Wednesday, March 10, 2010

City of Chicago Honors Al Capone

Chicago seems finally to be ready to honor its most famous gangster.

For years, everyone knew where Al Capone's infamous hangouts were, but the city wouldn't dare put up an official sign acknowledging him. But now, that's changed. The Chicago Department of Transportation has put up a sign at the site of the old Lexington Hotel, which stood until 1995 at 2135 S. Michigan Ave.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the sign at the site acknowledges the Lexington and Metropole hotels, which were built next to each other on the site in the early 1890s, and says they were "outfitted for Capone's needs with secret stairwells, doors and passages, underground tunnels and every amenity required by their primary resident."

Capone came to Chicago from Brooklyn in 1919, and soon began working for Johnny Torrio, who at the time ran the Chicago mob – called the Outfit – and operated its bootlegging, gambling and prostitution operations. But soon after Torrio was shot and injured and left Chicago, Capone took over, and began raking in millions a year in both illegal and legitimate industries, according to the Chicago History Museum.

Prosecutors finally got Capone on tax evasion charges in 1931, and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He died in 1947. But the Lexington Hotel gained its greatest notoriety nearly four decades after that, when Capone's vault underneath the building was blasted open as part of a television special hosted by Geraldo Rivera.

The vault was blasted open on April 21, 1986, in what CBS 2's John Drummond called the biggest excavation since archaeologists dug up King Tut's tomb. But the effort ended up being fairly futile, given that all workers found behind the brick-and-concrete wall was a few bottles of Prohibition-era liquor, and a lot of dirt and rubble.

The Lexington Hotel had been granted landmark status in 1985. Nonetheless, it was demolished in the fall of 1995, after repeated attempts to renovate it failed.

The Lexington Park Condo building now stands on the site.

Thanks to WBBM 780

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