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 built 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 Northwestern 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 racetrack in 1878.  The racetrack became the site of illegal gambling which brought the first criminal element to this neighborhood.  The racetrack brought the need for several taverns to cater to the racing fans and gamblers all along Madison Street 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 Street 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 a few 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 now began to increase as displaced African American families from the Near West Side began moving into the neighborhood.  1958 was the year the Dan Ryan Expressway and Kennedy Expressway construction resumed in full force pushing many black families out of their homes and many settled in West Garfield Park.  Some newly arrived black families were impoverished and soon the fears of a takeover of impoverished blacks fueled crooked real estate agencies to flock to this neighborhood and impose scare tactics to encourage the harmful practice known as block busting.  Although the majority of newly arriving blacks were middle-class the community focused on the impoverished blacks.

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.  Most of West Garfield Park was opposed to allowing heavy white flight and letting block busting to win over the neighborhood and while other south side and west side communities fell victim very quickly to white flight and block busting West Garfield Park slowed down the migration of impoverished blacks as they attempted to keep the value of the community intact, this was an effort of both whites and black middle-classes.

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 on the part of the government and the banks.  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.

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.

In the year 1963, the white middle-class and white working class gave up on investing and believing in this neighborhood’s future as they let block busting real estate agents take advantage of them making white flight a devastating reality between 1963 and 1965 until it completely ran its course by 1965 and the neighborhood was over 90% black.

In the year 1964, thanks to peace treaty with the Egyptian Cobras, the Conservative Vice Lords were able to migrate into the K-Town area of North Lawndale and they very quickly advanced north of the railroad tracks just south of Taylor Street and 5th Ave and settled on the streets of West Garfield Park battling the Jive Fives and Black Pimps.  Vice Lords took over the western most part of the neighborhood.

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 unfairly 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 as many buildings were destroyed especially in the Madison-Crawford shopping district.  After this happened many white-owned business left rapidly in 1965 causing the community to fall deeper into economic hardship as the essential economic vein of not only West Garfield Park but East Garfield Park was drained.

In the year 1967, the Supreme Gangsters moved to this neighborhood and began major recruitment.  This was the beginning of Gangster Disciples (later name) on the west side of Chicago and now these Supreme Gangsters were clashing with Vice Lords, Jive Fives and Black Pimps.  The Supreme Gangsters were responsible for eliminating the Pimps and Jive Fives.

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.

In the same year of 1968 the Four Corner Hustlers formed on these streets near Garfield Park.  The Four Corner Hustlers were fed with the drug dealing, pimping, robbing and killing that Vice Lords and Supreme Gangsters committed on these streets.  The Four Corner Hustlers vowed to violently protect their territory from crime and rival gangs by any means necessary in an area they called the “Four Corners” which was an area bounded by Madison on the north, Jackson on the south, Hamlin/Independence on the east and Pulaski on the west.  The Four Corner Hustlers would rise to became a majorly dominating force on these streets permanently.

At some point in the 1960s the Black Souls migrated from East Garfield Park and fell in love with these streets as they set up a large operation and allied with the Four Corner Hustlers against Supreme Gangsters and Vice Lords.

As the 1970s ushered in the Heroin trade anchored itself into this neighborhood and the gangs were pushing the drugs.  The major players on the drug trade in the 70s were Black Gangster Disciples (formerly Supreme Gangsters), Black Souls and Conservative Vice Lords.  Mafia Insane Vice Lords had moved onto these streets by then and were big players in the drug trade too.

In the 1980s the drug trade was explosive as the major gangs competed and the Four Corner Hustlers were now heavy in on the action now that their founding fathers were put in prison who had previously banned the Four Corner Hustlers from selling drugs.

At some point in either the 1980s or 1990s the New Breeds (formerly known as Black Gangsters) moved onto these streets and cliqued up with Gangster Disciples in the drug trade.  The Breeds would settle the southern area of the neighborhood south of the 290 Expressway.  Breeds were also invited into the Gangster Disciple neighborhood just north of the 290.  Both groups operated a major drug trade for some time.

Drug wars and gang wars were vicious in the 1980s and 1990s as gangs moved kilos of drugs though these streets in legendary mafia-style fashion.  While drugs and prostitution rant rampant so did urban blight and heavy deterioration as the community became one of the more blighted neighborhoods in Chicago.  The black middle-class had mostly fled the area by the 1980s in a phenomenon known as “black flight.”  This community then became a major home to impoverished blacks as unemployment rates soared to high levels.

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.

In the 1960s West Garfield Park was dominated by Conservative Vice Lords then later Four Corner Hustlers, Supreme Gangsters and Black Souls.

In the 1970s West Garfield Park was dominated by Conservative Vice Lords, Black Gangster Disciples, Black Souls, and Four Corner Hustlers

In the 1980s up to present years West Garfield Park in dominated by Conservative Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, Black Souls, Four Corner Hustlers, and New Breeds.

Below is a list of significant gangs that have walked these streets over the years:

Black Souls 1960s-present years

Washington to Monroe, Kostner to Karlov (Impressionist Black Souls and Mad Black Souls)

Wilcox to Gladys, Pulaski to Springfield

Monroe from Karlov to Pulaski (Mad Black Souls)

Adams & Pulaski

West End & Kilbourn

5th & Kostner

Four Corner Hustlers Established 1968-present years

Harrison to Arlington, Karlov to Pulaski (P Town)

West End to Madison, Pulaski to Hamlin Established 1968-present years

Wilcox to Jackson, Kildare to Keeler (4CGG)

Van Buren to Congress, Pulaski to Hamlin

Madison to Jackson, Pulaski to Independence (Motherland) Established 1968-present years

Adams & Keeler

Gangster Disciples Established 1967 as Supreme Gangsters

Gladys to Harrison, Pulaski to Kostner Established as Supreme Gangsters 1967-present years

New Breeds Established 1992-present years

Carroll & Pulaski

Gladys to Harrison, Pulaski to Keeler (Shared with Gangster Disciples)

5th Ave to Taylor, Karlov to Polk

Conservative Vice Lords Established 1964-present years

Madison to Harrison, Kilbourn to Kostner Established 1964-present years

Mafia Insane Vice Lords

Fulton & Hamlin

Washington & Kilbourn

Madison & Kildare

Renegade Vice Lords

Madison & Kildare

Traveling Vice Lords

Madison & Springfield

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