West Garfield Park
West Garfield Park

West Garfield Park

Origins Annexed in 1869
Area West Side

Kinzie Street and the railroad tracks on the north, 5th Avenue to Taylor Street on the south, Hamlin Avenue/Independence Boulevard on the east, Kenton Avenue and the railroad tracks on the west

Gangs founded Four Corner Hustlers,
Gangs headquartered Black Souls, Four Corner Hustlers, Vice Lords, New Breeds, Gangster Disciples,

This area was settled by various farmers in the middle part of the 19th century but no major society was set up.  In 1869 the area was annexed into the city of Chicago, and by 1870 this area was named “Central Park.”

In the year 1873 the North Western Railway built a series of shops which offered employment and of course migration soon followed.  Irish and Scandinavian immigrants made their way into this area and settled the area as they built up Central Park with houses and businesses.

The Central Park community was renamed “West Garfield Park” in 1881 after the assassination of President James A. Garfield, although it was more referred to as just “Garfield Park” until the East Garfield Park neighborhood got built up shortly after the turn of the century.

The actual park of Garfield Park was set up as an excellent recreation area that even had a gentleman’s club that converted into a race track in 1878.  The race track became the site of illegal gambling which brought the first criminal element to this neighborhood.  The race track brought the need for several taverns to cater to the racing fans and gamblers all along Madison Avenue, but the race track was raided and shut down in the 1890s.

At the turn of the century the neighborhood boomed even more as several manufacturing businesses opened on and near the west side of Chicago employing several thousand employees.  The most notable was the Sears Roebuck building in nearby North Lawndale, this all spurred many more houses to be built and also the creation of the “Madison-Crawford District” that brought about the opening of several businesses along Madison Avenue that created a downtown.

The 1920s was the best decade for West Garfield Park as the area was booming and the local economy even fueled neighboring East Garfield Park.

The Great Depression era of the 1930s was harsh on West Garfield Park as many fell into jobless statuses and the neighborhood began to suffer deterioration.  In the 1940s many residents began to pull out of this slump and had goals of revamping the neighborhood going into the 1950s; however, some residents that experienced upward mobility began to move out to the suburbs and African American families took their place, now there were fears the neighborhood was going to become African American like neighboring west side neighborhoods and urban renewal was put on hold.

During the mid-1950s, white greaser gangs began to dominate these streets.  The Seminoles, the Lords and the Rebels were the main greaser gangs that emerged on these streets and viciously fought each other for dominance.  Members of the Lords were known for their sideburns and duck tail haircuts.

By 1958 the urban renewal projects were thrown away because white flight kept slowly happening and now it began to increase as displaced African American families from the Near West Side began moving into the neighborhood, then white flight grew a little more.

In 1959 white residents tried to fight to keep blacks out by forming the “United Property Group” but the liberal “Garfield Park Good Neighbors Council” opposed them and wanted blacks to have equal opportunity.

In the early 1960s various African American groups formed with the goal of renewing the neighborhood they arrived in; however, the groups received no government backing and failed to keep the neighborhood in good shape which is a form of disinvestment.  The efforts of these groups were further exhausted as white slum lords continued to neglect the many apartment buildings they rented out to impoverished blacks while still charging the same or higher rent than before.

Pulaski and wilcox 1965

As more whites moved out in the early 1960s at a much higher pace the white greaser gangs dissolved by 1959 and the first black gang emerged called the “Muscaleros” that formed at Wilcox and Pulaski.  This gang fought some of the last of the greaser elements in the neighborhood.  By the early 1960s the “Jive Five” gang and the “Black Pimps” emerged and by the mid-1960s they dominated the neighborhood and wiped out the Muscaleros.  The Egyptian Cobras from neighboring North Lawndale also migrated into this neighborhood in the early 60s and began staking some claim.

In the mid-1960s Vice Lords began to migrate into this community.

On August 12, 1965 riots broke out after a fireman’s latter broke and killed Dessie May Williams.  The neighborhood was all African American by 1965 as the rest of the whites moved between 1963 and 1965; however, the fire departments were made up of an all-white staff that did not hire blacks.  Residents complained about firemen treating residents like garbage because of their skin color.  The fireman that accidentally killed miss Williams was drunk on the job.  The firemen were careless in this area and did as they pleased, and this accidental death was the final push toward protest as the neighborhood erupted into violence destroying many buildings.

In the year 1967, the Supreme Gangsters moved to this neighborhood and began major recruitment, making this neighborhood the main territory of the west side Gangster Disciples.

In 1968 the Martin Luther King riots only destroyed the neighborhood even more, which caused all the efforts of African American urban renewal groups to fail because the image of the neighborhood was that of a slum.  The riots at the busy intersection of Madison and Pulaski damaged this once prestigious street corner.

African American gangs soon took over in West Garfield Park as the Vice Lords migrated here from North Lawndale and the Black Souls street gang formed in the neighborhood.  The Four Corner Hustlers street gang formed right at Madison and Pulaski and all around to prevent the neighborhood from falling further victim to destruction and drugs; however, the organization soon fell into the same bad behaviors they tried to prevent.

As the 1970s ushered in the Heroin trade anchored itself into this neighborhood and the gangs were pushing the drugs especially the Vice Lords and Black Souls.

By the 1980s and 1990s the neighborhood fell into a deeper slum and now Four Corner Hustlers were selling drugs in even higher quantity than the Souls and Vice Lords.  Gang wars ripped through the neighborhood and a legendary drug ring continued to successfully operate in the neighborhood.

West Garfield Park is still one of the most violent neighborhoods of Chicago going into the 21st century.  Gangs, drugs and violence are still issues in this community and this neighborhood has long been considered a very dangerous neighborhood.  West Garfield Park has been accredited with having one of the most sophisticated drug rings in Chicago.

This area is severely blighted with several shuttered homes and businesses, many of which have been vacant for many decades.  Many deteriorated buildings have been torn down over the years leaving several vacant lots, the population has also been sharply dropping ever since the 1970s when the population was over 48,000, now the population is around 18,000 and dropping.  West Garfield Park struggles with high rates of poverty and severe disinvestment and is one of the more deteriorated communities of Chicago.

West Garfield Park is the birthplace of the Four Corner Hustlers.


All images below are photos of vacant buildings.  All photos are courtesy of Google Maps.