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.