Al Capone Slept Here
Growing up in suburban Chicago, tripping over stories about Al Capone, the famous 1920’s mobster was about as easy as turning around. The most memorable, however, was that of the (in)famous Alton Hotel. The hotel stood for almost 100 years at the corners of Cicero Avenue and Cermak Road.
When Chicago city officials tired of the gangland shootings, spurred on by the murder of a reporter, allegedly on the mob’s payroll, Capone moved his business enterprises to the neighborhood suburb of Cicero. Shooed out of a high class Chicago hotel where he kept his mistresses, Capone moved to the Alton.
However, by the 1990’s, the hotel has repeatedly changed hands repeatedly and was being used as a by-the-night flop house for local prostitutes and drug addicts. The roof of the building next door was littered with syringes from junkies who has opened hotel windows and thrown them when police were called by neighbors.
Large luxurious hotel rooms had been chopped into pieces by owners eager to manage every potential space which could be rented by the hour by prostitutes. Amenities like copper pipes, luxurious bath fixtures, a piano bar and ornate lobby had been stripped away and sold off a piece at a time. Repeated housing, safety and fire code violations forced the building’s sale to the neighboring bank, a sale that guaranteed the building’s demolition to make way for a parking lot. Town residents rejoiced.
In the former lobby, a rack of skeleton keys remained behind the desk. A large room off to one side served as a junk room. But there were hints to a stellar history. There was a stamped tin ceiling. And if you could look past the dust and cob webs, you couple almost see the day, in the roaring 20’s, when a large black sedan cruised slowly past, westbound on Cermak Road. A machine gun barrel appeared from a partially-rolled down back windows and the hotel’s restaurant was riddled by gun shots.
Historic rumor has it that a gangland rival sent henchmen to assassinate Capone. But he wasn’t present. So a message was sent. The windows shattered, the piano player hit the floor, and fancy gents and their girls, dressed in the style of high society of the day were terrified.
Though not verified, urban myth had it the hotel, originally called the Hotel Anton, was named after Capone’s younger brother. When the first round of sales took place, rather than replace the sign, the new owner opted to replace one letter to save money on the large neon sign outside the building.
Another old story by people who heard it from people stated that there were multiple exits in the basement. Each led underground and open into a home’s basement blocks away. The concept was that when there were police raid, villains could escape the building and fade away.
The sale of the hotel led to a great deal of speculation. Bank officials announced the takeover on Jan. 1st and the demolition 10 days later. People anticipated another vault, or at least prove or disprove the rumors swirling around the property.
Unfortunately, when the wrecking ball was through and the debris hauled away, all that was left was am empty foundation. No secret passages, no safe, no Capone-related items at all.
But I still have a skeleton key.