WBEZ | 1930s http://www.wbez.org/tags/1930s Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A shot of history: Ingredients of the Chicago speakeasy http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/shot-history-ingredients-chicago-speakeasy-110616 <p><p>Ask people around the world to play word association with &ldquo;Chicago,&rdquo; and you&rsquo;ll hear a few common responses. Modern architecture and bruising politics have nothing, it seems, on our Prohibition-era gangster reputation.</p><p>&ldquo;You go anywhere and it&rsquo;s Al Capone or Michael Jordan,&rdquo; says Liz Garibay, who runs the website <a href="http://www.talestavernsandtowns.com/" target="_blank">History on Tap</a>. &ldquo;In Chicago we have this love-hate relationship with gangsters. It&rsquo;s not the most pleasant side, but at the same time people love to talk about it.&rdquo;</p><p>To that end, Garibay says the bar owners around town with any connections to that era are happy to play it up. It&rsquo;s good for business.</p><p>Even modern bars are reappropriating that speakeasy vibe. Take <a href="http://theviolethour.com/" target="_blank">The Violet Hour</a>, a favorite spot of the recent University of Chicago alumna who asked our question.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the secrecy is interesting. There&rsquo;s something sort of cheekily illicit about [speakeasies] that I think is cool,&rdquo; says<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/shot-history-ingredients-chicago-speakeasy-110616#elena"> Elena Hadjimichael</a>, who was part of a student team that<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/history-and-mystery-behind-chicago%E2%80%99s-produce-market-107918" target="_blank"> tackled a Curious City question about Chicago&#39;s wholesale produce markets</a>. Her question for Curious City gets at what made the original original speakeasies successful:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What sorts of buildings housed speakeasy bars in Chicago during the Prohibition era? What made these buildings particularly well suited for speakeasies?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s hard to determine Chicago&rsquo;s ideal speakeasy building, since speakeasies came in almost as many varieties as there were speakeasies. (How many is that? It&rsquo;s hard to confirm an exact number, <a href="http://www.umich.edu/~eng217/student_projects/nkazmers/prohibition1.html" target="_blank">but probably thousands</a> &mdash; more than there are bars in the city today.) Illegal gatherings to drink in the back of a warehouse, a candy store or a backyard were all technically speakeasies. Still, a few common elements made it easy to get away with skirting this very unpopular law.</p><p>Here are a few things that most &mdash; if not all &mdash; Chicago speakeasies needed.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>1. Secrecy</strong></span></p><p>Speakeasies were common, but they still had to operate in the shadows, in the legal and sometimes literal sense. &ldquo;It was probably in a place where you could make a little noise and get away with it,&rdquo; says Craig Alton, who leads Chicago&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.gangstertour.com/" target="_blank">&quot;Untouchables&quot; gangster tour</a>. Some places boarded up their windows, or moved their saloons to back alleys. Gioco, an Italian restaurant in the South Loop, still has the back room where illegal booze was served to guests including Al Capone. The building, 1312 S. Wabash Ave., was a cold storage facility at the time. According to Alton, this made it easy to keep the beer cool. Thick vault doors prevented sound from escaping and tipping off authorities.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>2. A cover or front</strong></span></p><p>Sometimes being invisible from the street wasn&rsquo;t enough. To keep up appearances, a lot of speakeasies had legitimate businesses up front. Twin Anchors in Lincoln Park was across the street from a school (now the LaSalle Language Academy), so the adjacent building housed a school supplies store, as well as a shop selling soda and candy. The two buildings were eventually joined, and Mrs. Keefer&rsquo;s Schoolbook Store became Twin Anchor&rsquo;s kitchen. But between schoolbooks and Tante Lee&rsquo;s Soft Drinks (named after the tavern&rsquo;s original owner, Lee Tante), it was maybe the last place you&rsquo;d think to look for booze. &ldquo;Other than maybe putting in a church or a convent or something,&rdquo; says Paul Tuzi, one of Twin Anchor&rsquo;s owners, &ldquo;they probably couldn&rsquo;t have come up with anything more benign to hide the operation.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/alibi.jpg" style="height: 429px; width: 620px;" title="Bert Kelly’s Stables, 431 N. Rush St., was a famous jazz club and speakeasy. (Photo courtesy University of Chicago archives)" /></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>3. Access</strong></span></p><p>While you didn&rsquo;t want law enforcement to find its way to your speakeasy, you needed it to be accessible for patrons and the back-of-house help that would load in your illegal alcohol. Subterranean networks helped &mdash; sewers or access lanes under the street &mdash; and in older parts of Chicago these were common. <a href="http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/uptown-greenmilljazz-bar-history-owner-bartender-musicians/Content?oid=12784766" target="_blank">The Green Mill benefitted from tunnels</a> connecting the bar to neighboring establishments of their Uptown block. Likewise in Pilsen (a neighborhood partially spared by the Great Chicago Fire), speakeasies used basement connections to a subterranean network of access tunnels hidden beneath the city&rsquo;s original street grid. According to Craig Alton, one former funeral home on the 700 block of West 18th Street hosted wakes, parties and other get-togethers downstairs after their services, serving alcohol they ran through the underground tunnels. We couldn&rsquo;t verify that particular story, but it&rsquo;s true that in older neighborhoods like Pilsen, Chicago at one point raised sidewalks off the city&rsquo;s swampy foundations to make space for sewers and other infrastructure that could have been useful for illicit transport.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/drawings-at-gioco.jpg" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/gioco.jpg" style="height: 233px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Top: Drawings on the wall at Gioco, an Italian restaurant in Chicago's west loop. Bottom: The back room at Gioco. The space hosted a speakeasy during prohibition, using its thick safe doors to shield the windowless back room from foot traffic on Wabash Avenue. The building was a cold storage facility during that time, so it was easy to keep the beer cool. (Photo by Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><strong style="font-size: 22px;">4. Connections</strong></div></div><p>Running a successful speakeasy was impossible without connections. Bar owners relied on a network of people to transport alcohol, pay off cops and bounce unruly patrons, among other things. That often involved the mob, but it didn&rsquo;t have to. As long as you were somewhat discreet and had a person who brought in regular shipments of alcohol, you could run a speakeasy. <a href="http://www.twinanchorsribs.com/" target="_blank">Twin Anchors</a> was so named because the owner during Prohibition, Captain Herb Eldean, was a harbor master at Chicago&rsquo;s Monroe Harbor. &ldquo;He had more access than most people would have to the possibility of acquiring liquor coming down from Canada into the port here,&rdquo; says co-owner Paul Tuzi.</p><p>That Great Lakes connection was critical to sustaining under-the-table taverns all over the city, according to <a href="http://www.talestavernsandtowns.com/" target="_blank">History on Tap</a>&rsquo;s Liz Garibay. &ldquo;Location, location, location. It&rsquo;s the whole reason Chicago is even here,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;The fact that we had access to a couple of waterways, and we&rsquo;re so close to Canada, was helpful.&rdquo;</p><p>Some tavern owners didn&rsquo;t have to look across the border for a reliable source of alcohol. Schaller&rsquo;s Pump in Bridgeport is considered by many to be the oldest bar in Chicago still serving drinks. Now it&rsquo;s flanked by parking lots and gravel, but during the early 20th century its neighbor was the South Side Brewing Company. Prohibition forced the brewery to boost production of low-alcohol &ldquo;near beer,&rdquo; but barrels of its more potent products found their way into Schaller&rsquo;s Pump.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/236180239/A-Mixologist-s-Guide-to-a-Chicago-Speakeasy" target="_blank">(Check out our mixologist&#39;s guide to a Chicago speakeasy).</a></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>5. Emergency precautions</strong></span></p><p>Even if you had a good cover and had paid off the right people, it didn&rsquo;t hurt to have a backup plan. At Schaller&rsquo;s Pump, there&rsquo;s still a peephole looking south from the bar area. That came in handy when patrons and barkeepers needed to keep an eye out for unwelcome visitors. Twin Anchors had a half-size door installed in the back of the saloon so drinkers could escape in a hurry, but Tuzi says he has no evidence the bar was ever raided. (Though he did use it to escape inclement weather outside when he was still living in the building above the bar.)</p><p>While secrecy and good connections were probably the most critical parts of any successful Chicago speakeasy, some bar owners added their own innovations. Simon&rsquo;s in Andersonville has a bank teller&rsquo;s window tucked under the stairs. &ldquo;In that day if you took your check to the hardware store or the butcher shop or the shoemaker,&rdquo; says owner Scott Martin, those people would cash your check for you, but would take a percentage of your check for the risk of cashing it, much like a currency exchange does today.&rdquo; So Swedish immigrant and World War I veteran Simon Lundberg installed a bullet-proof bank teller&rsquo;s window (in what today is storage space), offering to cash checks free of charge. He also advertised free sandwiches on Fridays. &ldquo;So you would get a free belly full of food and get all of your hard-earned money, which you&rsquo;d oblige by gettin&rsquo; a beer and a whisky.&rdquo; Of course, it rarely stopped at just one drink.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/twin anchors.jpg" title="Paul Tuzi, one of the owners of Lincoln Park's Twin Anchors Restaurant &amp; Tavern, shows off a half-size door at the back of the bar, which he says was installed during prohibition to enable quick escapes. (Photo by Chris Bentley)" /></div><p>That entrepreneurial spirit seems to fit with Simon&rsquo;s history. The bar began when Lundberg noticed the patrons of his cafe spiking their drinks with whisky, so once he&rsquo;d made enough money from legitimate business, the Swedish immigrant bought the building next door and turned its basement into the NN Club &mdash; the &ldquo;No Name&rdquo; Club or maybe the &ldquo;No Norwegians&rdquo; Club, jokes current owner Scott Martin. A spare and cramped basement now used to store liquor for Simon&rsquo;s bar, the N.N. Club still has its original hand-painted sign. Decorative Swedish wall painting known as rosemaling peeks out from behind racks of liquor bottles.</p><p>After prohibition, Lundberg brought his drinking club upstairs. Simon&rsquo;s Tavern still has its original 1933 mahogany bar, and the bank teller door lined with 12-gauge steel and three panes of bullet-proof glass. Now people cash their checks elsewhere, of course, but they still oblige themselves a beer and whisky. Or several.</p><p>&ldquo;My mother and her sisters used to have come every other Friday night to get my grandfather out of here,&rdquo; says Martin.</p><p>A faithful clientele creates a powerful profit motive &mdash; one worth skirting the law and going through all that trouble for.</p><p>So to answer Elena Hadjimichael&rsquo;s question about what buildings housed speakeasies, and what made them well-suited to be speakeasies, let&rsquo;s recap: Speakeasies need secrecy or privacy; they often used a cover or front to keep up appearances; and they needed access to shipments of alcohol.<a name="elena"></a></p><p>It&rsquo;s not the building itself that made a successful speakeasy, so much as its management and business savvy. And that much about running a bar hasn&rsquo;t changed &mdash; even if modern speakeasies, like the ones that inspired Elena&rsquo;s question, don&rsquo;t have to worry about hiding the booze.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/elena%20photo.jpg" style="height: 289px; width: 190px; float: left;" title="" /><span style="font-size:22px;">We&rsquo;ve got an answer. Who asked the question?</span></p><p>Our question about speakeasies comes from someone who has only been able to legally drink for two years. Elena Hadjimichael graduated in early June from the University of Chicago, where she majored in international studies. Now she&rsquo;s off to New York University, where she&rsquo;ll study law. But before she skipped town, Elena wanted to learn about the history of Chicago&rsquo;s prohibition-era watering holes.</p><p>&ldquo;One of my favorite bars in Chicago is The Violet Hour, which is kind of in the speakeasy style,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;So I was interested in what more original speakeasies might have been like in Chicago.&rdquo; Another &ldquo;modern speakeasy&rdquo; that comes to mind, she says, is <a href="http://nymag.com/listings/bar/angels_share/" target="_blank">Angel&rsquo;s Share</a> in New York&rsquo;s East Village. It&rsquo;s an exclusive whisky bar cached behind a Japanese restaurant.</p><p>Elena grew up in Reston, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. She spent three years in Paris before coming to Chicago. She also happens to be a member of the University of Chicago team that tackled a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/history-and-mystery-behind-chicago%E2%80%99s-produce-market-107918" target="_blank">Curious City question about Chicago&rsquo;s wholesale produce markets</a>.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley is a reporter for <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/" target="_blank">WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City</a> and a <a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">freelance journalist</a>. Follow him at cabentley.com and on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p><p><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/236180239/A-Mixologist-s-Guide-to-a-Chicago-Speakeasy" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/speakeasy%20graphic%204.jpg" style="height: 906px; width: 620px;" title="" /></a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 17:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/shot-history-ingredients-chicago-speakeasy-110616 The 1930s project that nearly brought Riverview to an earlier end http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2013-08/1930s-project-nearly-brought-riverview-earlier-end-108533 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG00243-20130826-2130.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 479px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Chicagoans of a certain age still lament the demolition of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/laugh-your-troubles-away-105619" target="_blank">Riverview</a>, the famed North Side amusement park that was razed in 1967.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">But the park would have been demolished much earlier&mdash;during the Great Depression, in fact&mdash;and replaced by a modernist housing development called Riverview Gardens, had a real estate planners of the time had their way.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The now-forgotten plans are contained in a trio of original leather-bound 1935 presentation documents I bought about 10 years ago. I ran across it yesterday while searching through a box of old stuff.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Riverview Gardens would have been 1600 units on a sprawling campus roughly bounded by Belmont, Western, Addison and the Chicago River. Surrounding the then-new Lane Tech high school, the complex would have been composed of streamlined brick buildings trimmed in Bedford limestone laid out over gridless streets. Burnham Brothers &amp; Hammond teamed with Holabird &amp; Root as the architects.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The project was planned by Independent Realty Trust, based at 221 N. LaSalle, which created the presentation documents I purchased. The material was addressed to the Federal Housing Administration.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In look and plan, Riverview Gardens was similar to the Chicago Housing Authority&#39;s Lathrop Homes built in 1937 at Diversey and Clybourn along the Chicago River. But while Lathrop was planned and built for the poor and working-class, Riverview Gardens was created &quot;for the benefit of the much forgotten class of people, namely, the white collared class,&quot; according to a project description. The project would have had garages, stores, rooftop gardens and recreational areas.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG00240-20130826-2126%20%282%29.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">But why consider demolishing Riverview then, especially since the park was only 30 years old and &quot;The Bobs,&quot; Riverview&#39;s popular 11-car roller coaster with the 85-foot drop, had been built just a decade earlier? There are two possible reasons. The Depression ate into Riverview&#39;s revenues a bit&mdash;and fire in the early 1930s claimed a funhouse and one other attraction. In addition, the park sat on 74 prime riverfront acres at a time when federal housing funding was becoming available.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG00242-20130826-2130.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 419px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">And what happened to Riverview Gardens? For me, the trail turned cold. The project died and Riverview itself lived another 32 years. Riverview Plaza shopping center, the Belmont District police station and courthouse, DeVry University and more occupy the site now.</div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 28 Aug 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2013-08/1930s-project-nearly-brought-riverview-earlier-end-108533 Exposing the world’s most famous burlesque dancer http://www.wbez.org/story/1930s/exposing-world%E2%80%99s-most-famous-burlesque-dancer <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/gypsy photo 2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Burlesque dancers from around the region converge in Minneapolis this weekend for the <a href="http://midwestburlesk.com/midwestburlesk.com/Home.html">Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival</a>. Chicago performers Ray Gunn, Rhonda Vous and Siren Jinx are among those shaking, shimmy-ing, twirling and teasing their way to glory.</p> <div>In honor of the event we&rsquo;re taking a look back at the woman who was once saluted by Eleanor Roosevelt with a bawdy, &ldquo;May your bare ass always be shining!&rdquo; This would be the world&rsquo;s most famous burlesque dancer, the one who pioneered the art form back in its early days - Gypsy Rose Lee.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Lee made a name for herself during the Depression, but she isn&rsquo;t just a dusty historical figure to the men and women gathering this weekend. Local burlesque expert Franky Vivid said in an email that Gypsy Rose Lee is &ldquo;pretty much universally adored by the modern dancers.&nbsp;In fact, she's regarded as probably the top star in our community. Until Gypsy, there really had not been a mainstream burlesque star.&rdquo;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Vivid runs Chicago-based <a href="http://studiolamour.com/">Studio L&rsquo;amour</a> with wife <a href="http://michellelamour.com/">Michelle L&rsquo;amour</a>, a renowned dancer who won burlesque&rsquo;s top prize in 2005. In addition to running <a href="http://chicagostarlets.com/">their own troupe</a> the couple offers classes and has taught thousands of women and many men the art of the striptease. &nbsp;He argues that you can still see Lee&rsquo;s influence in the work of contemporary burlesque dancers like his wife. &ldquo;A good thing that Gypsy left us is that intelligence and cleverness are transcendently sexy,&rdquo; says Vivid. &ldquo;Another world famous performer, Trixie Little, said recently in an interview that Michelle had the ability to perform the dirtiest stripper moves and make you feel smart for watching.&rdquo;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>On the other hand, Vivid argues, Lee helped spark the notion that each dancer must have some trick or gimmick to distinguish her from the stripping masses. This idea was <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFRSawe33sA">put into song</a> in the musical <em>Gypsy</em>, a fictionalized adaptation of Lee&rsquo;s 1957 memoir. The 1962 film version starred Natalie Wood as ingénue Louise whose infamously aggressive stage mother &ldquo;Mama Rose,&rdquo; played by Bette Midler in the 1993 version, pushes her to become burlesque dancer Gypsy despite her shyness and hesitation. As Louise is nudged into her first routine, a gaggle of dancers backstage rattle off their own gimmicks, which include playing a bugle, wearing Christmas tree lights and flapping butterfly wings. &ldquo;I often find myself saying, &lsquo;Here's a gimmick - be talented!&rsquo; Vivid recounts, explaining why he hates this mentality. &ldquo;There's got to be some cake under the icing.&rdquo;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>In real life &ldquo;Mama Rose&rdquo; was an abusive, calculating figure who blackmailed her daughter more than once, and Lee was a one-time prostitute who ran with the mob. &ldquo;A lot of the girls today think that the old burlesque was all glamorous and cheeky,&rdquo; says Vivid. &ldquo;But the truth is that much of it was dodgy, talentless and often criminal.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That secret history is chronicled in Karen Abbott&rsquo;s new biography of Lee, <em>American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare</em>. Abbott is also known for <em>Sin in the Second City</em>, her historical exploration of an infamous Chicago brothel. She spoke to an audience at <a href="http://www.newberry.org/">The Newberry Library</a> just after what would have been Lee&rsquo;s 100th birthday, and shared some delicious tidbits from Lee&rsquo;s life story. Check out the audio excerpt of Abbott&rsquo;s talk above, and if you can&rsquo;t make it to Minneapolis this weekend, you can check out Michelle L&rsquo;amour&rsquo;s <a href="http://frankyvivid.bluedomino.com/ML3/ML3-shows.html">upcoming Valentine&rsquo;s Day performances</a> or the <a href="http://www.windycityburlesquefest.com/">Windy City Burlesque Festival</a> in March.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div><a href="../../../../../../series/dynamic-range"><em>Dynamic Range</em></a><em> showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Karen Abbott spoke to an audience at </em><a href="http://www.newberry.org/"><em>The Newberry Library</em></a><em> earlier this month. Click </em><a href="../../../../../../story/culture/books/american-rose-nation-laid-bare-life-and-times-gypsy-rose"><em>here</em></a><em> to hear her talk in its entirety, and click </em><a target="_blank" href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/wbez/id364380278"><em>here</em></a><em> to subscribe to the Dynamic Range podcast.</em></div></p> Fri, 28 Jan 2011 22:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/1930s/exposing-world%E2%80%99s-most-famous-burlesque-dancer