As you may or may not know, my interest in New York City gangs is mainly in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn gangs, but not so much the gangs in Queens. This is not to say that gangs from Queens were any different in the 1950s — they weren’t. I think part of the reason in my interest in only Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan gangs is because of size and scope. Researching gangs from these three boroughs is immense as it is, and the more I research the more I realize it is probably too much. I have to focus on specific neighborhoods or gangs. In fact I now focus more on gangs from Manhattan and Brooklyn and less on the Bronx.
However, in saying all this, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting stories about Queens’ gangs from the 1950s. Sometimes I receive emails from former members of gangs from Queens in the 1950s and although it’s not my focus at the present time, some of the information they share is fascinating.
For example: some gangs in the 1950s had gang jackets. Sometimes their gang name or a symbol that stands for what they were was splashed across the back of their jackets. Sometimes it was the gang name done up in simple letters across the back of the jacket. Either way, it identified the gang members not only to themselves but to other people in the neighborhood and especially to opposing gangs. Sometimes it caused problems for the gang because it allowed the police to keep a better eye on them and know who to look for. For that reason some gangs stopped wearing gang jackets or didn’t bother using them in the first place.
A couple of years ago a former member of the Barons gang from Queens emailed me and we struck up an email conversation. He kindly shared some pictures of jackets the Barons would wear. He kept the jacket well after the gang fighting days and in fact posed with the jacket, it still fits pretty good!
In case you are wondering who this is, it is Jack Vikara and he wrote a novel about gangs called The Vandals. It’s for sale on Amazon and I encourage you to buy it. Jack was kind enough to let me read the book before he released it and it’s really good. I’m not just saying this because I know Jack. It has a great cast of characters and character development as well as a good story for the lives they live. Follow this link if you are interested: http://www.amazon.com/Vandals-John-Vikara/dp/0738803197/ref=la_B005FABEFU_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1350610684&sr=1-4
Jack shared some interesting newspaper articles to go along with the pictures. Below are two articles of the Barons making the headlines and in one of the articles Jack is named. The first is an article from June 1955 and the other from January 1956.
A few years ago, around the time that Jack and I met by email, another person emailed me about a gang she hung out with from Queens called the Astoria Gents. She was in contact with one of the former members of the Gents and he, too, kept his jacket over the years and was kind enough to send some pictures of what they look like. Excellent, close-up pictures.
I was even sent some period photos of two Astoria Gents wearing their jackets for for the camera:
After I finished this page on gang jackets, I received an email from a lady whose father Alberto Guzman was in a Brooklyn gang called the Jesters, a tough group of boys who was known to the police and were involved in gang fights for which I have some newspaper articles. The Jesters were like other gangs in the city from this time and had gang sweaters with their name on the back and logo on the front. Amazingly, her father kept his Jesters sweater all these years and she kindly shared the photos of them which can be seen here. The bright, vivid colours must have been a spectacle on the street, both for the police and rival gang members. As you can see below, his nickname “Motora” was stitched on the front of the jacket:
Hopefully I will have more pictures up of sweaters worn by a Social Athletic Club (SAC) from the Bronx. This club was actually a gang when hanging around the neighborhood called the Egyptian Crowns. But when a party was to be thrown they became a SAC. More on that soon hopefully.
Update, November 27, 2012
The picture below with the seven boys with the big letter “M” on their sweaters were a Social Athletic Club. They called themselves the “Seven Masters” and hung around Simpsons Street in the Bronx. These guys were also members of a fighting gang called the Egyptian Crowns. There is a distinction between a Social Athletic Club and a gang. A former member of the Egyptian Crowns explains it like this:
The reason for our forming social athletic clubs was because we had two sides to us. Yes we were gang bangers but we loved the girls and enjoyed throwing sets (parties). We would charge from 50 cents to a dollar to get in. We would wear our sac sweaters to parties and our gang sweaters in our neighborhood. When we went down on other gangs we would not wear our crown sweaters because if we got separated during a battle, we could blend in with the enemy.
If anyone out there has pictures of gang jackets or sweaters they would like to share, please don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected]