Gangsters & Speakeasies: Buildings of Historic Chicago

Gangsters & Speakeasies: Buildings of Historic Chicago


Chicago, the windy city. Up to just a few decades ago, when Los Angeles surpassed it, Chicago was the second largest city in the United States. Suffice to say, the place has quite a history. A century ago, a third of the city, including the entire business district, burnt to the ground in the “Great Chicago Fire of 1871”. But something even greater would happen just 50 years later, an event for which the city is especially known today. That event?? Prohibition. The 1920’s. For many of us today, historic Chicago is the world people like Al Capone and events such as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Many of the buildings from this era no longer survive, but there’s still plenty of history to be found in Chi-Town.

Biograph Theater

Victory Gardens Theatre, Biograph, Chicago

It may appear to be just another boring theater. But it’s not. In fact, you possibly saw it in a Johnny Depp Film recently. The Biograph Theater is none other than the place where John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI. In 1934, on July 22nd, John Dillinger saw the film “Manhattan Melodrama”. Little did he know that the FBI was staked out outside waiting for him. As Dillinger left theater, he spotted the FBI agents and moved to flee, only to be shot several times, ensuring he would never escape again. The Biograph still functions today, although it now hosts live venues. The theater even went through an overhaul in 2006. And yes, the theater portrayed itself in the film “Public Enemies”. It’s facade and neighboring storefronts were redressed to look as they did back in 1934.?Creative Commons License photo credit:?ejojola

Green Mill Jazz Club

Green Mill Daguerreotype

The speakeasy, 1920’s icon. When prohibition began, outlawing the sale of alcohol in the United States paved the way for criminals like Al Capone to come to fruition. And if you think prohibition stopped alcohol, well, then… the word naive comes to mind. Alcohol, if anything, was more rampant in the 1920’s. Want to make something that’s already fun even more popular?? Make it taboo. The “speakeasy” was the slang term for an establishment that illegally sold alcohol during these times. Some were seedy bars, others were extravagant nightclubs filled with the rich and famous. The Green Mill Jazz Club, still open today, was a popular speakeasy back during prohibition and at one point even owned by Jack McGurn, a right hand man of Al Capone.?Creative Commons License photo credit:?swanksalot

Chicago Water Tower


This is the second oldest ornamental water tower in the United States, the oldest being in Louisville Kentucky. But this structure is important for a second reason the reaches much, much deeper into the history of Chicago. When the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 burnt down a third of the city, this tower was the only public building in the burnt zone to survive. Today it is the only surviving structure one can still see. This makes the Chicago Water Tower an anchor linking the Chicago of today, to the original Chicago of pre-1871.?Creative Commons License photo credit:?nautical2k

Wrigley Building

2008 Wrigley Building, Chicago, IL

Enjoy chewing gum?? Then you’ve probably enjoyed gum made by Wrigley. Wrigley has been around surround, it’s even likely your great grandparents enjoyed Wrigley gum too. The company was founded in Chicago in 1891. The Wrigley Building, located at 400-410 North Michigan is a skyscraper built as the corporate headquarters of the Wrigley Company. It was also the first air conditioned office building in Chicago. Construction began in 1920. The building is comprised of two towers. The 30 story, south tower was completed in April 1921, and the 21 story, north tower in May 1924. Walkways connect the two towers at the ground level, third floor, and fourteenth floor. The taller, south tower features a clock with a face pointing in each direction.?Creative Commons License photo credit:?scmikeburton

Wrigley Field

Wrigley @ Dusk
Creative Commons License photo credit: Matt Watts

The Chicago Cubs. The haven’t won the World Series since 1908, but at least they have a great stadium. Originally known as Weeghman Park, the park was built in 1914 over a period of just six weeks. In 1918, William Wrigley Jr. (the same Wrigley as in the “Wrigley Building”) purchased a controlling interest. A few short years later, in 1926, he would rename the park “Wrigley Field”. The stadium is one of the most famous in Major League Baseball. The park has recently gone through several renovations as well as a change in ownership. Further renovations have now been scheduled.

Mount Carmel Cemetery

Al Capone's Grave

Some people enjoy visiting cemeteries. If you’re one of those people, and in Chicago, then this is the one for you. This Roman Catholic cemetery, still active today, is home to a number of famous (infamous?) organized crime figures. Sam Giancana, Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, and most notably Al Capone are buried here. On the more moral side of things, the Bishops and Archbishops of Chicago are also buried here within the “Bishop’s Mausoleum”.?Creative Commons License photo credit:?karla kaulfuss

Lexington Hotel

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Although it no longer exists, the former site of the Lexington Hotel is worth a nod as one drives past. Found at the corner of Cermak Road (originally known as 22nd street) and Michigan Avenue, the Lexington served as none other than the headquarters of crime lord Al Capone. The hotel gained more recent notoriety in 1986 when Geraldo Rivera hosted a one time television special, “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault”. A vault, once belonging to Al Capone, was found at the long abandoned hotel, and opened for the first time since God knows when on national television. Some 30 million people watched as the safe was opened to reveal… nothing but dirt and some empty bottles. To this day “Al Capone’s Vault” is used as slang for an event that doesn’t live up to its hype. The hotel was torn down in 1995. Found on the site today are the new “Lexington Park Condominiums”.

The historic sites of Chicago are, if anything, eclectic. Whereas some cities may simply boast historic homes and government buildings, Chicago boasts theaters, night clubs, stadiums and nearly every other manner of historic site. Chicago is well worth checking out, and without doubt one of the greatest cities in the United States.

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