I continued my research on our 1930 neighbor, who during Prohibition ran a speakeasy in his basement. I came across links to articles in various papers across the country: Reno, NV, Sheboygan, WI, and others. At first I thought, these must belong to another Elmer Cowdrey. Then I thought maybe he moved to one of these places or had a summer home in Wisconsin.
So I first checked the Sheboygan article and was stunned to discover that six people perished in a fire on March 24, 1935 at Club Rendezvous which they described as a remodeled bungalow owned by Elmer and Rose Cowdrey. I checked the other articles across the country: all front page stories about the fire.
This was before I found the article stating that the Cowdrey’s were ordered to close the bar in their basement, which subsequently led to the opening of this roadhouse. I was trying to imagine what this “remodeled bungalow” looked like, and at that point I was sure that they were describing the house across the street.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and the Morton Grove Historical Society was open, so I went over there to see if I could find anything more about it.
Finally, a photo!
You can just make out the typical Chicago-style bungalow on the left. The one-story structure was added onto the front of the house.
While a great find, I was still convinced that this was THE bungalow across the street, but I couldn’t figure out how that structure could have existed on our street.
So I went back home, and through my university’s library I was able to access the New York Times and Chicago Tribune archives online. In the New York Times I found another front page article, much more in depth than the others. This was obviously big, big news.
The Tribune article, of course, had the greatest detail. An excerpt, dated March 24, 1935:
6 Die, 14 Hurt in Tavern Fire
Flames Trap Merrymakers in Roadhouse
Six persons were burned to death and fourteen others injured early this morning when flames swept the Club Rendezvous roadhouse at Austin avenue and Dempster road in Morton Grove while the place was jammed with dancers and merry-makers.
The fire apparently started from a carelessly thrown cigaret [sic] near the one entrance to the café room and dancing floor, and attacking the inflammable velvet drapes with which the walls were hung, enveloped the room in an instant.
Screams and cries of terror and pain filled the room. The music of the piece orchestra stopped and the terrified patrons fought with each other to reach the one door leading to safety.
How horrible. More details to follow.