Chicago Gang History

Status: Demolished

Rockwell Gardens

LocationMadison Street on the north, Van Buren Street on the south, Western Avenue on the east, Rockwell Street on the...
NeighborhoodNear West Side
Constructed1958–1959
Demolished2003-2006

 

The Rockwell Gardens housing project began construction in the year 1958 among several other projects in the Near West Side community like the ABLA projects and the Henry Horner Homes.  These projects contained eight buildings that were 10 and 13 story high rises with a total of 1,126 units; the projects were completed in 1959.  These projects were given the last name of “Gardens” due to the vast award winning flower beds that earlier residents thoroughly enjoyed. 

The first 10 years of the Rockwell Gardens was pleasant until right after the Martin Luther King assassination riots in 1968 which destroyed much of the west side of the city.  For the next 10 years after that these projects began experiencing early gang activity from the Vice Lords gang and others.  By the late 1970s crime and gang activity heavily increased mainly from transient gang members and drug dealers that did not actually reside in this complex.  Four Corner Hustlers, Renegade Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Conservative Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples viciously began a competitive gang war over the heroin trade that resulted in several shootings in the 1980s, by 1987 the shootings had reached an all-time high and this led to “Operation Clean Sweep” which brought the buildings security because transient gang members ruled these projects and would not even let maintenance men into the buildings to clean up and make repairs. 

There were gang members hanging in front of resident’s apartments getting drunk and causing a disturbance making residents not want to leave for fear of harassment.  There were several crack dens operating in the vacant apartments in these buildings bringing more crime, trash and human excrement from intoxicated addicts.

Between 1988 and 1996 the crime in Rockwell Gardens greatly reduced thanks to armed security but once budget cuts were made and the New Life security team left the gangs took back over.  The gang members patrolled the hallways, front of buildings and outside with large clubs or automatic weapons.  Gangs kept the doors locked and were in charge of letting in residents or not, sometimes they would even charge a toll for letting people in.  Gang members also gave residents a curfew so that the peak of their drug operations was not disturbed after late hours.  Gang members would also take over resident’s apartments by force and residents had to quarter the gang members for hours or days, sometimes weeks, the gang members would also force residents to hide drugs and weapons in their apartments which made residents fear eviction if their apartment was raided, these practices happened before and after Operation Clean Sweep.

Both times before and after the sweep residents slept on the floor or in bathtubs to avoid gunfire during the grisly gang wars, now after the sweep the wars were worse because the Vice Lord factions were at war with each other. 

Rockwell Gardens faced severe deterioration, graffiti and trash lined hallways just like most other projects in the city.  In the year 2003 the Rockwell Gardens began demolition as these high rises were condemned, by 2006 the demolition was complete, and this ended the era of one of the most violent housing projects in the country.

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