Chicago Gang History

Uptown

NameUptown
LocationFoster Avenue on the north, Irving Park Road on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, Ravenswood Avenue on the west
Settled1836
FounderConrad Sulzer
Year annexed1889

 

Conrad Sulzer first settled the area in the area now known as Buena Park at present day Montrose and Clark.  The “Graceland Cemetery” that was built in 1860 was also designated to be a park like area for Chicagoans to come and enjoy the outdoor leisure feel of this park.  German and Swedish immigrants fell in love with the area and began having regular outings on this land.  Some even built farms on this land such as; “Buena Park” in 1860 and “Cedar Lawn” in 1869 and the famous “Edgewater” in 1887. 

The area that was named Edgewater was a higher class subdivision as upper classes and middle classes of people moved here in the late 19th century and early 20th century. 

The area, including Edgewater, was annexed into the city of Chicago in the year 1889, after this a major plan was put together to build the area up into a neighborhood loaded with shopping and entertainment to model after Broadway in New York City, hence, how Broadway Street came about and how the name “Uptown” was brought about.  Uptown was the site of several shopping strips and theaters such as the Riviera, Aragon Ballroom and the Uptown Theater.  Several luxury apartments and mansions were constructed in the earliest part of the century, making the 1920s the best decade this neighborhood saw. 

The Great Depression era hit Uptown hard in the 1930s especially after Lake Shore Drive was extended to Foster Avenue making motorists bypass the shopping in Uptown as they headed for shopping in the more northern suburbs instead.  Uptown struggled through the 1930s and by World War II the many luxury apartments were vacated by the wealthy then divided into smaller units for impoverished residents to move into.  Landlords soon felt they no longer needed to maintain their properties due to lower class residents residing in their apartments and soon, the neighborhood began to deteriorate entirely. 

By the 1950s Uptown became highly attractive to poor southern migrants and impoverished Native Americans that could not afford to live anywhere else.  The State of Illinois also created halfway houses among the various dilapidated apartment complexes for the mentally ill that were trying to assimilate back into society.  Uptown soon gained the reputation as “Hillbilly Heaven” as a slum for hillbillies and a place full of destitution and poverty, this reputation was not too far from the truth. 

By the 1960s Uptown became even more deteriorated and crime was on the rise. 

In 1968 impoverished African Americans and Puerto Ricans began settling in higher volumes in the neighborhood due to cheap rent.  Gangs like the Black P Stones and Black Gangster Disciples migrated into the area.  The southern white residents protested the arrival of blacks and Latinos and many formed street gangs to combat the arrival of racial minorities.  One notorious Uptown born white supremacist gang was the “Uptown Rebels” that formed at the same exact time as the arrival of blacks and Latinos.  As time went on more white power gangs arrived in the neighborhood such as the Gaylords in 1969. 

By the 1970s Uptown became a war zone for several street gangs like the Harrison Gents, Latin Kings, Latin Eagles, Gaylords, Black Gangster Disciples and Black P Stones.  The neighborhood continued to crumble and became the sight of bombed out deteriorated buildings as the streets were lined with trash and sleeping vagrants. 

In the year 1970 the infamous “4848” building was constructed at 4848 North Winthrop Avenue, which was a 280 unit 19 story high rise apartment building that was ran by the U.S. Department of Housing And Urban Development.  Of course this being a government ran building that provided exclusive section 8 residents with housing would result in horrible neglect and mismanagement.  Gangs and drugs took over this tower of misery as Chicago police reported in 1991 that this tower had a long standing drug operation by street gangs and the building had a supply of automatic weapons (Chicago Tribune J. Linn Allen, June 22, 1993).  The building was mainly run by the Gangster Disciples until it was finally sold and renovated to become the United Winthrop Tower Cooperative.   

In 1973 those that lived in the Edgewater section wanted out of Uptown and plead with the city achieve secession from Uptown, the wish was granted and Edgewater became its own neighborhood. 

The gang wars in Uptown continued as murders stacked up in the 1980s and 1990s. 

By the mid-1990s Uptown became a favorable area for urban renewal as the very first dilapidated buildings were razed in favor of new apartment and condo developments.  The trend soon caught on and by the beginning of the 20th century, Uptown went through a massive makeover.  Eventually gang issues dramatically decreased and crime rates dropped.  The area became flooded with yuppies that had the money to pay higher rent amounts, thus, increasing the neighborhood’s value. 

These days Uptown went through a massive change and does not look even close to same as it did by 1990 and has become one of the safer Chicago neighborhoods. 

Uptown also has heavily developed their Vietnamese section of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood is mostly upper middle class in recent years.

Published: Updated: