|Settled c. 1869 and annexed in 1889
51st Street on the north, 63rd Street on the south, Cottage Grove Avenue on the east, railroad tracks by Federal Street on the west
|Mickey Cobras, Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples,
The Washington Park neighborhood was first settled right after the Union Stock Yards opened on Christmas day 1865. Irish and German immigrants settled in this area in the later 1860s and the 1870s that took up employment in the stock yard and the railroad. This area was a part of the Hyde Park Township area as of 1861 so these early German and Irish immigrants were a part of this township.
In the year 1874 the Grand Boulevard horse carriage path (Martin Luther King Boulevard) was dug that would extend into the city of Chicago which made a great traveling route for tradesman and Chicago’s wealthy elite. Soon the wealthy elite wanted to build homes for themselves, and elegant mansions and luxury apartments soon popped up along Grand Boulevard in this neighborhood. This area was then given the name “Washington Park” named after President George Washington in the year 1880. In 1889 Washington Park was annexed into the city of Chicago along with the rest of Hyde Park Township.
In the 1890s German Jews migrated to the neighborhood as a system of mass transit was perfected. The neighborhood now had working class Irish and Germans on the western part of the neighborhood while upper class wealthy elites lived on the east as they built more mansions and luxury apartments along Indiana Avenue, Grand Boulevard, Michigan Avenue and Calumet Avenue.
In the 1900s decade several cheaper apartment buildings were built that were appealing to African Americans from nearby Bronzeville. The white residents immediately objected to the arrival of blacks and inflicted several acts of violence against black residents and tried to enforce restrictive covenants. The efforts of the white community to keep blacks out failed as more African Americans moved in during the 1910s decade especially during and after World War I during the first major black migration wave to Chicago.
During the 1919 race riots in that summer Washington Park suffered damage as violent Irish gangs invaded this neighborhood seeking blacks to attack. This was the boiling point of the racial issues of Washington Park and after this incident whites began to just migrate out of the community taking many of their businesses with them. Washington Park, like Bronzeville became one of the earliest Chicago communities to experience redlining and disinvestment along color lines as Washington Park was becoming the third majority black community in the 1920s.
By 1930 over 90% of the white population had left the area making Washington Park a black community and also an extension of the “Black Belt” was now from 51st Street to 63rd Street along State Street.
The 1930s decade was the beginning of severe financial hardship for the black community in this neighborhood as joblessness became a major issue and the area was not within the more thriving Bronzeville area to the north. Policy racket gangsters helped the community as many of them lived in Washington Park which greatly helped the neighborhood with employment opportunities in the gambling dens and with the Policy wheels. The Policy racket kept the neighborhood from falling completely apart and from extreme poverty, nevertheless, the area remained in a harsh state of poverty and deterioration was settling in during these years.
Disinvestment soon settled in as this neighborhood was added to the list of forgotten neighborhoods that would be cut off from financial support from the city. The once elegant mansions owned by the elites were divided into kitchenette apartments for impoverished lower income blacks. Even after the Great Depression Washington Park continued the struggle into the 1940s and 1950s.
When the black Policy racket was taken over by the Outfit’s Sam Giancana completely by 1952, the Policy no longer protected or helped the neighborhood as now Heroin was becoming a problem in this community. Sam Giancana introduced the drug to this community in the 1950s after they had just killed Teddy Roe, the last Policy King, in front of his Washington Park home at 5239 S. Michigan Ave (52nd and Michigan Avenue) on August 4, 1952 just three days after he was diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer and no longer cared if he was killed or not.
The 1950s saw the neighborhood fall into a more extreme state of disrepair and deterioration. Landlords of the kitchenette apartments ran slum dwellings and refused to make repairs while still charging standard or higher rent; however, the rent was still cheaper than most anywhere else.
In the year 1959, larger black street gangs came to this struggling community as it was prime territory for larger street gangs. The Egyptian Cobras would settle along State Street between 51st and 53rd Streets. The Devil’s Disciples also arrived in 1959 settling just about everywhere else. Disciples became a major influence on these streets when they arrived starting a legendary and permanent legacy on these streets. These gangs came here to offer protection to the community from predatory criminal elements; however, the two big gangs ended up turning on each other and engaging in many of the behaviors they were sworn to protect the community from.
In the year 1960 hope would come to Washington Park as the Chicago Housing Authority planned to build the countries’ largest public housing project the Robert Taylor Homes along the black belt which meant removal of the many dilapidated tenements along this strip. By 1962 the projects were complete as they extended from 51st Street to 54th Street and State Street to Federal Street in the Washington Park part of the projects. Many poverty-stricken black families were lining up to get into these brand new and massive projects but not all could be housed.
The first organization to move into the Robert Taylor Homes were the Egyptian Cobras that were then going by the name Cobrastones. The Cobras took over a cluster of three buildings in these projects in 1962 that were all situated at the intersection of 53rd and State. The buildings the Cobras took over were 5326, 5323 and 5322. This cluster was nicknamed “The Hole” because it was hole you can’t dig yourself out of and because snakes burrow into holes.
In the year 1968 the Supreme Gangsters arrived on these streets and flipped several Disciple sections to became Gangsters. This was the beginning of major Gangster influence in this neighborhood.
In the year 1969, the Cobras leader was Mickey Cogwell. Mickey made a major Heroin deal with organized crime on behalf of not only the Cobrastones but on behalf of the entire Black P Stone organization. The bulk of Cobrastone drug operations were in The Hole in the Robert Taylor projects and this is when heroin sales became complex in the Hole becoming a major part of the Washington park neighborhood.
In the year 1981 when Black Gangster Disciples and Black Disciples agreed to carve up BGDN territory Washington Park was one of the more evenly divided neighborhoods between BGDs and BDs. All the Disciples that gained influence from the Supreme Gangster and all the Supreme Gangsters themselves became part of the Black Gangster Disciples. Washington Park had one of the strongest influences in the city that found the Black Disciple concepts favorable so when the BDs were declared official on the streets in 1981 this neighborhood instantly had many Black Disciple faction. This the story of how GDs and BDs are so big in this community. The Cobrastones had become Mickey Cobras by this time.
In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s Washington Park was very often regarded as one of the top violent neighborhoods in Chicago. In the year 1998 the Robert Taylor buildings were razed removing a legacy of the toughest Robert Taylor buildings in the complex. The Hole also had some of the most deteriorated of buildings. When these buildings came down the Mickey Cobras moved operations east of where their influence used to be in the projects. Washington Park is still one of the few major areas the Mickey Cobras have influence presently.
Starting in 1991 all the way up until 2004 the Black Disciples were running an extremely complex corporate like drug operation in the Randolph Towers, Chicago Housing Authority complex at 6217 S. Calumet Avenue near the intersection of 63rd Street and Calumet Avenue in a building the BDs nicknamed “The Castle.” In this 16 story complex the BDs pulled in $45,000 a day in crack cocaine and heroin sales as they posted snipers on the rooftop that wore night vision goggles so they could see their enemies approaching in the dark. This building was not only the biggest money maker for the BDs it was also their headquarters that was ran by Marvel Thompson the current leader. When entering the building everybody was searched for weapons, even the residents that lived there were subject to be searched by armed gang members. In one incident they searched a man that had a bullet proof vest on that turned out to be an undercover police officer, when the BDs discovered it they shot the man in the back as he tried to run and police did not come back, that just showed the power the BDs had in this building where they could shoot a cop and get away with it, of course the officer lived but it still was a show of power. In May of 2004 the police finally raided the building and made several arrests, but to fully shut down the operation the building was torn down.
Washington Park is one of the most blighted communities in Chicago as several dilapidated buildings and houses can be found on just about every block in this neighborhood, some have been shuttered for decades, the neighborhood also has many vacant lots where deteriorated properties used to stand. The population of this neighborhood has dramatically plummeted in population size, the peak in population was in 1950 when the population was over 56,000, the population continued the rapidly decline beginning in the 1970s and by 2010 the population was less than 12,000, much of this declining is due to high crime and many foreclosed properties that were left vacant for many years then razed.
In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s Washington Park was dominated by Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples and Mickey Cobras.
In the 2000s up to present Gangster Disciples and Black Disciples have the strongest influence on these streets.
Black Disciples Established as Devil’s Disciples 1959-present years
54th to 55th, Indiana to Prairie (Black Gate)
59th to 60th, Indiana to Martin Luther King Dr (600 Steve Drive)
61st to 63rd, Indiana to Martin Luther King Dr (Front Street, formerly known as Murder Drive)
61st & Wabash
Calumet from 61st to 63rd (Calumet Building, Randolph Towers, The Castle) Established 1991-2004
Mickey Cobras Established 1959-present years
51st to 53rd, Calumet to Martin Luther King Dr Established 1959-present years
53rd to 54th, State to Federal (Robert Taylor projects, The Hole, 5326, 5322, 5323 buildings) Established 1962-1998
51st & Wabash
Gangster Disciples Established as Devil’s Disciples 1959, as Supreme Gangsters 1968-present years
53rd & Calumet
Indiana from 59th to 61st (Bone Crushers)
Halsted from 59th to 61st (No Love City)
51st to 53rd, Prairie to Calumet (051 MET Boyz)
53rd to 55th, Calumet to Martin Luther King (Geo Drive)
55th to 57th, State to Michigan (Von World) Washington Park
56th to 58th, Indiana to Prairie (Dukesquad P Block)
58th to 60th, State to Michigan (MOB, formerly Deathrow)
58th to 59th, Prairie to Martin Luther King (Nickogang)
52nd & State (Robert Taylor projects, 52nd Gangster City)
62nd & Wabash (Washington Park Homes, Darkside)
55th & Indiana
55th & Prairie
59th & La Salle
All images below are photos of vacant buildings at that time. All images below are courtesy of Google Maps.