Chicago Gang History

North Chicago

NameNorth Chicago
AliasUnknown. Submit info.
Worst Areas10th Street to 14th Street on the north, Buckley Road to 24th Street on the south, Sheridan Road on the east U.S. Route 41 on the west. The highest crime area within that entire northwest side is 10th Street to 14th Street on the north, 18th Street on the south, Lewis Avenue on the east, U.S. Route 41 on the west
Year Infiltrated1980
Current Housing ProjectsNone
Demolished Housing ProjectsMarion Jones Homes
Crime ImpactUnknown. Submit info.

 

The suburb of North Chicago is a diverse community that is mainly noted for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station which is the one and only location in the United States where new U.S. Navy recruits go for basic training.  North Chicago is also known for its high rate of poverty and crime, but that does not affect the entire community as most of the crime is centered in the northwest side of the village.

The history of North Chicago can mainly start in the year 1892 when Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Company opened a manufacturing plant in this rural area that was known as South Waukegan at the time and was quite barren.  The Washburn and Moen plant was big on manufacturing barbed wire; this manufacturer felt this area was ideal because of the recent laying of railroad tracks in the area that would prove useful to ship their goods.  Shortly after this new industry arrived, new residents of Swedish, Eastern European and Finnish decent began moving into the first new subdivision for workers known as the Waukegan Highlands.  By 1895, this area became a community of its own and incorporated the village to become North Chicago and by 1901 the village became a city even though the population was only 1,150 in the year 1900.

The Lanyon Zinc Oxide Company and the Morrow Brothers Harness Company was another major industry to move into North Chicago in the 1890s, and then in the year 1900 Chicago Hardware Foundry Company added to the industrial appeal of the village.  In 1905 National Envelope Company opened its doors bringing in more of a population to this new city.  In that same year of 1905 a new United States Navy training facility began construction and by 1911 the facility was complete and named Great Lakes Naval Training Station which added more to the development of this community. 

As the population was booming between the years 1900 and 1920 and the population soared to above 5,800 by 1920, most settlement was happening on the east side of town along the lake front.  This is where all the manufacturing was built up and this is where the Great Lakes Training Station was located; therefore, it was ideal for residents to find housing in this part of town, or should I say white residents.  North Chicago was willing to be a diverse community of black and white residents; however, it needed to be understood that the black residents were to live on the west side of town where there was no electricity or running water, the white families wanted the area by all the facilities and employment and did not want black neighbors but of course everyone felt they were doing black families favors just by letting them live in the community, just not where conditions and convenience was more favorable. 

In the 1920s, North Chicago continued to boom especially since Abbott Laboratories opened in 1922, and then Johnson Motor Company opened in 1928, and the population exploded to having over 8,400 residents by the 1930 census and only a little over 500 were African American.  The 1930s and 1940s decades saw no growth in population mainly because there were no new industries during the Great Depression era and the World War II years.  In the 1950s, North Chicago would hit another major boom as American Motors, Ocean Spray and a Goodyear Tire plant would open in 1955, now there were more jobs than ever and the population swelled to over 22,000 by 1960 and over 4,000 black families moved into the northwestern section of town from the southern states looking for employment.  Along Sheridan Avenue the series of retail and commercial businesses along with several saloons developed further and became known as “The Strip.”  This area was very popular for U.S. Navy personnel especially since there were several saloons since the base first opened especially after the local prohibition was lifted. 

By the year 1957, the northwest section of town became an area of focus due to the horrid conditions black families lived in.  North Chicago was always racially segregated as it became understood that blacks were to live in one part of town while whites took up the rest, but now the black population made up 20% of the community and this 20% of the community was living in suburban slums in substandard living conditions.  The streets of the northwest side were littered with garbage, the houses were dilapidated shacks, roads were unpaved, there were no sewer lines, there were no public water facilities and residents drank from dirty wells, residents used outhouses since there was no plumbing.  These were terribly conditions for the suburbs and a way no one should have to live by 1957, but the issue was the black families could not afford anything better.  These families were workers at the many manufacturing facilities in town but their wages were still not enough to live above slum living.  In Chicago, most of the black belt slums had already been cleared out to make way for public housing projects by 1957 and the same plan was to happen in this suburb as planning began for a two story row house development that was to be developed in the area of 14th Street on the north, Argonne Drive on the south, Lewis Drive on the east and Dugdale Road on the west, the plans were now in the final approval stages by 1959 despite many objects from residents because of the raised taxes to complete and maintain this housing project (Chicago Tribune Page 1, July 2, 1959).  The public housing projects were to be built over the slum strip beginning in the year 1960 as all the slums were cleared out, trash was removed and sewer and water lines were installed, by 1961 the development was complete which gave birth to the Marion Jones public housing projects, a project for black families. 

The 1960s decade saw the largest population explosion in North Chicago’s history as close to 25,000 new residents moved into the community.  More subdivisions were platted and housing construction was big.  The manufacturing plants were hiring many more thousands of workers and were at their peak of employment.  In the second half of the 1960s, the Vietnam War brought many more U.S. Navy personnel to the Great Lakes base.  All the commercial and military activity caused The Strip to thrive and the whole community was at its best in the early 1970s.

Starting in the mid-1970s, North Chicago would begin its decline, first there was the decreased Naval activity at Great Lakes after U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam.  Next came the closing of several manufacturing plants in the community like the Goodyear Plant that closed in 1978 and laid off about 2,000 workers and the oldest industry in town Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Company closed in 1979 which took several thousand more jobs away.  All the other industries, American Motor, Johnson Motor, Ocean Spray all closed their doors in the late 1970s accept Abbott Laboratories.  The closing of several manufacturing plants was happening all across the United States and Chicago area was hit hard, North Chicago was completely devastated mainly for the many unskilled workers that were unable to find anywhere else to work and since their expertise was very limited they had nowhere else to go, they did not even have the resources to move out of the community to find work in other communities.  Those that were living in the Marion Jones projects were hit the hardest due to the fact that these residents could not afford their own housing so moving to another area was impossible; however, most of the two parent families moved out in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Many residents packed up and left the North Chicago suburb in the late 1970s, in fact, about 8,500 residents packed up and left, some of that was due to the loss of Navy personnel following the war but most of it was due to the loss of manufacturing, nearly 4,000 more moved out in the early 1980s especially after crime started to become a problem in the suburb.  Most of the families that moved out were white families and as they left their homes were worth a lot less than before due to the loss of industry in the area, this became opportunity for low income black families to take up residence primarily on the north side of the community.  As low income families were moving in from Chicago in search of a better suburban life for their children and to keep them away from Chicago street gangs, some of those youths did not let go of gang ties and spread the word of their gang into the streets of North Chicago.  The first gangs to arrive were the Black Gangster Disciples and Conservative Vice Lords, especially since these gangs were moving in just over the northern border into nearby Waukegan in 1979 or 1980.

As soon as Chicago based street gangs arrived in North Chicago a warzone that involved shootings and gang violence erupted on the north side of the community especially in the northwestern section in and around the Marion Jones projects.  Since the local economy of North Chicago was hurting, tax revenue was not coming into the city as much as before which caused repairs and maintenance to be neglected on the Marion Jones projects and soon the projects became flooded with gang activity and crime.

By the early 1990s, crime and gang activity became a major problem for this city, and The Strip became a slummy area with abandoned and deteriorated buildings and instead of being a bustling place with great restaurants, excellent taverns and flourishing stores as it was in the 1970s, now The Strip was the site of deterioration, shuttered businesses, sleazy taverns, vagrant drug addicts, drug dealers, prostitution and litter.  The Strip was now a high crime area of North Chicago and Naval personnel did not go near it unless maybe one of them wanted to buy a hooker. 

Mexican families began migrating into the suburb from Chicago in the later 1980s or early 1990s into the northeast side of North Chicago.  Many families were trying to escape the gang violence of Chicago and were hoping to keep their children away from the gangs; however, some of their children would not give up the gang life and soon brought Latino based street gangs to the suburb such as Latin Kings, Insane Unknowns and Satan Disciples. 

The roughest parts of the suburb became very dangerous areas by the 1990s.  The Strip was one of the more dangerous areas due to high crime.  The northwest area became the most dangerous section especially now that the projects became full of deterioration, heavy drug and gang activity and the site of many shootings and other violent crimes.  The intersection of Greenfield and Broadway became a dangerous intersection that became the biggest drug trafficking street corner in the suburb; it was also the site of many gang shootings.

In more recent years The Strip was condemned and the vast majority of it was torn down beginning in 2007.  The Marion Jones public housing projects were also condemned as they faced severe deterioration, sewage exposure from rusted pipes and heavy criminal and gang activity until they were evacuated in 2014 then torn down in 2015.  Poverty has always been a major issue in the suburb and in recent years has been at 15% of the population is well below the poverty line.  Law enforcement efforts have been stepped up in this city in recent years and crime rate has greatly decreased especially the violent crime rate; however, North Chicago still has the same rough areas but is not really considered a dangerous neighborhood anymore; however, it is still one of the tougher communities in Illinois.