A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Speakeasy or Not?

When I decided to start researching our 1930 neighbors, the first ones who came to mind were the inhabitants of the middle bungalow across the street. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might remember that this certain bungalow was rumored to be a speakeasy during Prohibition.

The people who owned the house until about the mid-90s used to have Halloween parties in their basement. Their basement walls were lined with booths which appeared to be carved out of the walls like grottos. It was pretty cool from what I remember, but I haven’t been down there in a long time.

I know that the current owners still have it that way. I asked them if they think it was a speakeasy, and they said they were sure of it. They said that there’s a buzzer at the back door and a few other things. — I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I believe one was something like a tap and some old bottles.

As you probably know, Prohibition went into effect in January, 1920 and was repealed on December 5, 1933 (I just missed the 75th anniversary!) So I was anxious to find out a little more about these 1930 residents —— it would likely be a prime time to be running a speakeasy, wouldn’t it?

Of course I didn’t expect their occupation to be listed as Speakeasy Proprietor, but I thought I might be able to find some interesting clues.

The bungalow owners were Elmer Cowdrey, 34, and his wife Rose, 35. They had an 8-year-old daughter named Beatrice. Their house was valued at $10,000, they owned a radio, and they were all born in Illinois. Elmer had served in the World War. His occupation? Proprietor in gasoline service. Hmmm, could be a little suspect.

It wasn’t until I started perusing the newspaper articles linked to Elmer that the story started to come together. Accessing the archives of the Chicago Tribune, this is the earliest article I’ve found so far, dated June 6, 1933:

Mystery Blast in Roadhouse Owner’s Home

A mysterious explosion, followed by fire, partially destroyed the Morton Grove bungalow of Al Cowdrey, roadhouse owner, yesterday. The bungalow was at **** in the suburb.

There is a bar in the basement of the bungalow, [emphasis mine] but Cowdrey was warned to cease operating it some time ago, according to Mayor Herbert Dilg of Morton Grove. After that Cowdrey opened up the Rendezvous roadhouse, on Dempster road.

Cowdrey and his wife were out of the house at the time of the explosion. It knocked out two walls of the brick bungalow, and the fire which followed damaged the furniture in the house severely. Mayor Dilg said that he believed a gas leak might have caused the blast, but there was no smell of gas about the place after the fire.

Neighbors saw two men standing outside the bungalow shortly before the explosion, but did not see them enter.

Bingo! And WOW!

I do remember the current owner telling me that there is some evidence of fire, but I don’t know where it occurred.

Just as an aside, and in light of the [ahem] “minor” story unfolding in Illinois politics, do you think that Mayor Dilg was telling the truth? I haven’t looked into that (yet), but there could be a story there too.

Next, tragic events.

5 Comments

  1. southsideandy on December 11, 2008 at 12:04 am

    I’m sure Mayor Dilg stopped in for a few…and I don’t mean gas meter checks. 🙂

    Cool story!

  2. Stephanie on December 11, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Wow!

  3. Nicole on December 11, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Wow! Love these stories! My neighborhood wasn’t built until after the repeal so no speakeasery going on there. 🙂

  4. bungalowbliss on December 11, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Ooooh! This is sooo interesting! Did you ever imagine that your home had such a vibrant history??

  5. Bonnie on December 11, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Denise, I am sure loving these stories. Kudos on your research and knack for sniffing out the leads.

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