The Lanvale Lions
The Lanvale Lions
by Chuck RitenouR
In the early sixies, my parents seperated. My father worked for Fairchild Aircraft and was transferred from Hagerstown, Maryland to St. Augustine, Florida. My mother had no other choice than to take an apartment in the newly erected government projects on the west side. Our address was 930 Lanvale Street apartment E. These apartments were row houses and ours was at the end of the row next to the eight foot fense which either kept us in or others out. Our back door faced a huge "play" area with swings, sliding boards and a small ball field. The fense on one side running the entire length and completely protected by rows of apartments on the other side, top and bottom. Nearly every household had children ranging from newborns to late teens and early twenties. These projects stretched west for four blocks and were identical. Each block had its own gang. At the age of ten, I was "pledged" into the Lanvale Lions, one of four rival gangs in the projects.
My first task was to steal a hubcap from every car parked on Main Avenue, the next street over. I told my mother I was going to camp out in the play ground with some of the guys. The Rudicille boys pitched a tent. There was Shad who was eighteen, Junior was seventeen and Mike was twelve. All were gang members and Shad was our leader. He gave me a tire iron. Mike and I hit the street about one in the morning. Mike was my lookout. Things went pretty smoothly on the first five or six cars. I'd pop the hubcap off and put it under the car until I had one off from each car. The idea was once I had them off, I'd collect them from under the cars and should I get caught breaking the curfew before I was finished, I wouldn't be holding stolen hubcaps.
I heard Mikes shrill whistle warning me that a car was turning up Main Avenue. It was the police. I was pretty small and I just scooted under a big old Plymouth parked on the side of the street. The minutes dragged by as the police cruiser slowly went down the street only to do a U-turn and come back down it. Once they were out of sight, I went back to work. At the end of my morning, I had nineteen hubcaps. All makes and sizes. After Shad and Junior looked over my trophies, I hid them in the shared storage area located beneath our row of apartments under an old white painter's tarp my dad had left there.
I was accepted into the gang and was the youngest kid to ever become a member. I was a great lookout and could easily conceal myself under a vehicle. I learned to spit and smoke cigarettes, to steal candy from the neighborhood store. I learned to fight using a dog's choke chain and a switch blade knife which I always carried to my fifth grade elementary school. Once we even broke into the Catholic Church on Washington Street and drank the wine and ate all the wafers.
In 1965, my parents got back together and decided to move to Fort Valley, Virginia where my maternal grandfather owned a country store. Just before we left, my parents held a garage sale. My dad found 19 hubcaps in the storage area and sold them all for twenty dollars. He thought one of the neighbors must have left them when they moved.
Fort Valley came as quite a shock to me. I spent my sixth grade in a three room school house. There were no streets to run loose on and no police to evade. There were no sidewalks, no apartments, no close kids and no gangs. I learned other things. I learned to fish and hunt. I learned to milk cows and feed chickens. I learned to weed a garden.
On my twelfth birthday, I bought a six string Stella guitar. I had seen the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show. I quickly forgot about my old friends in the Lanvale Lions and spent every spare minute practicing my guitar. That summer, we moved to the sleepy little town of Front Royal. I made new friends and started my first band, The Spectrum Of Sound and before I was fourteen years old I was playing in night clubs.
I hadn't thought about "the westside gang" for a long, long time. As I finish this hub, I wonder what happened to all those kids. I wonder if they ever escaped those projects. I wonder if there's still a gang called the Lanvale Lions.