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

Roadhouse Hot Spot

The next chapter in our little neighborhood’s 1930 history continues.

In the last post, after years of rumor and hearsay, I wrote about discovering an article in the Chicago Tribune confirming that our neighbor’s bungalow was, in fact, a speakeasy during Prohibition.

That owner, Elmer (Al) Cowdrey, went on to own and operate Club Rendezvous, a popular Roadhouse on Dempster near Austin (a roadhouse is basically a drinking establishment located along a road).

Now, before I tell you the specifics on Club Rendezvous, let me give you a little snapshot of Morton Grove’s nefarious history in the ’30s.

A book on Morton Grove’s history, written in 1995 for the centennial anniversary of the village’s incorporation and given to every resident, glosses over some questionable aspects of the roadhouses during this time. It only mentions that The Dells, by far the most popular roadhouse in the area “burned down in 1934 and was never rebuilt. It was rumored unofficially that it was a syndicate ‘hit’.”

In fact, there is much more to Morton Grove’s popular roadhouse reputation. Excerpts from a Chicago Tribune article, dated March 26, 1935, pretty much says it all:

Violence Stains Rural Bohemia’s 10-Year History

Death and Disaster Stalk Roadhouse Area.

Spreading throughout the northwest end of Cook county, from the city line to Lake county and beyond, is a rural “Bohemia,” the country roadhouse district which sprang up during the halcyon days of prohibition. During the past two decades it has been the locale of numerous gang killings, robberies, bombings, fires, and criminal assaults.

From a humble origin of isolated village saloons it developed, under the impetus of prohibition, to a territory spotted with 500 roadhouses of various sorts, from the low ceilinged, dimly lit tavern to the garish casino and expansive dining and drinking “club.”

It has been a source of trouble to every state’s attorney and sherif [sic] of the era, as rival gangs shot it out on the prairies or in the roadhouses and every form of gambling from slot machines to roulette flourished.

Morton Grove Is “Capital.”

The center of this district is the small village of Morton Grove, population 1,974 [it’s now around 22,000]. Within its confines exist or existed most of the larger roadhouses, as well as innumerable small “neighborhood” drinking spots for the working man. The Club Rendezvous, on Dempster street east of Austin avenue, was one of the better known small dance and drink places.

Perhaps the most notorious of the roadhouses was The Dells, diagonally across Dempster road from the Rendezvous. John Factor was kidnaped [sic] by the Touhy gang as he left the Dells on the night of July 1, 1933. Following the conviction of four of the abductors, State’s Attorney Courtney closed the club and notified all village officials not to allow either Sam Hare or Louis Silversmith, its operator, to open up in their towns.

There were two murders at the Dells and twice it was bombed. Raiders visited it repeatedly seeking liquor violations during prohibition days, and looking in on the elaborate gambling casino on the second floor. It was robbed, and twice fire gutted the interior, the last time being Oct. 8, 1934.

Another Death Setting

Another landmark is the old Bridge inn, located at the southeast corner of Railroad avenue and Dempster street in Morton Grove. It has been known under many names: The Russian Village, the Golden Gate, and the last, Club Morton. Matt Kolb, the owner, suburban beer and gambling boss, was shot and killed there by gangsters two years ago.

Further east, on the north side of Dempster road, was the old Walton club, once the summer trade attracting duplicate of the Walton club at 69 East Walton place, where Teddy Newberry and other Capone gangsters were said to have conducted their downtown Chicago operations. Both Walton clubs are now closed. The Morton Grove club, popular despite its high prices, burned two years ago. The wife of the caretaker and her 3 year old daughter perished in the flames.

Fires Date Back 15 Years

Fifteen years ago the Wayside inn on the north side of Dempster street at Ferris avenue, one of the first of the north end roadhouses, was burned out while the owner, Charles Krempp, was in Germany. At that time Kolb ran the Como inn, on the southeast corner of Ferris and Dempster, and this then served as headquarters for his beer and slot machine racket.

Another bright spot which burned was the Bit and Bridle, “members only” speakeasy. It was located at Harms road, two blocks north of Dempster, and burned in 1933.

Here’s a little map from the Tribune showing the various roadhouses in the vicinity.

The article goes on to describe a couple more local establishments which went up in flames.

I think you can see where our story is headed next.

While much of this was quite tragic, what I find so fascinating is how different the Morton Grove of today has become. For one thing, with its close proximity to Chicago, there’s nothing rural about it. No longer a hotspot for entertainment (unfortunately, in some ways), just last year it was recognized by Family Circle magazine as one of America’s Top 10 Towns for Families.

Nowadays it’s quite the sleepy little suburb and is often overlooked and underappreciated, but I think it’s important to preserve all its history, the bad along with the good (besides, the “bad” is sometimes much more interesting).

2 Comments

  1. southsideandy on December 12, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    That’s awesome and really cool. Are you finding all of this online? I gotta get moving! 🙂

  2. Nicole on December 13, 2008 at 1:46 am

    Well, Mae West probably summed it up best: “When I’m good, I’m good. When I’m bad, I’m better.” 🙂

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