Thursday, April 17, 2014

Morton Grove: Before the Baby Boom

A very popular post on this blog, Growing Up in Morton Grove, has received frequent attention from others who grew up in the northern Chicago suburb in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. 

I grew up in a cape cod style house at the corner of Austin Avenue and Davis Street. Two and one-half blocks down the street was a small strip mall, where the Rexall Drug Store, a National Tea grocery store, Dahm's department store, Jean's Bakery, a Ben Franklin 5 & 10 and a dry cleaner were located. Across the parking lot from the grocery store was a record store and a diner-like restaurant. There were some medical offices in back. The stores were tiny by today's modern scale, but they were my world as a child.

One of my favorite things growing up was stopping in at the bakery for a scrumptious chocolate eclair -- the best ever, yummy. My mother would send me to buy three large butter crust bread loaves, sliced, at the bakery. I can still smell the fresh aroma to this day. I can still smell the ground coffee at the rear of the National Tea. The five and dime was a source of a piece of candy or a play thing now and again. My dad had his work shirts washed and starched at the cleaners. The record store was where we bought our first Beatle's 45s. I saved nickels to buy packets of baseball cards, stale gum included, at the drug store. 

Morton Grove map of 1930s roadhouses.
This serene scene of youthful innocence had not always been so, however. The exact northwest corner of Dempster Street  and Austin Avenue in Morton Grove, Illinois where the shopping center was located, had once been home to a roadhouse, speakeasy and gangland haunt known as The Dells. Think Al Capone, his mobster contemporaries, cronies and henchmen and you got it. From time to time, I'll be writing on The Dells and others of the goings on during the 1920s and 30s up and down Dempster Street and south down to Lincoln Avenue.  

For this first post, let's whet our appetite by reprising a report on the The Dells' ignominious end.

Freeport Journal Standard, October.8 1934



Chicago, Oct. 8.--(AP)--Four men, armed with sub-machine guns today kidnapped the watchman at the Dells roadhouse in suburban Morton Grove, spread gasoline throughout the main floor and set fire to the place. Firemen form surrounding suburbs were unable to check the flames. 
The Dells for many years was one of Chicago's most widely known roadhouses. It was from the Dells that John Factor, wealthy speculator, was kidnapped. Roger Touhy and several members of his gang are now serving terms in the state prison at Joliet for the kidnapping. The resort was closed early this summer when State's Attorney Thomas J. Courtney ordered its liquor license held up. 
Paul Ott, watchman, told police that the four men drove up to the roadhouse in an automobile, forced their way in and made him a prisoner. Although he was bound and blindfolded, Ott said he could tell from their conversation that the men covered the floors with gasoline. 
The "torches" then drove him about a mile to Lincoln avenue, Morton Grove, and then threw him from the car, Ott said. 
Despite the efforts of fire departments from Evanston, Morton Grove, Niles Center, Park Ridge, Glenview and Northbrook, the roadhouse, valued at $75,000, was destroyed.

There are many stories to be told. Let the telling begin.

Five of the boys had the presence of mind to pose for this photo as The Dells burns to the ground, October 7, 1934.

1 comment:

  1. Let's not forget Yadron's liquor store. Or Murphy's Steak House. By the way, Coach Porter who lived a block away (next to Courseys) is very much alive and in great shape. A VERY nice man who really loved Evelyn' and her pontifical enthusiasm. . This per Randy Rosen with whom I went to high school and with whom I spoke yesterday on a business matter.