This post has been in my drafts for ages! I’ve always been meaning to post it, but somehow it never seemed like the right time. Since the 79th anniversary of this tragic fire happened just last week, I thought it was now time to finish the story.

For a little background, five years ago I had been engrossed with researching our house and neighborhood history and found some interesting stories which you might want to read first. You’ll find them here, here and here.

Now for the original post:

On March 25, 1935, the day after the tragic fire that took six lives at Club Rendezvous in Morton Grove — a club that was owned and operated by a bungalow neighbor — the Chicago Tribune ran a more extensive article about an inquest over the fire and the night’s chain of events. Here are some excerpts:

An inquest will be held today over the charred bodies of three men and three women burned to death in the flames which swept the Club Rendezvous roadhouse in Morton Grove early yesterday.

It will mark the opening of investigations by state, county and village authorities into conditions which permitted a hundred merrymakers to be jammed into a small, flimsy structure provided with only two pitifully inadequate means of escape from the flames.

It will be the continuation of the campaign which started last night to prevent recurrence of such a tragedy when Sherif [sic] John Toman ordered county highway police to visit every roadhouse in the county and determine if there were any other such fire traps among the country and village roadhouses of the county.

Survivors Called for Inquest

At the inquest the coroner’s jury will hear stories of the survivors of the fire which left six dead and 16 in hospitals. Officials of Morton Grove will be asked what fire regulations permitted the existence of the conditions which brought about the disaster.

It appears that this is a turning point for fire regulations in public establishments throughout Cook County. Within days the county board adopted a resolution to cancel the liquor license of any tavern in which fire hazards are found, and to arrange for inspection of all drinking establishments to eliminate fire hazards and to report any obvious fire traps.

The article goes on:

Death Scene: Season’s Gayest Crowd.

The largest and gayest crowd of the season was there Saturday night and Sunday morning in the transformed bungalow about three miles west of Evanston.

In the front was a frame addition to the building proper, comprising the main dance floor, some six feet lower than the level of the main part of the building housing the dining room, bar and kitchen.

There were only two exits. The main one was a narrow, 2 foot 7 inch doorway leading into a small anteroom on the front, east side. From the anteroom egress was by a 3 foot doorway. This door, contrary to every known fire regulation, opened inward.

The only other means of exit from the bungalow was through the kitchen.

That was reached by a narrow corridor and through a doorway only 1 foot 10 inches in width.

Large Midnight Crowd.

Shortly after midnight the main crowds began to stream into the place. Two parties were of Northwestern university students who had come from the annual WAA-MU musical comedy given at the school. One of these young men, receiving congratulations for his part in the performance, was shortly to die in the raging inferno.

A three piece band was blaring popular tunes. The dance floor was packed, scarcely giving room for couples to move about in time with the music. Every table in the dining room was filled and there was no room in front of the bar.

Elmer Cowdrey, owner of the roadhouse, said that he had been compelled to turn down many reservations. Merrymaking was at its height in the gayly festooned roadhouse.

“Fire!” Brings Frantic Rush.

Suddenly, from one corner of the dance floor came a puff of flame and a billow of smoke. It came from near a gas heater, suspended from the ceiling.

“Fire!” The scream that has startled countless panics, burst out.

Mrs. Rose Cowdrey, wife of the owner, was seated at a table in the dining room.

She leaped to her feet, seized a seltzer bottle and started toward the first burst of fire.

Again sounded the cry, “Fire! Fire!”

There was a frenzy of fear among the merrymakers and they dashed toward the one exit, screaming, trampling, pushing, hitting out in terror. They smashed against the door and drilled about frantically until a space could be forced to allow it to swing inward.

Behind the bar in the dining room, Cowdrey shouted to James Bradford, the chef, to call the fire department. He then sprang on a chair and vainly shouted for the crowds to make their way toward the rear of the bungalow.

His cries went unheeded.

In the dancing room the flames already had engulfed the entire space, spreading through the highly inflammable drapes and streamers which festooned the walls and ceilings.

This blazing cloth began to shower its fragments on the frenzied, fighting throng below, bathing them in a fiery rain. The electric lights went out, and the scene was made more terrible in the ghastly glow of flames.

Many who could not fight their way to the door leaped through windows, heedless of the gashes torn in their bodies and faces.

What a horrific story. I don’t know what happened to Elmer and Rose Cowdrey, but it probably marked the demise of roadhouses in Morton Grove. I was also struck by the storytelling in journalism at that time. I can’t imagine reading a newspaper article today containing such emotion and descriptive terms, but I guess we have TV for that nowadays (especially 24-hour cable news), for better or worse.


We received the April issue of This Old House recently. It was a little depressing to read about all the outdoor projects and ideas when we still had a foot of snow on the ground, even with a couple of warmish days of snow melt (which was promptly followed by a snowstorm that dropped another 4 or so inches).

During the past week the temperature has occasionally risen to the 50s (followed by a drop below freezing) and we can finally see large parts of yard! Unfortunately parts of it are NOT pretty, especially the front yard. After working on restoring it late last fall, I can see we still have a lot of work to do there. That’s not going to happen until the ground dries out a bit.

But I was excited to see their “How-To” on building an enclosure for a rain barrel. Along with repairing the gutters and adding bigger/additional downspouts this year, I wanted to place at least one of our rain barrels on the side of the house to make it easy to water the plants. The problem there is that they’re the generic black rain barrels that we purchased at a discount through the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, so they’re pretty ugly (note: our neighbor purchased the terra cotta color, and it’s not any prettier!).

I thought about painting them (sky/clouds? bricks to blend with the side of the house?) but I wasn’t really keen on it—seems like too much work. Their enclosure looks like the perfect solution that will complement the wood of our pergola. Although they make their own rain barrel for the enclosure too, we can easily adapt that to our existing one.

Sigh, two years ago it was in the 80s for what seemed like weeks in March! It was a big factor in getting most of our hardscaping done that year. But considering we did a lot of outdoor projects last year as well, I’m okay with doing small outdoor projects here and there and doing other things around the house. This little rain barrel enclosure looks like the perfect small project!


Shoe Moulding

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We’ve done it! We completed one of our 2014 goals (leftover from 2013): Finish installing the replacement shoe moulding on the first floor. We also installed missing baseboard in the closets of our master bedroom. No more gaps between the hardwood floor and the wall, and no more exposed, unpainted drywall near the floor of […]

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My Track Record…

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…for being pet-less seems to be about 10 months, max. Say “hello” to Lena (pronounced “lay-nah”) and Romy (pronounced “roam-ee”) I was still quite sad over the loss of Henry and Ella last year and finally decided the house was just too empty without a couple of cats. One afternoon I decided to visit a […]

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Ready to Grow!

January 21, 2014
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I was excited to receive these in the mail the other day, in the midst of one of our coldest, snowiest winters ever. This winter has reminded me of the winters we used to have here when I was a kid. Back then it was fun; now not so much! Until it warms up enough […]

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2014 Goals and Wish List

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I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year! Ours was quiet and quite snowy: we’re up to at least 10″ or more which started on New Year’s Eve, with another 3-8″ on the way today. We started off the year yesterday by installing a TV mount for our flat screen. I want to […]

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End-of-Year Recap

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It’s that time of year again — where I get to celebrate our accomplishments and “wash over” our shortcomings. Yes, despite the best of intentions and some motivation, LIFE still gets in the way and there are always plenty of projects on my list that won’t be finished when I want or expect them to. […]

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Merry Christmas

December 24, 2013
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Just a quick post to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! We didn’t do much decorating this year, so I’ll leave you with some photos of a friends’ vintage aluminum Christmas trees which were exhibited at a local history museum (these are just a fraction of what he has collected!). I’ll attempt […]

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Bi-Fold Doors, Stained, Varnished, Finished!

November 9, 2013
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Now that we’re finally back to working on indoor projects, my highest priority was to finally finish the second floor trim, which required a second coat of varnish, and to finish staining and varnishing the utility closet bi-fold doors at the top of the stairs. Every time I walked upstairs it was right in my […]

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Final Outdoor Project

October 29, 2013
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After realizing that it wasn’t going to be easy to redo our front lawn because of invading, shallow roots from our Norway Maple we went to Home Depot just to see what our rental options were, if any, to try to improve the lawn. A sod cutter was out because the roots are so shallow, […]

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