River West (West Town)
River West (West Town)

River West (West Town)

Origins Settled in 1837 and annexed c. 1837
Area West Side

Division Street on the north, Grand Ave on the south, Chicago River on the east, Dan Ryan Expressway on the west.

This area is bounded by Division Street on the north, Grand Ave on the south, Chicago River on the east, Dan Ryan Expressway on the west.  Many sources say the northern boundary is Chicago Ave; however, none of these sources will be able to explain about the area between Chicago Ave and Division.  It certainly is not part of Noble Square, but it is for sure part of West Town.  The area in West Town that isn’t classified to a sub-neighborhood already has its own identity that sits south of Chicago Ave, I call this area Southern West Town.  There is no other area of West Town that stands on its own and it would be silly to call this area just West Town as it is bordered by Noble Square and River West.  If you talk to any real estate company out there they will call the area between Division and Chicago Ave as part of River West and I agree; therefore, since there is not much out there on what this area between the Chicago River, the Kennedy, Division to Chicago Ave declaring this area assigned to any sub neighborhood, I will go with what the realtors declare that Division to Chicago Ave is part of River West.  It is also more unofficially known that the area between I-90 and Grand Ave is also part of River West and was before the highway construction in 1958; therefore, I am considering this area to be part of River West too. This is important because the gang related piece of this writing is all about Augusta and Willard Court which is in this area between Chicago Ave and Division.

This area was known about and settled as far back as 1837 due to it being so close to the Chicago River.  The area was immediately annexed into Chicago in 1837 due to the ability to set up industry near the river.  River West became a part of the oldest settled area in of all West Town.

My early history on this part of Chicago is not very plentiful but I do know the southern part of this community around Milwaukee and Halsted was settled by Norwegian migrants.  Milwaukee and Ogden area was settled by Swedish immigrants.  Italians settled in the southern part of this community mainly close to and among the Norwegians.  Polish and Ukrainians settled the more northwest.  At the turn of the 20th century these lands were chosen as manufacturing districts as several industrial businesses provided many jobs to the West Town populace.  There were lumber yards, shoe factories, and piano factories.  Much of this area was developed as industrial places to work instead of being ripe with homes and apartments.  (Fact source, https://www.hotspotrentals.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-chicagos-river-west-neighborhood/)

In the year 1958, River West went through a dramatic change as many of the houses, businesses and factories were slotted for demolition to make way for the I-90 expressway construction.  Some manufacturing industries closed but sat vacant.  By 1960 this area became mostly forgotten and underdeveloped.  The area north of Chicago Ave suffered the worst neglect as this part of the neighborhood is often not even recognized as part of River West.  (Fact source, https://www.hotspotrentals.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-chicagos-river-west-neighborhood/) With this neglect came deterioration, less police activity and lower income families settling the area, especially by Augusta and Willard Court.  This area consisted of town homes and apartments that were near abandoned warehouses.  Willard Court overlooked a large vacant lot and even lacked street lighting turning this street more into a seedy and spooky area as the 1960s progressed. Many River West residents moved out of the area because of the neglect especially in the northern area by Willard and Augusta and Milwaukee and Willard.  This part of the neighborhood became affordable for African American families in the 1960s and this is when the Clay family moved to 933 Willard Court in 1968.  David Clay Senior was a known drug dealer by Chicago police that even had ties to the Chicago Outfit.  This was a great location for him to do business because it was forgotten, dark and away from police attention.  It was also very close to the Cabrini Green projects making it easier for Clay to do business.  After settling into these new stomping grounds, the sons of Mr. Clay connected with the Vice Lords and established their own branch called the Ebony Vice Lords claiming Willard Court as their turf. The sons David Clay Junior and Roosevelt Clay created the Ebony Vice Lords, and the group became major distributors of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.  On this block they sold so many drugs they used walkie talkies and owned entire buildings in this area where they moved drugs.  During these decades Willard Court had  boarded up blighted buildings and the factories remained vacant until well into the 1980s.  In 1988 law enforcement became very interested in the Clay family and did a raid on them.  This was the time when River West began to experience a turn around as the abandoned factories in the neighborhood began being purchased in 1982.  Right before the raids on the Clays happened multiple old, abandoned buildings were purchased for lofts and office buildings; therefore, this meant there was no room for gangs and drugs but it took 20 years for the city to care about this area.

The Ebony Vice Lords are one the craziest Vice Lord factions to exist as they did heavy duty business in the drug game and their organization had many killers in their ranks.  It can be hard to believe this neighborhood once was blighted and had some of the heaviest hitters in the Vice Lord nation on these streets.  After the Clay brothers were locked up in 1998 the Conservative Vice Lords took over Willard Court for some time.

Beginning in the 1980s and taking off largely in the 2000s-decade River West became heavily gentrified and even Willard Court was renovated but remains a block with African American families. At some point the Conservative Vice Lords left the area.  River West is now an expensive area to live in and is in high demand.

In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s this neighborhood was dominated by Ebony Vice Lords

In the 2000s this area was dominated by Conservative Vice Lords

In the 2010s and later this neighborhood has no gang activity that I know of.

I have no further info on the Insane Deuces and Milwaukee Kings that were once here.

This is all I know of the gang activity over time in River West:

Conservative Vice Lords

Augusta & Willard (Former Ebony Vice Lord turf) Established 1998-2000s

Ebony Vice Lords

Augusta on the north, Milwaukee Ave on the south, Elston on the east, Willard Court on the west (933-937 N. Willard Court) Established 1968-1998

Milwaukee Kings

Milwaukee & Grand

Insane Deuces

Milwaukee & Ohio