Lower West Side: Pilsen
Lower West Side: Pilsen

Lower West Side: Pilsen

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

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, Brazers, 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, Ambrose, La Raza, Allport Lovers, Racine Boys, Villa Lobos,

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 that 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.  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.  By 1957, the Texans became known as the “Sons of Mexico City” and then in 1959 their name was changed to name they are known for today as the “Latin Counts.”  The Latin Counts are not only the oldest Mexican street gang in Pilsen they are perhaps the oldest Mexican street gangs in Chicago that is still active today.  The Rampants were the second oldest starting in Pilsen circa 1957.

In the year 1959, 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.  Among the families from the Near West Side came some street gangs from that neighborhood such as: Spartans, Morgan Deuces and Ambrose.  These gangs settled along 18th Street and became instant rivals of the Latin Counts and Rampants that were already there.  Soon gang violence instantly became a factor in 1959 as a series of stabbings and gang fights occurred around 18th street.

In the 1960s more white flight kept happening as more Mexican families moved into the area and new gangs would form up in this area making this neighborhood become a crowded gang land.

In 1970 more white flight happened and many Mexican families fell into poverty making this area once of the more economically struggling communities.  Many more new gangs manifested on these streets like: Bishops, Racine Boys, Morgan Boys, Laflin Lovers, Allport Lovers, Brazers, Latin Brothers, La Raza, Party People, and several others.  With so many gangs crowded into one neighborhood it caused some of the most violent gang wars in Chicago history as territorial battles went on daily with constant shootings and beatings.  This would rage on all throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

By the 1990s certain organizations grew to dominate these streets and many organizations collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s.  La Raza, Party People, Latin Counts and Ambrose became the dominating groups that still have a presence here today.  Bishops moved operations to the Heart of Chicago section.

In the 2000s decade much of the crime rate was decreased and much of the neighborhood went through repairs; this caused the area to became attractive to hipsters that soon began moving in and new businesses began to open all along 18th street.

In the 2010s the Pilsen community has seen so many hipsters move in and property values go up the community now fears losing its identity as a community of great Mexican heritage.  With the deceased of gang activity and violence now this becomes one of the newer fears this community faces.

Pilsen is the birthplace of: Latin Counts, Bishops, Rampants, Racine Boys, Morgan Boys, Two Ones, Laflin Lovers, Latin Brothers, Brazers, Kool Gang, Party People and La Raza.