Sunday, October 21, 2012

From The Sands To The Levee Sin & Vice In & Around The Loop

Videos uploaded by ChiTownView

Chicago has a long reputation for it's tolerance of sin and vice. For more than a half a century the downtown area had an area that was wide open where prostitution and gambling were allowed. A familiar pattern was formed a run down area became a mecca for saloons & bordellos politician's would be paid to look the other way and the area would flourish. Property values in the area would fall making it attractive to real estate speculators. Soon citizens were advocating to clean up vice. The city would then clean up the area be moving it's denizens further and further south. And usually larger area of sin and vice would develop and the same process would happen over and over again. This pattern would continue from the 1850's until just before prohibition.

At ChiTownView we have uploaded four videos that trace this almost forgotten history. It's a story that begins on the north banks of the Chicago river where now stand some of the cities most famous icons. Then the story shifts ever southward ending a couple of miles south of the loop where the Levee became one of the worlds most notorious vice areas.

"The Prostitute War", Marilyn Monroe & north Michigan Ave.

When the giant statue of Marilyn Monroe was erected on Chicago's "magnificent mile" many proper residents of the windy city were outraged. But perhaps whoever chose this spot for the statue was a student of Chicago's early history. Because while now it might be home to landmarks like the Wrigley building,Tribune tower and all the high class shops in the early days this was home to "the sands". This was the most dangerous spot in the city home to bordello's, saloons and gambling dens. A collection of thirty or so shacks, that had a tendency to fall down. They gathered here to serve the needs of sailors and dock workers that worked in the area. And in 1857 home to the infamous prostitute war. Follow the link to learn more.

The demise of the area came in 1857 as the result of a trick played by mayor “Long” John Wentworth. He organized and advertised a horse race which attracted most of the areas males. While they were thus distraced the mayor moved in with a team of horses. He served eviction notices and began tearing the shacks down. This touched off a near riot but in the end the residents were dispersed and by the next days the area was leveled and the remains torched. The sin and vice of course didn't end it just moved a little south and west the site of part two of our series.

The Loop 19th Century Vice Tour Pt.2. Gamblers, Whores & More

Chicago's downtown loop is a nice but fairly dull part of the city but it wasn't always. Chicago was a frontier town with all the vice and lawlessness that comes with it. So in the 19th century parts of the loop were full of gambling dens, bars, cheap hotels, brothels and other forms of low amusements. This past St. Patricks day I thought it would be a good time to take a little walking tour of some of the "hot spots".

The first video in our series told the story of The Sands Chicago's first vice are just north of the Chicago river. Following the dispersal of that area in 1857 the gamblers, whores and other low life's moved south and west where we pick up the story. We start at Clark and Randolph now home to the Daley center, Thompson Center & The Picasso. In the 1870's after the Chicago fire it was known as "gamblers row" with games of chance lining the street down to Monroe.

At the corner of Monroe & Clark we find the onetime headquarters of Mike McDonald a gambler who is credited with being the man who organized crime and the corruption of city government. Creating a "machine" that ruled for the better part of a century. He is also said to have invented the term "there's a sucker born every minute".

The sin and vice continued down Monroe where the gambling gave way to the prostitutes. Of course at Roger Plants "Under the Willow you could women, gambling and just about anything else in the world of vice and depravity. Rogers heyday was the 1860's and his place was so popular with the troops it was also known as "the barracks".

The selling of human bodies for sexual pleasure continued south down Wells street. Including one stretch between Quincy & Polk that was home to "Shinbone Alley" home of the "colored" whores.

Custom House Place & The Franklin Building, The Loop Vice Tour Pt. 3

In Chicago everything started downtown then wealth moved north and vice was moved further and further south. The Sands was Chicago's first vice district and as the land that resided on became more desirable the vice had to move. Chicago as a frontier town that got real big has always tolerated a degree of sanctioned vice. Until the first mayor Daley. Anyway after the Sands the vice moved down to Madison and Wells which we covered in the previous clip. By the late 1880's the Dearborn St. train station opened in the south loop and the area just north of that became the new vice area. Both Dearborn and Custom House Place were full of saloons, gambling dens and whore houses. Custom House Place was notorious for it's panel houses where suckers were lured in by women and then while they were occupied an accomplice would gain access to the room through hidden sliding doors and panels and rob the mark.

Like the other quasi legal vice districts Custom House existed for about a decade or two before being moved on further south until reaching it's grand conclusion at the Levee. This is the area a little further south near Chinatown that became one of the worlds most famous red light districts. It also cemented in place an unofficial alliance between government and "the underworld" that lasted for decades.

This area has been designated a national landmark not for it's sporting houses but for it also being the hub of the publishing industry and it is widely known as Printers Row. Lured by the same access to transportation that drew the criminal element it grew into one of the world centers of printing. The Franklin Company was one of the dozens of publishers in the area and the building we show at the corner of Dearborn and Polk is the second they had in the area and operated between 1912-1983. The gorgeous panel above door and along the front, depicts the Gutenberg printing house.

The Levee, The Chicago Vice Tour Pt.4 


Also known as the most corrupt spot on the planet was an experiment in social engineering carried out by "Hinky Dink" McKenna and Alderman John "Bath House" Coughlin. They were a pair rouge Chicago politicians who thought the citizens of Chicago would be best served by concentrating vice in one or two areas,under their control. The Levy in the video was located between 19th & Cermak and Sate & Clark streets. It was "created" to move a smaller contained vice district just south of the rapidly developing downtown "loop area". It was moved into a much larger area also to handle the expected crowds for the 1893 Colombian Exposition.

The Levee was just like the fair was a world-class exposition home to over two hundred brothels and saloons. With names like; The House of All Nations, The Little Green House, Bed Bug Row, the Bucket of Blood, The Why Not(the city's first S&M club), The Sapho, Freidberg's Dance Hall, and the Everleigh Club. The latter was a world renown sporting house operated the Everleigh sisters. And it was pimp and gangster "Big" Jim Colosimo who controled this area for McKenna and Coughlin. It operated in this pretty much wide open manner for almost twenty years. Then in 1912 a lurid, scathing report was issued called "The Social Evil in Chicago " and it effectively blew the lid off the Levee. The report in conjunction with a larger social movement for legally controlling vice spelled the end of the Levee.

And now even the streets where it once stood are now gone replaced by a towering senior citizens apartment complex. Of course the vice wasn't eliminated by closing down the Levee it just wasn't on such public display. The Levee made Mr. Colosimo a very wealthy and powerful man who kept his control over vice. In 1910 he opened a high-class restaurant Colosimo's Cafe" at 2126 S. Wabash on the eastern fringes of his empire. If you've seen HBO's Boardwalk Empire then you know that this is where Big Jim was killed under orders of Johnny Torrio his second in command. The killing said to have been carried out by Al Capone.
Big Jim's cafe is a memory in its place stands (lays?) the parking lot for a 1920's style dinner theater Tommy Guns Garage. One of the few places that pay homage to Chicago's unsavory past. They are well worth checking out here is a link to their site.
At any rate just down the street at 2222 S. Wabash Torrios headquarters The 4 Duces. Home to woman, whiskey and gambling. Imported by Torrio from New York to act as bouncer was a young Al Capone. As prohibition was becoming the law of the land Torrio was eager to organize this soon to be illicit vice. Big Jim was getting older and perhaps more refined wanted no part of it. So in the end as they say "he had to go". Torrio had Big Jim killed and went on to organize the distribution of booze along with the rest of crime in Chicago.

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