West Town was first discovered and settled from East Village all the way east through the River West neighborhood. This area just east of Wood Street was officially annexed into the city of Chicago in 1837.
This whole area has become a cultural mix and this all began in the 19th century when immigrants of many walks of life settled in the area. Settlement really picked up in 1848 when there was a higher demand for railroad workers, while River West area was settled for the purpose of immigrants to work in the factories near the Chicago River.
In order to understand this whole community it is important for me to break this down by all the different sections of West Town which consists of 7 neighborhoods within this larger neighborhood. Chicagoans rarely say “West Town” but facts are facts, that all 7 of these neighborhoods are all West Town and most of them are very significant in Chicago gang and mobster history.
Southern West Town and “The Patch”
This area’s borders are: Chicago Avenue on the north, railroad tracks near Kinzie Avenue on the south, Dan Ryan Expressway on the east, intersection of Chicago Ave and Grand Avenue on the west.
In the 19th century the area was settled by Sicilian/Italian immigrants over by Smith Park on the west and down to the present day Dan Ryan Expressway. The first crime element to appear in this neighborhood was the “Black Hand” extortionists that were all of Sicilian/Italian background. This group sent threatening letters to wealthy elites demanding money or else they would inflict harm. The group rose up to power in the 1900s decade but they crossed the line when they kept threatening the first Chicago Outfit boss “Big Jim” Colosimo.
By 1912 most of the Black Hand was destroyed by the Outfit. Eventually the Chicago Outfit settled in this area by the 1940s, this faction became known as the “Grand Avenue Crew.” In 1952 the sons of Outfit members started their own mafia farm gang called the “C-Notes” that operated at the intersection of Ohio and Leavitt. At the same time just a few blocks away another primarily Italian greaser club started called the “Gay Lords” that operated in the vicinity of Huron and Throop. These gangs mainly had the goal of protecting the neighborhood from African American gangs and to stop the spread of African Americans into their neighborhood; however, because blacks were too frightened to cross the Kinzie tracks into mob controlled territory the greasers had nothing else better to do but bash each other’s heads in.
The business of stopping the spread of other races did not pick up until the late 1960s when Puerto Ricans began migrating to this part of West Town, and the first gang to pick fights with C-Notes and Gaylords was the Latin Kings. Gaylords and C-Notes then formed a merger to help fight them off but by the early 1970s it was a losing battle for the Gaylords; however, the C-Notes only got stronger and even began recruiting United States born Puerto Ricans to fight against the Kings.
By the mid-1990s this area became rough with gang violence and drug trafficking. As Italians migrated out in higher volumes in the 1990s, the other gangs were able to have territory here besides the C-Notes.
The area still struggles with crime presently by Smith Park. In the further east part of this strip of land the area has become highly gentrified and renovated as yuppies and hipsters have taken over.
East Humboldt Park
This area in bounded by: Bloomingdale Avenue on the north, Chicago Avenue on the south, Western Avenue on the east, California Avenue to Sacramento Avenue on the west.
This neighborhood was originally settled by Polish, German and Russian Jews in the 19th century and early 20th century.
In 1964 the area began to be settled by Puerto Rican migrants which brought a culture shock to the neighborhood, in 1966 the Maniac Latin Disciples first formed on these streets.
By the later 1960s the area was vast majority Puerto Rican as Puerto Rican gangs like the Latin Kings, Spanish Cobras and Maniac Latin Disciples took over the area and clashed with each other. The Division Street riots of 1966 also ripped through this area causing violence and destruction along Division Street.
In the 1970s the Cobras and Disciples had taken control of this area for the most part as they fought off rival gangs that were always too close for comfort. There were C-Notes invading from the south, Spanish Lords, Latin Kings and Chi-West invading from the east, Latin Kings and Insane Unknowns invading from the west and more Latin Kings, Simon City Royals and Gaylords invading from the north.
This neighborhood became a war zone in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s between gang wars and control of the drug trade. Things became much worse in the 1990s when the Spanish Cobras and Maniac Latin Disciples went into a bloody war that terrorized the neighborhood.
In recent years much of this neighborhood became taken over by hipsters and yuppies as property if now going up in value. New trendy businesses and finer restaurants have been put in that further increased the value of the community. It has now become necessary for the name “East Humboldt Park” to be used in order to distinguish the rising neighborhood with the still struggling impoverished West Humboldt Park neighborhood. This area still has issues with gang violence and drugs; however, it is rapidly changing.
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. It was not until 1964 that Puerto Ricans began arriving in higher volumes and Latino gangs followed them like the Young Lords and Latin Kings. The Latino gangs soon found hostility with white greaser gangs like the Simon City Royals and Gaylords from neighboring areas so they banded together to form gangs.
The Latin Kings had their first northern Chicago stronghold at the intersection of Leavitt and Schiller in 1964 but they very quickly spread between Wicker Park and West Humboldt Park sparking many rivalries with white and Puerto Rican gangs.
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. Violence and drugs continued to plague Wicker Park all throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
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.
This area is bounded by Division Street on the north, Chicago Avenue on the south, Ashland Avenue on the east, Damen Avenue on the west.
The area was first settled by German immigrants in the 19th century, and then in the 1890s Polish immigrants joined them and continued to flood the neighborhood. Once World War II started for Poland in 1939 Polish migration to East Village greatly increased to the point where they were the dominating ethnic group. The neighborhood was completely filled with Polish businesses, churches etc… The area was also given the name the “Polish Ghetto” because the area was mainly settled by Polish lower income classes and it was a neighborhood where gambling dens and rougher saloons were prevalent.
Gang activity soon prevailed in this area in the 1950s as Polish youths felt the need to protect the neighborhood from other greaser gangs nearby and also from African American street gangs from the projects in the neighboring Near West Side neighborhood.
In the 1960s Puerto Ricans began settling in this neighborhood because the area offered cheaper housing and cheaper rent due to the area not being of higher class. This brought about the creation of the Ashland Vikings street gang that was a gang for mostly Puerto Ricans but took in Polish members if needed to fight the various Polish greaser gangs in the area. By 1964 the Latin Kings arrived in this neighborhood and conflicted with the Vikings. The Latin Kings opened their chapter at Ashland and Cortez.
During the next three decades East Village became a rougher neighborhood with some higher crime, drug and gang activity.
As Puerto Rican migration grew in the 1970s more Latin Kings and Harrison Gents arrived and a three way war erupted between all Gents, Vikings and Kings, until both Gents and Vikings joined the Folk Nation in 1980.
In the 21st century much of East Village was bought up by yuppies and hipsters that dramatically drove up the value of the neighborhood as they paid higher rents and brought about renovations. Trendy businesses and refined restaurants also added appeal to the neighborhood which squashed the vast majority of gang activity.
The area in bounded by Division Street on the north, Chicago Avenue on the south, Dan Ryan Expressway on the east, Ashland Avenue on the west.
I do not know much early history of this section of West Town but by 1952 the Gay Lords street gang was hanging out in Eckhart Park; therefore, they were one of the first gangs in this neighborhood.
At some point the Gangster Disciples and Conservative Vice Lords came to the neighborhood among a small wave of African Americans that migrated here. The Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords in Noble Square were unique because they merged with each other to create the “Gangster Lords” at the intersection of Division and Noble for the purposes of making money.
Gang activity died down into almost non-existence by the 21st century as the neighborhood became bought out by yuppies and hipsters driving up the value of the neighborhood.
This area is bounded by Division Street on the north, the railroad tracks by Kinzie Avenue on the south, Chicago River on the east, Dan Ryan Expressway on the west.
This area was known about and settled as far back as 1837 due to it being so close to the Chicago River. The area was immediately annexed into Chicago in 1837 due to the ability to set up industry near the river. River West became a part of the oldest settled area of all of West Town.
I am not sure what ethnicities settled the area over the years but in 1964 Puerto Ricans had moved into the area and brought the Latin Kings with them that exercised control of Milwaukee Avenue. In 1964 the “Milwaukee Kings” street gang emerged on this strip along Milwaukee Avenue and a gang war between Latin Kings and Milwaukee Kings ensued. Eventually Milwaukee Kings left the area in the 1970s and made Logan Square their new stronghold.
Eventually almost all gang activity ceased and this area became the area became attractive for yuppies and higher class businesses.
This neighborhood is still the birthplace of the Milwaukee Kings street gang, even though they no longer claim around here.
This area is bounded by Division Street on the north, Chicago Avenue on the south, Damen Avenue on the east, Western Avenue on the west.
This area was first settled in the 19th century as Germans were the first to settle the area, then by the 1890s Slavic Ukrainians settled the area and soon became the vast majority. The Ukrainians found the area ideal because they were really close to the Polish of Wicker Park and East Village. Wicker Park was upper class while East Village was lower class but Ukrainian Village was right in the middle as a middle class community.
The area remained stable economically and the church played a major role in preserving the Eastern European culture the neighborhood offered. When many other neighborhoods including the swanky Wicker Park began to fall into socioeconomic disarray Ukrainian Village stood strong and did not succumb to change, this kept the value of the neighborhood strong and Puerto Rican migrants could not afford to live in this community, in turn, this also kept Latino street gangs from colonizing any of the streets within these borders. White street gangs that had origins from working class and lower class white families like Simon City Royals and Gaylords also could not afford to move to this area, in turn, they did not set up territory here.
There was only one gang that came to Ukrainian Village and that was “Chi-West” that formed at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Western Avenue which was at the far south west corner of the neighborhood. Chi-West was one tough gang of greasers that started in the late 1950s and continued on through the 1980s. Socioeconomic reasons are accredited to other gangs and Latinos not being able to set up territory in the neighborhood, but Chi-West is also accredited for further efforts at keeping other gangs out, they did not even want other gangs wandering through or selling drugs there. Chi-West also had heavy ties to the Ukrainian Mafia that also operated in this neighborhood. Chi-West was a farm gang for future Mafia members, one such example was Jack “Jack The Jew” Farmer who was a part of the Ukrainian Mafia outfit known as “Little Mafia” who was featured on the popular television show “America’s Most Wanted” as he was fleeing from authorities because he was facing murder charges. He was picked up in Florida because of the TV show and convicted of the charges; however, his sentence was not harsh.
In the 21st century Ukrainian Village like the rest of West Town fell victim to gentrification as yuppies then hipsters moved in and raised the value of the neighborhood. Old timer Eastern Europeans have begun moving out of the area as the neighborhood has almost completely lost its old identity.
This neighborhood was the motherland of the Chi-West street gang.