|Hood(s)||Near West Side;|
Roosevelt Road on the north, 15th Street on the south, Loomis Avenue on the east, Ashland Avenue on the west
|Lifecycle||1952 – 1955, Construction; 2001 – 2007, Demolition;|
|Controlling gangs||Vice Lords; New Breeds;|
The Grace Abbott Homes were the fourth installation within the notorious “ABLA” housing project area on Chicago’s Near West Side. This project was a rather large development with 1,218 units within 33 two story row houses, and also in seven 15 story high rises what consisted of 768 more units. These projects were started in 1952 and were finished in 1955 as an all-African American project. The projects were named after Grace Abbott a social worker that worked to advance child welfare and defended the rights of eastern European immigrants.
The early days of the Grace Abbott projects were great for residents as the community was fairly safe and residents were law abiding and carefully screened before moving in. Gang activity was always prevalent in the ALBA projects even in the 1950s but it did not conquer this community yet.
In the mid-1960s CHA stopped taking careful precautions when screening new tenants and worked on a first come first serve basis and soon these projects fell victim to crime and heavy gang activity and to make matters worse CHA stopped doing renovations to these projects due to the inability to budget repairs by the mid-1970s. These projects, especially the high rises, became heavily polluted with trash, graffiti and severe decay. The high rises were particularly invaded by transient drug addicts, gang members, drug dealers and many other criminals that did not reside there.
In the 1980s and 1990s vicious gang wars ripped through these buildings as Vice Lords and New Breeds engaged in bloody gang wars over the drug trade. Residents were harassed by transient criminal groups and gangs as they tried to go about their daily lives. The hallways were not lit at all and full of filth and lurking predators, the elevators were broken and several crack addicted and PCP intoxicated vagrants would attack people as they walked through the dark hallways, these were indeed scary scenes but worst of all was the fact that the end apartments on each floor not only shared bathroom walls but they were only separated by two feet of space which had a small tunnel so that plumbers could access the pipes with ease; however, the downside was you could easily access your neighbors bathroom by simply pushing out their medicine cabinet from the other side. When the high rises were designed in the 1950s they did not expect neighbors to break into each other’s apartments and they did not expect one apartment to be vacant and invaded by criminals. These small tunnels from one apartment to another were discovered by criminals in 1986 as they were able to break into a vacant apartment then go through the wall and either drop down into an apartment below or climb above or go right into the next door apartment then push out the medicine cabinet that was only supported by six unsteady nails. This method of breaking and entering made the news in April of 1987 when two young males used this method to enter the apartment of a 52 year old mentally ill woman named Ruthie Mae McCoy. The two men were breaking in and making a lot of noise which prompted McCoy to call the police, she reported they were coming through the cabinet. The men came in and robbed the place then shot her four times. The gunshots were heard by a friend who also called police but when the police came no one answered so they left. The next day they returned after worried friends called but still no answer when the police knocked, no one wanted to break the door down for fears of being sued. Finally the next day the police took down the door and found McCoy dead and already rotting. The family of McCoy sued the Chicago Housing Authority in 1988 for this incident.
The Grace abbott homes were condemned by 2001 and began being demolished, by 2007 they were completely torn down. The violence, gang and drug activity became overwhelming and took a toll on this complex in the 1980s and 1990s to the point where there was no saving these buildings, the Y-shaped towers of death had to come down.