In the deep south side of Chicago lay a red brick house that today is used as a two-flat home. It’s in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, just between the I-90 and the I-94, about 11 miles south from the Loop.
The neighborhood the house is at is surprisingly quiet on a Monday morning. A few cars pass by the surrounding streets, a lady is sitting on a teak bench, enjoying a morning cigarette, but other than that, there isn’t a soul outside. It somewhat reminds me of Detroit, but with the difference that all the houses in the area seem to be inhabited.
And not only inhabited, but really beautifully taken care of. It’s a really lovely neighborhood. Most of the houses seem to be single family abodes, built from red or brown brick, with nicely mowed lawns. If you were to try MyLawnCare in Perth, a sight like this would greet you every morning. A few streets up a young gentleman is raking the fallen leaves from his lawn; but his house is one of the few ones where that is still not done. Even more interestingly, he’s actually using a rake—that’s something you don’t see every day in America where people usually use leaf blowers. Maybe, just maybe the entire neighborhood is using rakes; how else did they get it so clean?
House prices in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood are down these days. When in the north side you’d be really lucky to get a one bedroom apartment for $225,000, in the south this is the price of an entire house—the same red brick house I mentioned earlier. And the saddest part—even the enormous historical value of the house isn’t enough to raise its price.
That red brick house, located at 7244 S Prairie Avenue, was the first Chicago home of the notorious gangster, Al Capone. He and his family moved to the house in August 1923 when they first relocated to Chicago from New York. At the time, Al was a young hothead, working for Johnny Torrio, only dreaming of becoming the king of the organized crime in Chicago.
The Capone family owned the house until 1953, even though by that time, Al had already died in Florida. The house was officially owned by Al’s mother, Teresa, and wife, Mae. In 1947, after Al’s death, the ownership of the house was transferred to his sister, and in 1953, after Teresa Capone had died in the house, the house was sold outside the Capone family.
The house was built in 1914 for $5,000. It’s not known how much the house was worth and sold for in the past, but in October 2009 some lucky family or person bought the house for $450,000. Lucky because they got their hands onto such an interesting piece of Chicago history. Financially, they weren’t that fortunate though, because in January 2013, the house was sold for only $225,000—at a huge loss. It was again listed for sale in July this year for $250,000, only to lower the price back to $225,000 in August.
According to zillow.com, the house is still for sale. Even at such a low price, nobody seems to be interested in purchasing the place and making a home there. Which is sad.
Because even though Al Capone was a notorious character—a murderer, a bootlegger, a tax evader for that matter—he was also one of the most famous organized crime figures in the entire world, if not the most famous. Think of the countless books written and movies made about him, or where he was at least a minor character. Imagine the amount of fiction and non-fiction surrounding him and his life here in Chicago. And now, after all that… celebration of his life, for the lack of a better expression, is the first Chicago home of him and his family really going to go to waste?
Honestly, if I had the money, I would buy it. I am not sure if I would like to live there, but this house has a huge potential as a museum that could tell the story of Al Capone, his life and business, as well as the entire history of organized crime in Chicago. I believe it could be a successful project. It could attract many visitors. Those who are looking for criminal justice and those who just want to see the everyday life of a famous criminal. Al Capone’s grave in Hillside, IL, at Mount Carmel Cemetery, is probably one of the most visited gravesites in the world. Imagine how much interest would draw a museum, telling the story of how he lived!
The best thing that could happen would be if some wealthy history buffs came together and purchased the house from the current owners. It’s a lot of money, I know, and it takes even more to actually build the museum, but at the end of the day, even if there’s little or no financial gain, you would have saved an important historical landmark, of a kind not many exist these days. The Lexington Hotel, where Al Capone had his headquarters, is long gone. So is Dean O’Banion’s flower shop. There’s only a little grassy spot left of the building where the St. Valentine’s Day massacre happened. But despite the notoriety of those places, they are an important part of Chicago and American history.
So I implore to you. Save the house at 7244 S Prairie Avenue. Make something of it. Give the present and future generations a place where they can learn about the parts of history that are not taught in school. It would be a good deed.