West Town: Wicker Park

Origins Settled c. 1870
Area West Side
Boundaries

Bloomingdale Avenue on the north, Division Street on the south, Ashland Avenue on the east and Western Avenue on the west.

Gangs founded Latin Kings, Insane Unknowns, Warlords Wicker Park, La Familia Warlords, Spanish Lords,
Gangs headquartered Latin Jivers,

Wicker Park is bounded by: Bloomingdale Avenue on the north, Division Street on the south, Ashland Avenue on the east and Western Avenue on the west.

This area was first laid out in subdivisions by Charles and Joel Wicker in the year 1870.  In the year 1871 the area got a boost in migration as displaced families that were victims of the Great Chicago Fire took up residence in Wicker Park that was named after the Wicker brothers.  Soon Wicker Park became an upper class community as many of Chicago’s wealthy elite moved here and built elegant mansions especially of German or Scandinavian decent.

By the 1890s and into the 1900s decade several wealthy Polish elite moved in here and actually became the vast majority.  When World War II started for Poland in 1939 scores of Polish immigrants arrived in Wicker Park and this brought about a working class element to the area.

The area remained a Polish community until Puerto Ricans began migrating here starting in the late 1950s; however, they only made up about 1% of the population as of 1960. The first Puerto Rican families face discrimination and hatred from many white residents that considered Puerto Rican non-Americans.  Groups of greasers roamed these streets attacking Puerto Rican youths and beating them as they traveled across town or boarded buses to school.  Some prominant Greaser gangs were Chi-West from Ukrainian Village, the Gaylords from more southern West Town and C-Notes from southern West Town.

In 1959, a member of the Imperials street gang named Ramon Santos moved into the neighborhood from the Near West Side to  Leavitt and Schiller taught the youths how to stand up to greasers while recruiting more members into his organization.  A short time later another Puerto Rican group formed at North Avenue and Claremont called the Spanish Lords that also fought against greaser clubs.

As the early 1960s progressed more Puerto Ricans moved into this neighborhood as more whites moved out.  There was increased resentment from certain groups of whites and more greaser gangs were spawned.  The violence became severe by 1964 and Ramon Santos called for the created of the Latin Kings organization which combined multiple Puerto Rican gangs into one major force to be reckoned with.  The meeting took place in nearby Humboldt Park and the headquarters of the Latin Kings was at Leavitt and Schiller right outside Sabin Elementary School.  The Latin Kings of Wicker Park grew very fast and even assembled a Softball team called the “Warlords.”  The Warlords ended up becoming their own organization and even took on a leadership type role among the Puerto Rican gangs.

In 1964, the Warlords organized the United Neighborhoods alliance they created alongside Wicker Park Latin Kings and Spanish Lords.  This alliance allowed the Puerto Rican gangs to unite and not fight one another, instead they would focus all their energy on the greaser clubs that were trying to push them out of the neighborhood.  The United Neighborhoods is the oldest gang alliance in history and happened right here in Wicker Park.

In the 1960s more of the Polish population fled the neighborhood and by 1970 40% of the neighborhood was Puerto Rican.  Puerto Ricans struggled and fell into a bad state of poverty, as a result much of the neighborhood deteriorated.  Once elegant mansions owned by elites in the 19th century and early 20th century were now divided into several apartments for impoverished Puerto Rican families that paid low rent in exchange for not very great living conditions.

The Taylor Jousters moved into the area and battled with all the major gangs in the area.

In the year 1971, Ramon Santos moved away from Wicker Park and took most of the highest ranking Latin Kings with him the West Humboldt Park leaving only young members of the Latin Kings behind, in 1973 most of these young Latin Kings would form their own gang called the Insane Unknowns.  The Insane Unknows got into many violent altercations with the neighboring Spanish Cobras and it brought even more violence to Wicker Park.

In the 1980s the Latin Jivers colonized this area and became a major force in the area as they battled the native gangs..

Violence and drugs continued to plague Wicker Park all throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s turning this neighborhood into a notorious neighborhood known for gang activity, poverty and drugs.

Starting in the 1990s yuppies began buying and renting at top dollar rates and renovations began happening.  By the 21st century the vast majority of gang territory was rested away by gentrification making gang activity minimal.

As of the 2010s decade the neighborhood has become the hub of Chicago’s hipster population further pushing gangs out.

Wicker Park is the motherland of the northern Chicago Latin Kings, Spanish Lords, Warlords, Insane Unknowns.

Leavitt and Schiller is the former site of the first northern Latin King faction.  It was also the main base for the Latin Jivers.