Pilsen (Lower West Side)
Pilsen (Lower West Side)

Pilsen (Lower West Side)

Origins Settled c. 1845 and annexed in 1889
Area West Side
Boundaries

16th Street on the north, Chicago River on the south, Canal Street to the Chicago River on the east, Western Avenue on the west; Pilsen: 16th Street on the north, Chicago River on the south, Chicago River on the east, Ashland Avenue on the west.

Gangs founded Party People, Latin Brothers, La Raza, Racine Boys, Laflin Lovers, Morgan Boys 18th Street (Folks), Latin Counts, Rampants, Allport Lovers, Royal Cavaliers, Morgan Deuces, Villa Lobos,
Gangs headquartered Party People, Latin Counts, La Raza,

This area was first settled in the 1840s when German and Irish immigrants settled in the area because of the Southwestern Plank Road that eased trade routes all the way up and down the Illinois Michigan Canal.  The early settlers also worked on the canal in the 1840s which was another reason for settling in the area.  The area experienced some small growth in the proceeding decades.

It was not until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 growth came to Pilsen. Immigrants from Czechoslovakia settled in the area looking for refuge from the destruction the fire caused; however, the bigger boom did not happen until after 1873 when McCormick Reaper Works opened in nearby South Lawndale which provided countless jobs to many west siders.  Most of the settlement happened around where 18th Street is, as several businesses were also opened along this strip starting in the 1870s.  One such business was a restaurant named “At the City of Plzen” which paid tribute to the City of Plzen in Bohemia which was the motherland of these early immigrant settlers.  The people in this community started calling the area “Pilsen” because of this popular restaurant.

In the year 1889 the Lower West Side was annexed into the city of Chicago. Now the Lower West Side area would thrive even more as the city was able to pave roads and offer mass transit.

The Great Depression era was rough on this community in the 1930s as many lost their jobs and local industries closed their doors.

During World War II some residents began to move out of Pilsen and a small wave of Mexican families moved close to 18th street from Texas.  These families originated from Mexico but lived in Texas for some time before coming to Chicago to work in war effort industries.  The youths of these new families faced discrimination from neighborhood gangs and local police this caused them to form a gang called the “Texans” in 1955 which became the first Mexican street gang in Pilsen history.

In the year 1958, several white families began to leave the area because there were no new industries for them to work in and recovery from the Great Depression era just wasn’t happening.  This area became ideal for lower income Mexican families as they migrated from Mexico, the southern United States and from the Near West Side neighborhood.  The Dan Ryan Expressway construction uprooted many Mexican families from the Near West Side which made the Hispanic population of Pilsen grow as those families found the 18th Street area to be their new home.

The newly arrived families began to face even harsher discrimination than the families that arrived in the 40s as a growing Hispanic population was viewed as a threat to many whites in the area.  White Italian gangs from the Near West Side like to invade Pilsen and cause trouble this is what drove more Mexican youths to form more gangs.  The Sons of Mexico City was a revolutionary minded group that formed in 1958 to fight these social issues and they became tight with Texans.  The Rampants and the Spartans also formed along 18th Street with the Spartans being focused on the Heart of Chicago side of Ashland while Rampants were large on the Pilsen side of Ashland Ave.  Rampants and Spartans became instant arch enemies as they found each other to be less desirable than invading white gangs.

Another result of the Near West Side forced migration was the arrival of a small group of Puerto Rican families that moved near Garland Street (today known as Shelby Court).  This group of Puerto Ricans faced some of the same racial strife as the Mexican people but perhaps worse since they were Puerto Rican, this is when the Villa Lobos were created in 1959 to protect the Puerto Rican populace of Pilsen.  Soon the Villa Lobos established popularity with Mexican youth too.

In the year 1959, the Sons of Mexico City and Texans merged their organizations to create the Latin Counts we know very well today.  The Latin Counts became very popular and became a major force to be reckoned with on these streets.  The Morgan Deuces were formed the same year after an ex-Count decided to start his own group.  Latin Counts and Morgan Deuces were some of the hardest, craziest, and toughest gangs in Pilsen.  Both gangs scooped up some of the toughest guys in the neighborhood right away.

In the year 1960, Ambrose moved into the neighborhood from the Near West Side along 18th Street and quickly wanted to dominate the neighborhood much to the dismay of Latin Counts and Morgan Deuces which started a violent gang war.  Ambrose scooped up even more of toughest and hardest Hispanic and white youths in Pilsen and an unresolvable war between Ambrose and Counts began as both gangs were evenly matched.  The Satan Disciples arrived the same year in Heart of Chicago (West Pilsen) and added to the gang feuds as Ambrose, Latin Counts and Morgan Deuces all hated the SDs.  As soon as SDs and Ambrose arrived the community could not help but notice the sudden rise in violent gang activity as these streets now began their hard knock journey of death and violence.

During the 1960s white flight continued in Pilsen as more Hispanic families moved in to fill the void; however, Hispanic migration was a little slow in the 60s; however, the Mexican identity began to dominate the Czech and Bohemian identity as this neighborhood was evolving into a Hispanic enclave.  The Hispanic street gangs surely dominated white gangs in the 60s.  I know there was racial strife in the 40s and 50s but by the 60s I have found no evidence of racial strife which says to me that most of the upset white population had already left the area for the most part.  There were still white greaser gangs on these streets as late as the late 60s but they would shy in comparison to Latin Counts, Morgan Deuces, Rampants and Ambrose. These major Pilsen gangs also took in whites.

In the 1970s white flight now began to rapidly grow as more Hispanic migration come to Pilsen.  Now Pilsen faced a socioeconomic crisis as there was a major issue with poverty as many Hispanic families struggled financially.  Many families were among the unskilled worker population lacking education and training which drove more youths to live in poverty-stricken homes.  Many of these downtrodden youths joined street gangs amidst their frustration which further intensified gang wars.

There were more gangs than ever in Pilsen in the 70s as I have found 1970 and 1975 to be big years for gang startups.  In 1970 Bishops, Latin Brothers, Racine Boys and perhaps others all formed which is reflection on how bad gang tensions were becoming.  There also developed a hate toward Ambrose and Satan Disciples which was the driving force behind the creation of Bishops, Latin Brothers and Racine Boys.  All these groups established close alliances with Latin Counts.  The Bishops and Counts were especially close in a brotherhood known as “Bishop Counts.”

In the year 1975 seemingly another wave of gangs came to Pilsen as a wave of Mexican migration arrived straight from Mexico.  White flight had become intense by this time and the neighborhood was majority Mexican by this point in time.  Financially struggling Mexican American youths began to victimize recently arrived Mexican youths by bullying them and robbing them of their money they kept in their pockets.  They referred to these youths as “Braceros” or “Brazers” and attacked them.  This happened throughout the rest of the decade and one group that fought back was the Brazers that took their name from the slang they were called.  The Brazers had a following as groups of youths hung out with them for protection but didn’t join their ranks.  In the year 1980 another wave of Mexican immigrants moved onto these streets and the bullying became worse causing these cliques to create their own gangs like La Raza and the Party People.  Both groups tried to just be crews and not gangs but within a year they were swept up in gang violence and became two of Pilsen’s hardest street gangs that battled both Ambrose and Latin Counts.  By this time the Brazers were leaving Pilsen, so these two groups took their place.  The Morgan Deuces would also end their era in 1980.

In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s Pilsen went through the most violent years as gang wars were tolling on these streets.  Pilsen had now become one of the more violent and dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago during these years despite many efforts by the community to curb the violence.  During these years Pilsen was covered in gang graffiti as this neighborhood had the most colorful walls saturated with several different gang symbols.  Pilsen was also one of the more gang crowded neighborhoods in the city during these years as youths had several choices of gangs to join.

In the 2010s decade up to presently gang activity has heavily declined as property values have been on the rise.  This community rich in Mexican culture became invaded by many among the hipster population that found this neighborhood to be desirable because of its vintage charm.  Soon hipsters began digging into their deep pocket buying property not only for residential reasons but also for commercial use as 18th Street soon became lined with trendy businesses.  Many trendy Mexican restaurants also opened as well keeping as much Mexican heritage in the neighborhood as possible.  Pilsen still has gangs, but activity has heavily declined and many of the larger groups have moved to the Heart of Chicago neighborhood west of Ashland Ave like Ambrose and the Bishops.

There have been many growing concerns that Pilsen will soon loose its strong Mexican culture as it is common knowledge that gentrification has historically wiped-out cultural identities in communities.  Perhaps that will not happen in entirety but with rising property values this neighborhood may become too expensive for many to remain living here.

Pilsen is the birthplace of: Latin Counts, Bishops, Rampants, Racine Boys, Morgan Boys, Laflin Lovers, Latin Brothers, Party People and La Raza.  Other groups I don’t yet have knowledge of began on these streets like the Party Masters, Stone Heads and Tokers.

In the 1960s Pilsen was dominated by Ambrose, Latin Counts, Rampants, and Morgan Deuces.

In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s Pilsen was dominated by Ambrose and Latin Counts

In the 2000s and later Pilsen was dominated by Latin Counts, Party People and La Raza.

For those of you from the young urban professional and hipster class, you might be interested that these gangs have walked on these streets over time:

Royal Cavaliers Late 70s-1982

18th & Carpenter Late 70s-1982

Allport Lovers 90s, 2000s

18th & Allport 90s, 2000s

Morgan Deuces Established 1959-1980

Morgan from 16th to 18th (Chi-Town Morgan Deuces) Established 1959-1980

Ambrose Established 1960-2001 (still active but in Heart of Chicago neighborhood A.K.A West Pilsen, see my Heart of Chicago page)

16th to Cullerton, May to Halsted (Maniac Side)

18th & Throop (Headquarters) Established 1960

Bishops Established 1970-2000s (still active but in Heart of Chicago neighborhood A.K.A West Pilsen, see my Heart of Chicago page)

18th from Halsted to Des Plains

Bishop to Laflin, 18th to 19th Established 1970-2000s

Latin Counts Established Established as Texans 1955, as Sons of Mexico City 1958, as Latin Counts 1959-present years

16th to Cullerton, Paulina to Racine (Most Wanted Side) Established 1955-present years

Party People Established 1980-present years

16th to Cullerton, Allport to Miller (Murder Town, War Zone, G-Side) Established 1980-present years

Latin Brothers Established 1970-2000s

18th & Ashland Established 1970-2000s

Racine Boys Established 1970-2000s

Cullerton to Cermak, Carpenter to May

18th Place & Racine Established 1970

Kool Gang

Somewhere on 18th Street

La Raza Established 1980-present years

18th to 22nd, Throop to Alport (Murder Town)

19th & Racine

Cullerton & Racine

Laflin Lovers Established 1975-mid 90s

Laflin from 17th to 18th Established 1975-mid 90s

Rampants Late 50s-1970s

Somewhere on 18th Street

21st & Oakley

Morgan Boys Established 1980-mid 2000s

16th to 18th Place, Morgan to Miller Established 1980-mid 2000s

Villa Lobos Established 1959-1980s

Damen & Blue Island

Garland Court (now Shelby Court) from 19th to Cullerton Established 1959-late 60s

18th & Damen

19th to 21st, Loomis to Ashland