El Rancho Orphanage

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Shortly before the adjoining Congress Theatre reopened and began hosting punk shows, the infamous Chicago punk house collective, The El Rancho Orphanage, or ERO, formed in August of 2000 in the storefront on the corner of Milwaukee and Rockwell in Logan Square. The space was the former home of El Rancho Supermercado, a Mexican supermarket.

The El Rancho Orphanage got its name from the local Hispanic residents, who called the people living there Huérfanos, or Orphans, likely because at the time Logan Square was not gentrified, and they suddenly saw a large group of very young poor people with tattered clothes living in a large space. The original market’s sign remained, thus the residents became the El Rancho Orphans and the “house” became The El Rancho Orphanage.

ERO hosted shows for its shortly lived but infamous existence as a collective. The A-Zone, a.k.a. The Autonomous Zone, also moved to the other adjoining side of The Congress Theatre in 2001 – southeast of The Congress.

El Rancho hosted local bands as well as those on tour on a semi-regular basis. As far as its living quarters went, it is reported that the space had no heat for the majority of its winters, and limited plumbing, e.g. no formal bathing facilities but a hot and cold spout in the basement that some residents used as a shower.

It was not a squat, however, but rented for near nothing by its slum-lord.

Disliked to disdained by many other houses or collectives especially those that were considered punk, there was tension at the time between them, as El Rancho was considered to be filthy, rowdy and disrespectful. If anything, ERO embraced this reputation. There was, however, one good natured baseball game held in Smith Park against a couple of rival houses (some of whose members went on to be part of the Coughs space years later), and ERO lost by one run.

El Rancho was important because it didn't just host shows but was a collective that embodied the outlaw punk spirit that less and less of is seen in Chicago. El Rancho could be likened to Berkeley's Gilman Street, or the Anti-Club in L.A., or even the NYC squats of the early movement that aligned themselves with CBGBs in NYC. Many of its members were local successful filmmakers, artists, belonged to social justice organizations, and were known pirate/college/lo-frequency DJs, zine writers and journalists.

El Rancho moved to a different location in 2002, known as the Red House, on Sheffield Ave. A film is scheduled to come out someday documenting both houses. For now, many indie video stores carry "Tick," a fictional film made by members Lil' Princess and President Snack Cakes le' Beef. "She" is another film that has been circulated that documents the early life of one of the orphans who is now passed away. It is available in the Columbia College film library.

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