire Courts became neglected by CHA and fell into deterioration.  Garfield Ridge had a fair level of gang violence; however, the vast majority came from the projects, this was also responsible for the majority of the murders calculated in the neighborhood.  Protests of the projects continued over the years as residents complained those buildings were depreciating the neighborhood and drawing in gang violence.  There were also gang rivalries between Insane Popes, Satan Disciples, Latin Kings and Two Six among Mexicans and whites. 

The 1990s probably saw the worst of the gang rivalries.  Some events in later history curbed most of the gang violence; first, there was the shooting death of two 13 year girls in the nearby Clearing neighborhood caused by the “Almighty Popes” street gang; however, Chicago police blamed all gangs with the name of “Pope” and that also led to targeting other gangs in the area which decreased the gang activity permanently of white and Latino gangs.  Second, in the year 2009 the city evacuated the projects and began demolition which was complete by 2011.  The residents had finally gotten what they wished and the projects were now gone which eliminated the gang activity in the area.  Presently Garfield Ridge is not heavy on gang activity or crime and is one of the safer communities in Chicago.

Published: Updated: