Friday, April 21, 2017

Rogers Park Station

One of the best things about my work day is the ease of the commute.  I walk one block east to the Metra station and ride south to the terminus at Ogilvie Station, which takes about 20 minutes.  Then I walk a few blocks east to City Hall.  In the evening I usually doze on the way home, waking up just before Rogers Park (a skill I perfected in graduate school on the Red Line).  With a few changes in technology my route is pretty much the same one used by commuters when the neighborhood began as an independent suburb in the 1870s.  Back then the commercial development clustered around the station Ravenswood between Lunt and Greenleaf.  The early frame homes were just far enough away from the tracks to avoid the noise and smoke. But despite the similarities there have been a number of changes in the experience of commuting.
Rogers Park Station At-Grade, looking Northeast.


This rail line began passenger service in 1854, when it was extended to Waukegan.  By 1869 there were seven trains each way daily.  But because the tracks were at-grade crossings were dangerous and frequently interrupted city traffic.  In 1896 work began to elevate the tracks in compliance with a Chicago ordinance. (The information above is taken from the Metra website, which has some history on each of their lines.)

Photos of the station show that it was elevated after 1905. This wasn't a moment too soon according to these Chicago Tribune articles (accessed through the Chicago Public Library):

At-Grade Station
August 20, 1885 -  Frank Zwiener apparently commits suicide between the Rogers Park and Calvary station.  His lower limbs were found at some distance from the rest of his body. 

December 15, 1887 - Charles Hemmings and his wife were struck and by the train while crossing the tracks in a heavy lumber wagon. Mr. Hemmings survived but his wife was killed.  Their horses were also killed.

May 8, 1896 - Six occupants of a surrey hurled as far as 75 feet when stuck by the Milwaukee train at Touhy.  No one was killed,  miraculously.

January 23, 1897 - Arthur Steen injured at Rogers Park crossing by the Milwaukee train.  His companion, Frederick Buhr, was uninjured although their wagon was destroyed.

June 11, 1903 - Patrick McLaughlin, a flagman for the railroad, loses his life trying to save 16 year old George Brackle, who was driving a laundry wagon across the tracks.

Anyway, I don't want to get too morbid.  Let's just say that at-grade crossings could be hazardous.   Pressure was brought to bear on the Chicago Northwestern Railway to expedite the elevation of the tracks at Rogers Park.
View looking southeast , c. 1913.  Did I mention these were steam trains?

By 1910 the tracks had been elevated, but what about the station?  It wasn't unusual to reconstruct a train station at the new grade, but I believe the entire station was raised to align with the new track level.  I'm basing this on the design of the building (as shown in historic photos in the collection of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society) and the identical footprints found in the consecutive Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The combination of open bays and enclosed areas for ticket sales was common, and can still be seen in stations along the North Shore.  In particular I'm thinking of the 1891 station in Glencoe, which has a slightly more elaborate massing but the same brick and stone trim combinations.

View from West of the Embankment Looking South
Moving buildings in Chicago has a long tradition.  In the 1850s and 1860s water and sewer lines were constructed under a new raised street system.  Many buildings, large and small, were lifted and placed atop new foundations to align with the new street level. And commonly property owners would move old homes to the rear of their lot to allow construction of a new residence along the street.  You can find this pattern in many of the older neighborhoods and the skilled labor to do this safely would have been readily available.

After Elevation with West Depot
With the elevation of the tracks the railroad also built a depot on the west side of the line.   It appears to have had a concrete foundation and a frame second floor.  I'm not sure if this functioned as a storage building or a shelter.  Or perhaps both.  But the primary station remained on the east (inbound) which is still the case on the Union Pacific North line.   Folks waiting to go downtown were always accorded the more elaborate facilities.

Note the access lane on the west side of the embankment.  This was within the railroad right-of-way and provided easy pickup and loading for passengers and goods.  This lane was later vacated by the railroad and sold off for condo development in the 1960s.

By the 1950s the commuter lines has become less profitable, perhaps because of decreasing density in the neighborhoods.  In 1958 twenty-two stations were closed, both in Chicago and outlying areas.  At this time Edgewater (directly south) lost all three of their commuter stations.  Based on dated photos provided by generous readers of the blog I can confirm that the Rogers Park Station existed at least until 1965, and it's demolition is estimated to have occurred in 1966 or 1967..

View looking North from Lunt down Ravenswood
The current Rogers Park Metra stop has a small at-grade waiting room and open canopies on the narrow train platforms.  Where the old station once stood there are a few awkward parking spaces.  The hefty limestone foundation is still visible from Ravenswood.





This post is an adaptation of a project I put together for the "Property" exhibit at the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society, curated by the Roman Susan Artspace.   Although that has a few more maps and some snarky comments... And there's still time to see the exhibit exhibit at the society's storefront at 7363 N. Greenview!.

My exhibit at the RP/WRHS "Property"








Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Devon and Artesian - Moderne in West Ridge


North intersection of Devon and Artesian
This image is the colorized version of a drawing I'll be offering for bid at the Stone Academy Silent Auction.  It's actually just a few blocks from the school, so I thought it might be a good subject for those with a strong investment in the neighborhood.

As West Ridge developed Devon became a high-end commercial strip with a number of impressive terra cotta buildings constructed in the 1920s.  This district served an explosion of new homeowners attracted by the development of affordable bungalows.  At the time the area still had some of the open agricultural character which marked the first development of the neighborhood.

These two buildings represent the second wave of architectural development,  with a more streamlined appearance and less ornamentation.  Both are clad with Indiana limestone, similar to the Moderne-style skyscrapers going up in the Loop around the same time.  The building on the left, originally Hillman's Grocery, was designed by the firm of Leichenko & Esser in 1942.  It's unusual to find commercial construction built during WWII, when most materials were shunted to the military or to housing.  The building on the right was designed by Albert Hecht and constructed in 1939.  It was originally a Rusnak Brother's Furniture, an early franchise with outlets throughout Chicago.

And here's the black and white version, which will be offered for bid.  Although there have been a few improvements since this scan was taken.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Stucco Bungalows on Arthur, 1915

Fifty-One Stucco Bungalows on Arthur Avenue
I've written a number of posts about collections of homes planned, designed and built by early developers in the neighborhood.  These range from a few identical cottages to more complex arrangements of alternating designs.   These small scale developments are found throughout Chicago and their quiet existence probably accounts for most of the city's small-scale speculative residential development.
On the block of Arthur Avenue with Clark Street on the east and the Union Pacific Railroad embankment on the west, there's an impressive collection of modest stucco bungalows constructed in 1915. Permit records shows that these homes were designed by Edgewater architect and developer Niels Buck, who was active in the area from the 1890s through the 1920s.  Two permits were issued, the first covering the homes on the north side of the block in April of 1915, and the second on the south side in October.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune Niels Buck, in partnership with Herman Becker, bought 12 1/2 acres in the area for $60,000 from Jacob Rehm. The cost of construction was estimated to be $230,000, which puts the cost per bungalow around $5,600.  In today's value this would be about $134,000.  Typically a developer would work with a bank to issue bonds in the value of the loan. Investors buying the bonds received a guaranteed rate of return.  But partnering with Becker may have allowed Buck to bypass this process, making the development more profitable for both.
View from the west looking towards Clark Street, 1921

This is a great photograph of the street in 1921, before any substantial changes were made. The image is available on Wikipedia, which considers it too old to be subject to copyright.  Still, I wouldn't mind knowing where it originated...

This was a high quality development, with poured concrete curbs, walkways, sidewalks and electric streetlights.  The stucco cladding addressed building code requirements for fire resistance.

Real estate developers in the city were responsible for tying their development into the street grid of the city and extending the utilities.  Quality construction was profitable to the developer, who wanted homes to sell briskly so they could move on to their next opportunity.  And in 1915 affordable homes in Rogers Park, with its strong transit ties and proximity to the lake, probably went like hotcakes.


I've identified at least seven separate types of bungalow on the block.  Although perhaps "type" is too strong a work.  Basically these are all stucco boxes with slight variations in roofline and porch design. Originally they were all about the same in size and square footage, but the changes in massing makes the repetition of designs nearly unnoticeable.  This was an advantage of having a developer who also functioned as an architect. For those who look closely the block creates an almost perfect illustration of architectural variations on a theme.


Type I Bungalow with boulder cladding
Many of the homes on the block have since departed from the original design intent.  Enclosing open porches was common, especially after the introduction of affordable air conditioning.  Rear additions and detached garages are also common. I'm guessing garages weren't included in the original development in order to keep prices low.  Sometimes homes were expanded upward, losing the shape of the original roof but adding substantial square footage.

Stucco is a surface treatment that required maintenance, repair and sometimes replacement.  It wasn't such a stretch to replace one surface treatment with another.  The bungalow above incorporates a formstone cladding.  This was popular for home repair as early as the 1930s and probably a bit cheaper than new stucco, which required specialized skills for installation.

Type II Bungalow with renovations
This home has been altered just as much as the one above, losing the open porch and extending a new covered entrance porch.  But in this case the renovations observed some of the established patterns on the block, retaining the stucco and eave brackets and incorporating more traditional window details.

This block of Arthur represents the most extensive contiguous development I've found in the neighborhood. But I know there are many more out there.

Ad for Atlas Portland Cement Company from American Builder, May-1918.  Accessed through Google Books.




Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sleeping Porches in Rogers Park- 1503 W. Sherwin

1503 W. Sherwin, 1911
Every time I walk down Greenview this home catches my eye.  Sure, it's a nice example of the Craftsman style...but what about that 2-story tower on the south end?  It's actually the best example of a sleeping porch that I've found in Rogers Park.


Sleeping porches became popular for single family homes in the 1910s.  Many older homes had impressive methods for dealing with summer heat (wrap-around porches, stack ventilation, thick walls) but sleeping outside on a hot night was still hard to beat.  In fact, it wasn't unusual for early residents of Rogers Park to walk down to the lake and sleep on the beach, taking advantage of the breezes and the slight drop in temperature.  A sleeping porch was the far more convenient and customized version of camping out..



Sleeping outside was seen as a healthful way to rest in
Proximity to elevated train.
the cold as well.  Germ theory had broken in to popular culture, suggesting that fresh air would protect people from illness.  This was the pervasive view at  tuberculosis hospitals, where fresh air was as good (often better) than medicine. And where better to enjoy fresh air and ward off illness than the porch right outside your bedroom?  But I have to admit that the proximity of the elevated train (directly across the street) must have put a damper on the restfulness of this particular porch.

Just like open porches on the first floor it was common for these areas to be gradually enclosed and converted to interior space.  But finding one so untouched after 100 years is really unique.

From an article in The House Beautiful,  August 1911, pg. 80-81.  Accessed through Google Books.
If anyone knows of other good examples of sleeping porches in the neighborhood let me know in the comments below.  I'm keeping a list.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Building Paranoia, Revisited

Back in 2012 I wrote post on the proliferation of "defensive" architecture in the neighborhood, especially fences, barbed wire, and security cameras. You can read it here if you like.  I recently saw another good example of security overkill on Greenleaf.  This fencing protects a tiny parking lot for the former Jewel Laundry (now Ethiopian Cultural Center) just to the east. They use barbed wire to keep the razor wire in place.  The tower in the background was part of the original heating plant, although it looks like the height was reduced at some point.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Anatomy of a Small Urban Plaza - Jarvis Square

Aerial view looking South. Plaza outlined in green.
The outdoor seating areas along Sheridan Road aren't the only examples of unexpected urban plazas in Rogers Park.  At the southeast intersection of Jarvis and Greenview, just east of the el station, there's a 3-story brick and terracotta building that's substantially set back from Jarvis to create a generous plaza. 

As with many older Chicago neighborhoods, Rogers Park developed commercial districts around its public transit nodes. This was especially true around neighborhood el stations. Areas adjacent to stations functioned as primary or secondary commercial districts for the community, with development right up to the front property line.  The first floor would consist of storefronts and offices to serve the commuters, and affordable apartments would be found on the second and third floors above.

Detail of an 80-acre map showing subdivision setbacks.
Areas that were further away from transit were expected to develop as residential districts with single family homes, two- and three-flats, and larger apartment buildings like Chicago's classic courtyards. The density of any given street was based on the cost of the land; the more expensive the land, the greater number of units that could be expected.  Early development close to Lake Michigan consisted of single family homes.  But as the desirability of the area increased in the 1910s and 1920s, those same blocks began to support larger apartment buildings.

Zoning requirements in Chicago were only imposed in 1923, so subdivision setbacks, which were basically private agreements recorded to the parcels, were utilized to guarantee generous front yards and a consistent appearance of a block.   The map above shows lots the area immediately adjacent to the El  (with no setbacks)  while the green areas indicate a required 30 foot "front yard" setback.

Building footprints with Jarvis Square in green.
But, on rare occasions, the single family homes never moved in. The lots, which were still tantalizingly close to the public transit corridor, developed into standard mixed-use buildings with storefronts and offices on the first floor and apartments above. What would have otherwise functioned as a front yard became a private plaza. This seems to be what happened at the southeast corner of Jarvis and Greenview.

In recent years the Jarvis plaza has been recognized for the neighborhood amenity that it is.  It has been elaborately paved, filled with flowering plants and prairie landscaping, and enclosed with a decorative cast iron fence. The building's storefronts have seen a succession of quirky Rogers Park businesses including Don's Coffee Club, which was basically like awkwardly ordering coffee in someone's living room, as well as lefty used bookstores, black box theater companies, and antique shops. The plaza was even the site of the Rogers Park Prom (1996 to 2000?), a peculiar local event that seems to have faded into the mists of time. But the plaza is still there,  so perhaps the Prom will someday be revived, with a few ironic vintage prom dresses, a skilled DJ, and a dash of Rogers Park's neighborhood spirit.

View of Jarvis Square looking East.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Anatomy of a Small Urban Plaza

Even though American cities are primarily planned on a grid there are still idiosyncrasies in development that can allow for an unexpected amenity or two.  One of the ways in which a neighborhood rises above the unrelenting standardization of the grid is in how well local businesses recognize and utilize those spaces.

Sheridan-Columbia plaza highlighted in green.
Even in the dense areas near Lake Michigan Rogers Park has some retained some ability to bend the grid, if not actually break it.  The buildings on the west side of Sheridan between Columbia and Pratt are a good example.  The older buildings are substantially set back from Sheridan Road, creating an ideal location for a cafe or outdoor dining area.  Not all the businesses on this block take advantage of this, but those that do help to make the block attractive despite its proximity to Sheridan Road. Or perhaps because of that proximity. 

80-Acre Map detail showing subdivision setbacks in green.
Chicago established its comprehensive zoning code in 1923, but subdividers already knew restrictions could actually improve the value of their lots. Prior to Rogers Park's 1893 annexation to the City of Chicago it was subdivided in accordance with the Cook County standards defining the public rights-of-way, lot depths, block lengths, etc.  But these requirements didn't address exactly what could be built and where.

Private restrictions defining setbacks and minimum yard requirements were often recorded to the deeds of subdivision to channel appropriate development.  Those restrictions would then become part of the legal description of each parcel.

 This block (and the neighboring blocks ) were subdivided in 1890 and extensive use was made of the subdivision setback. A 30' subdivision setback line was established along Sheridan Road with 10' setbacks for the corner lots.  A 25' setback was established for Pratt and Columbia.  Interestingly, there was a diagonal setback between the lots fronting on Sheridan and those on the side streets providing a setback transition zone between the two areas.  This also made it easier to see pedestrians when coming out from the alley.

IDOT Photo detail from 1937. Overlay added to show setback.

The early development of this block was captured in a 1937 photo taken by the Illinois Department of Transportation  (Accessed through the UIC digital archives)  At that time the entire block was held to the same setback standard.  There was a vibrant mix, including a movie theater, a drug store, furrier, and even a small apartment building (you can see the steps for the apartments encroaching into the setback).  The photo looks to be taken in the fall of winter, but  there didn't appear to be much use of the plaza at this time.


Block plan showing existing development and construction dates.
The subdivision setback wasn't sacred.  Just like setbacks established by zoning ordinance there were ways it could be varied or even eliminated. Because the setback represented a private legal agreement it could be modified with the permission of the adjacent property owners.  I'm still trying to identify this exact legal mechanism, so any land-use lawyers reading this post should feel free to chime in at the comments.

In 1972 a 4-over-1 apartment building (4 floors of apartments and 1 below-grade level of parking)  was constructed in the middle of the block, extending to the front property line and disregarding the subdivision setback entirely.   But this encroachment actually provided something that the 1937 plaza was lacking- a sense of enclosure.  Without enclosure the setback just feels like an extra-wide sidewalk.

In recent years Starbucks has taken most advantage of this space, installing cafe tables, benches, and sun umbrellas.  With its proximity to Loyola University it becomes a very popular place in the warm months.  Two adjacent restaurants also make use of the plaza, although they are comparatively small.  On the north corner along Pratt there's another cafe that utilizes a portion of the setback.  Unfortunately the fence is so high that it goes beyond comfortable enclosure and makes the corner feel more like a cage. Having the opportunity for a plaza doesn't always mean establishing an outdoor room will work.  A careful balancing of space is still needed.

This isn't the only example of this type of amenity in Rogers Park.  Any favorites out there?  I'll be taking a closer look at some others in the coming months.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 4


 The Bookie Gang Comes to an End

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 3


Neal Summers
The gang responsible for the murders of Rogers Park Detectives George Hellstern and Charles Brady specialized in robbing the Chicago syndicate.  Which is to say they mainly robbed other criminals.  So while the Chicago police were gathering evidence and shaping their investigation to find who had murdered two of their own, the Chicago Mob had a parallel investigation into the same group.  In fact, the syndicate had their own internal police force with tactics similar to those of the legitimate police.  Arrest by one group would at least lead to a trial.  The other, not so much.

Virgil Summers
The first time the police became aware of this particular gang was after a February, 1945 robbery of the Surf Lounge, at Broadway and Surf in the Lakeview neighborhood. An informant notified them that the job was pulled by "two hillbilly brothers," who were partnering with someone known as "Bad Eye."  The hillbilly brothers were Neal and Virgil Summers, from Mount Vernon, IL.   Both Summers brothers had long criminal records.  After Virgil's release from Menard Prison in December of 1943 (for murder, if you were wondering) both brothers came to Chicago.

After the Surf Lounge robbery the Summers left town, only to return in August when they began to organize a gang for more ambitious jobs.

James Kelley
The police investigators began to put together a picture of the Summers brothers, visiting their preferred hangouts at Madison and Paulina.  This was Chicago's old Skid Row, which extended West on Madison from the river . They frequented saloons, questioned acquaintances and listened in to conversations.  They put together names and nicknames, and compared their findings with the records available at their bureau of identification.

The gang formed rapidly.  At Menard the Summers brothers had known James Kelley, and they invited him to join them.   Neal Summers met Renoro Lolli at a place known as "Banana's Saloon" soon after Lolli had quit his job as a bartender and made clear his plans to return to armed robbery.  Soon they were joined by Christ Perres, Steve the Greek (a relative of Perres), Richard Todd and Grover Dullard.  Most of these men had been in prison together.  The gang met at a north side hotel where Perres ran into Tiny Mazzanars (called "Tiny" because he weighed 250 pounds) whom he had known in the penitentiary.  Tiny joined up, bringing in his partner, the ill-fated Red Smith.
Richard Todd

The gang had plenty of members but needed a machine gun, which was not a weapon readily available to civilians.  Lolli has been drinking in Banana's Saloon when he met a coast guard sailor.  "I'm a farmer," said Lolli unconvincingly, "I need a machine gun to kill foxes and wolves on my farm."  A few days later the sailor returned with a machine gun, which he sold for $135.

Grover Dullard
When the gang robbed bookies they always took their trousers.  "They're cagey," Lolli later told police.  "They have secret pockets, so we took the pants and searched them when we had time.  Once we found $3,000 extra this way."  Lolli's ambition was to steal $100,000 and retire to a small town where he would marry a widow and become a businessman.  He had proposed a complicated plan to rob half a million dollars from an International Harvester plant in Fort Wayne, IN, but the gang felt it would require too many men.

Apparently you could be fired from a gang.  Neal Summers was dropped because had the habit of getting drunk along Madison Street and telling hostesses how tough he was.  Richard Todd was dropped after being sent to case a gambling place near 63rd and Dorchester, where he incorrectly reported a police presence.

In early November of 1945 Detective Smicklas saw Virgil Summers, Kelly and Dullard talking at Madison and Paulina.  He took them to the detective bureau where they were photographed.  They were soon released, but police kept checking on their activities.

On November 30th Mazzanars convinced the gang to hit the payroll truck of the Mars Candy company, where he had once worked.  But they were 5 minutes late and the truck had gone.  Punctuality is valuable in all professions...They made plans to return on December 7th.
Renoro Lolli

But on the afternoon of December 7th Detective Smicklas again saw Kelly walking down Madison with Lolli.  At that point he had a description of Lolli, so he stopped to question them.  Searching Lolli he found a laundry list with an address of 6311 S. Eggleston.  He dismissed Kelly and took Lolli to the bureau.  Apparently search and seizure had a lower bar in the 1940s.

While Lolli was being held a squad was dispatched to the Eggleston address.  There, in  a suitcase, detectives found a machine gun, a shotgun, three revolvers, two automatics, two masks, several boxes of ammunition, and an army uniform.

Kelly, no legal slouch, telephoned attorney Louis Gould to petition Chief Justice Harold G. Ward of Criminal court for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Lolli, which would presumably force the police to release him.  But it was too late.  Confronted with the circumstantial evidence the police had gathered at his home Lolli confessed to various handbook robberies, and he began to name names.  Once the news was published in the papers the syndicate would know exactly how to find him and his confederates.  He requested no bond and no lawyer.  After being implicated Kelly was soon picked up by police again.

3402 W. Lyndale
Once he had decided to cooperate Lolli explained the gang's robbery procedure, first stealing a car and hiding it for a day or two, then using it in a robbery before getting rid of it.  He admitted that the gang currently had a car ready at 2230 W. Belmont, near where Tiny Mazzanars lived.  At that point Lolli was handcuffed to a detective and driven to Mazannar's apartment at 3402 W. Lyndale.  Lolli pointed out Mazzanars rooms on the second floor.  Two more police squads were dispatched to the building and they waited.  At 10:15 p.m. a car drove up and stopped in front of 3402.

Tools in the basement.
Tiny and Perres got out and walked south down the alley to unlock a garage.  The police followed them.  "Put 'em up," the detective said, "we're police."  Despite the element of surprise Mazzanars somehow got his gun out and fired eight shots, hitting nothing.  He ran north towards Lyndale with Perres close behind.

Detective Moss sat in the squad car handcuffed to Lolli.  Seeing Tiny emerge from the alley he pulled his gun and fired right through the windshield.   Tiny staggered, shot through the shoulder.  He managed to run a half block before collapsing.  Moss jerked Lolli out of the car and began to shoot at Perres as he emerged frm the alley.  Perres stopped short, bewildered to be fired upon from an unexpected direction.  Officer Pape then emerged from the alley, took aim and shot him through the head.  Perres fell to the street, dead.

In Tiny's apartment police found a nickel plated revolver and a rifle.  In the basement they found three sledge hammers and a pair of rubber gloves.  On a basement rafter detectives found an old salt bag with parts of a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver.  Remembering the weapon used for the murders in Rogers Park the officers questioned Tiny more closely.  Finally Tiny broke, naming Red Smith as the murderer of the detectives and admitting the gang later killed him out of fear he would give them up.  He agreed to lead the police to Smith's grave near Schiller Park in exchange for leniency.  Knowing this was good publicity the police invited Chicago Tribune reporters and photographers to join them.

A- Road that killers followed to get tow truck.  B- Killer's route of departure. C- Where gang stalled in mud.  D- Smith's grave.

When Tiny Mazzanars decided to talk he didn't stop.  He went on to describe how the gang has successfully raided a number of handbooks and gambling joints.  He told one story in particular, included here because of the vivid way it recalls the era:

From left: E. Smicklas, N. Juric,  Mazzanars (pointing to grave) and J. Alcock.
In October Lolli, Kelley and Perres set out to rob a west side handbook.  Kelley carried a sub-machine gun.  The door opened at their knock but was slammed shut when the attendants saw the guns.  Perres was in the lead and his shoe was caught in the closed door, trapping him.  Using a knife he cut off the top of the shoe and fled, leaving his shoe behind.  Ten days later Kelly was in a tavern at Madison and Laflin when four armed men told him to "Get your coat.  We want to talk to you."  They drove him to a west side house where  a number of customers and gamblers had been assembled.  They looked at Kelly, but weren't able to identify him.  "We have a shoe lost by a robber," he was told.  "If it fits you, you'll never wear another pair."   They then placed Perres' shoe on his right foot, but it didn't fit.  He was told him to watch his step and sent on his way. 

After these well-publicized collars the police moved to mop up the rest of the gang.  On January 9th the police picked up Neal Summers on the corner of Ashland and Madison. James Kelly was soon apprehended.  Several of the members of the gang remained at-large, but at this point the newspapers seemed to lose interest.

In June of 1945 the judge handed down a 30 year sentence to Lolli and a 25 year sentence to Mazzanars for the murder of Red Smith.  Both men had signed confessions.  James Kelly received one year for car theft. The Summers brothers were apparently never sentenced for their role in organizing and leading the Bookie Gang. But that's not to say they went on to have a long and profitable lives.

In 1946 Virgil Summers was arrested with Bugs Moran (an old-time rival of Al Capone) for robberies in Dayton, Ohio.James Kelly was shot and killed by police in 1952. Neal Summers was shot and killed in Chicago (probably by the mob) in December of 1962.

By this time the Bookie Gang had become just another chapter in the violent history of Chicago.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 3

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2

November 29, 1945

Cecil "Red" Smith
"Guys, where are we going?" asked Red Smith.  What's the plan tonight?" Everyone maintained an icy silence.  "Is this a suburban job?"  Silence.  He didn't ask again.

It was a cold, drizzly night in Chicago. Tiny Mazzanars was driving, and Red Smith was riding shotgun.  In the back were Renoro Lolli and Christ Perres.  All four were members of a gang specializing in handbook robberies, preferring to rob payroll and receipts of the gambling syndicate.  They weren't above a random armed robbery, which Red assumed was the plan for this evening. Tiny kept driving west along Irving Park.  The stores, apartments, and city street lights soon gave way to a dark road, made even darker by a thickening fog. Tiny turned north onto a narrow dirt road. Although it was just past Chicago's city limits, it felt a world away from the streets of Rogers Park.

Lawrence "Tiny" Mazzanars
Tiny Mazzanars and Red Smith had been working together when Tiny was invited to join the handbook robbery gang.  He vouched for his friend Red and brought him in, too. It turned out that Red already knew one other member of the group--James Kelley.  The men got acquainted in the Joliet Penitentiary, where Red had served 5 sentences since 1916.  Kelley knew Red was not above acting as an informant if it was in his best interests.  But that didn't matter too much until September 2nd, when Red shot two Chicago detectives on the corner of Lunt and Clark.

James Kelley
Red and Tiny had cased the drug store at the southeast corner of Lunt and Clark on Saturday, September 1st. It was a busy location, and the manager had a predictable schedule. He tallied the week's receipts on Sunday night, and, then, come Monday morning, he took all of the cash to the local bank. If they could catch him on Sunday night, just as he was locking up, they could escort him back into the store and leave with a week's worth of earnings. It was a perfect plan.

On September 2nd at 11 p.m. they parked their car on Lunt Avenue.  Tiny stood on the northeast corner, while Red waited across the street right in front of the drugstore.  Just as their setup was complete, Detectives Brady and Hellstern walked by looking for their Peeping Tom.  They immediately noticed Red acting suspiciously and identified themselves as police officers. Recognizing trouble, Tiny began to walk west on Lunt.  He was less than a block away when he heard the gun shots. Red had shot and killed both detectives. As a crowd began to gather, Tiny got into his car unobserved and drove away.

North Avenue Bridge, where they tossed the gun.
Tiny visited several bars in the area looking for Red, but he didn't find him until the next day.  Red had hidden the murder weapon in a backyard.  A week later, they both went to retrieve it. They dismantled the weapon and dropped the barrel and some other pieces into the Chicago River at the North Avenue Bridge.  Tiny took some parts with him as spares, and stashed them in the basement rafters of his apartment building on Lyndale.

Renoro Lolli
In the meantime, the police kicked their investigation into high gear.  Renoro Lolli and James Kelley were pulled in and questioned on unrelated charges.  Kelly knew that if Red were picked up there was a good chance he would confess to the shooting and "squeal" about his involvement in the handbook robbery gang, endangering Lolli, Kelley, and the other members of the group. It wasn't long before Red Smith saw Kelley, Lolli, and his good friend Tiny huddled together, talking quietly.  They fell silent when they saw him watching. As a joke, Kelley started to refer to him as "Squealer." Red pretended to find it funny, but he became increasingly nervous around the other members of the gang.

What Red didn't know that night in the car--but may have suspected--was that the location of his grave had already been chosen.  Shovels and pick axes were in the trunk. James Kelley, who had suggested the murder, decided not to get his hands dirty. "Three of you is plenty to murder one man," he said. "There's no need for me to go along."

Extrapolated Route, using 1939 Aerial Photo
As the car drove north along River Road, Christ Perres leaned forward from the back seat and placed the muzzle of his gun against Red Smith's head.  His gun jammed.  Renorro Lolli was ready.  Before he fired he said, "You're a rat and a stool pigeon, and we're going to let you have it."  Then he shot twice.  One bullet struck the back of Red's head behind his left ear, and the other went into the rear of the seat.

They continued to drive north, then turned west onto Lawrence Avenue.  After the explosion of bullets, the car seemed deathly quiet.  Red Smith slumped forward. They drove a block west on Lawrence and then pulled off into a corn field.  Tiny dug the grave, deep enough so that Red wouldn't be caught in the plow.  It was the least he could do.

Christ Perres
The unpleasant work done, they returned to their car, only to find that it was stuck in the cold, late November mud.  After trying to push their car out they flagged down a bus and rented a tow truck to retrieve their car.  A homicide, a corn field burial, a city bus ride, and a middle-of-the-night tow truck rental, and, somehow, no farmers, neighbors, bus drivers, or Schiller Park police officers became suspicious. Once their car was freed from the mud, they all headed back to Chicago. Perhaps they wondered whether the gang was truly safer now.  Or maybe they didn't think about it at all.  Soon, snow began to fall, covering Red Smith's grave.  He had outlived Detectives Hellstern and Brady by less than 3 months.

Part 4 will detail how the police solved the case and broke the gang.  And there's a shootout!

As usual, information was taken from historic Chicago Tribune articles.  Some literary license has been taken...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Again, Lorain, OH

Broadway and E. 31st Street

Taking a bit of a break from my murder mystery to showcase a few random drawings of my hometown, Lorain, Ohio.
Broadway and E. 32nd Street
Broadway and W. 29th Street

Well, they're not exactly random. They represent an isolated historic commercial district that soldiers on, despite unrelenting adversity.  








These images were developed from reference photos taken during our Fourth of July visit.
(As a side note, happy 50th anniversary Mom and Dad!)







I like the strong shadows on this one, but it loses a bit of texture and intelligibility.

As always, Lorain is a textbook example of how historic buildings change over time, adapting to different needs and accommodating new styles.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

September 3, 1945

Brady Residence                 Hellstern Residence

The investigation of the double-murder at Lunt and Clark was immediately underway.  Based on the dying description of his victim, the murderer was 30 or 35 years old, about 5 feet 10 inches in height, with a dirty complexion, a slouch hat, blue shirt, and dark trousers.  He wore a single black rubber glove on his left hand, suggesting that he may have had an artificial or injured hand.

Three people claimed to have seen the killer.  Elmer Leitner, 22, of 1772 W. Estes, Paul Piro, 18, of 1908 W. Estes, and Opal Hamann, of 6959 N. Clark. They corroborated Detective Brady's description, but didn't add much new information.

Mrs. Brady                             Mrs. Hellstern
Police Commissioner Allman swore that the department would not rest until the killer was captured.  Five suspects were rounded up, two of whom wore gloves over artificial left hands.

As the police investigated, the families grieved. At that time, widows of police killed in the line of duty received $10,000, along with $1,800 per year until their youngest child reached the age of 18.  Converted into today's values that would translate to a lump sum of $132,000 and $24,000 per year. Of course, no amount of money could replace the loss of a husband or father.

September 4


Location of Inquest
At the request of Captain Michael Ahern, an inquest into the murders was held at the John E. Maloney Funeral Home at 1359 W. Devon.  The inquest was an opportunity for the police to explain their lines of investigation and discuss additional evidence, including a ballistics report.  Mrs. Brady and Mrs. Hellstern both attended this session, hoping to learn more about what had happened to their husbands.

The inquest pointed to a potential motive. At the time of his death, Detective Hellstern had over $3,000 in cash in his pocket.  His fellow officers noted that he distrusted banks.  Could his murder have been a hold-up that went bad?  Did the man with the black rubber glove know that Detective Hellstern would be carrying a large sum of money that night? What was he planning to buy? It wasn't clear, and his wife never gave an explanation of why he was carrying the modern day equivalent of $39,000 as he was walking down Clark Street.

Boundaries of the Search
September 5

In an effort to gather additional evidence, the police began a systematic interview of every individual in the Rogers Park community. Officers swarmed through the streets, the local Rogers Park force augmented by squads from the detective bureau, the homicide bureau, and even the park district.  All told there were 127 uniformed policeman and 10 plainclothes detectives working on this case.  These officers were sent on a house-by-house investigation throughout the neighborhood, interviewing local community members about the crime. Their search turned up Mel Ogren, who had been bowling that night at the corner of Lunt and Ravenswood, and witnessed the exchange of gunfire on his walk home.  He was positive there had been no glove, contradicting several eye witness accounts.

September 8
Sherwood Wolf, 19

A few days later, Sherwood J. Wolf, 19, of 7006 N. Paulina was arrested.  Mr. Wolf was supposedly the Peeping Tom that the detectives had been on their way to investigate.  Maybe he was a little creepy, but the police quickly discovered that he had nothing to do with the murders. It was a dead end. To share the killer's description more widely, the police generated a sketch based upon the statements given by witnesses. Since forensic artists were still rather uncommon, the portrait was drawn by an artist friend of Captain Ahern.  It
was displayed at the Rogers Park police station.

September 9

Eight additional witnesses identified in the canvassing of the neighborhood were interviewed by police. Paul McMahon of 1648 W. Lunt confirmed that the shooter had a glove on his left hand.

By the end of September, the police had little to show for their community-wide manhunt. After hundreds of interviews, the arrest of Sherwood Wolf, and some new eye witness testimony, all they had was an amateur sketch of the perpetrator, a half-baked theory about a robbery, and a fruitless search for a man with a glove on his left hand.  But the case would come roaring back into the headlines on December 14th when the events of that evening would finally be revealed, along with the identity of the murderer. 

Part 3 to follow.

Information above is taken from a series of Chicago Tribune articles accessed through the Chicago Public Library.