Al Capone Home

Nearly ninety years have passed since the federal government sent Al Capone into involuntary retirement. Many of the landmarks of his career are gone. Yet his family home still stands at 7244 South Prairie Avenue.

With his wife Mae and their infant son, Capone arrived in Chicago from Brooklyn in 1919. He was twenty years old and had been hired as an enforcer by mob boss Johnny Torrio. At first the Capones rented an apartment on Wabash Avenue near Torrio headquarters. Al’s older brother Ralph and his wife soon joined them there.

By 1923 Al had risen to second-in-command of Torrio’s organization. He wanted a nice, quiet place for his wife and son. The red brick two-flat he settled on in the Grand Crossing neighborhood had been built in 1905 at a reported cost of $5,000. Capone bought the building for $5,500—about $80,000 in today’s money. The property was reportedly registered in Mae Capone’s name.

Capone family home—7244 South Prairie Avenue

Capone had a soft spot for his relatives, and he wanted them near him. He brought his widowed mother Teresa to Chicago from Brooklyn, along with his two younger sisters. Again there was room for brother Ralph, who now had two children of his own.

The newly-purchased building had fifteen rooms. Al took the seven rooms on the first floor for his wife, son, mother, and sisters. Ralph’s family occupied the eight rooms upstairs. In later years, two other Capone brothers also lived in the second-floor flat.

When the Capones moved into the two-flat, the most noteworthy thing about the family was that they were Italians settling in a mostly-Irish area. Al was not yet a celebrity. He told neighbors he was a second-hand furniture dealer. He enrolled his youngest sister in a private girls’ school nearby, where he delighted in playing Santa Claus at Christmas.

Al personalized his residence with some special touches. For the master bath, he imported a seven-foot tub from Germany. The basement walls were reinforced with concrete a foot thick, to make them resistant to bullets. Steel doors were installed on the outside of the house, and steel bars were set in the ground-floor windows.  An oversize brick garage was built to accommodate Al’s big armored cars.

While the Capones were getting settled on Prairie Avenue, Chicago mayor William E. Dever was cracking down on the illegal liquor trade. The Torrio outfit moved its operations to suburban Cicero. Though Al began spending many nights at the Hawthorne Hotel there, he kept his family in the Prairie Avenue two-flat.

Chicagoans first became acquainted with the Capone residence in 1924, when his brother Frank was waked there after being killed in a police shoot-out. As Al became more famous, his home was often in the news. Visiting reporters knew he was good copy, and they sometimes got a plate of home-cooked spaghetti during an interview. By the time Dever and his clean-up were voted out in 1927, Capone had become the new mob boss.

Back from his Cicero exile, Al established headquarters in the Lexington Hotel, just south of the Loop. As his business expanded, he spent even less time on Prairie Avenue. In 1929 he moved to Florida. He maintained his official residence in that state, through all his legal set-backs, until his death in 1947.

Meanwhile, Al’s mother and various Capone siblings continued living on Prairie Avenue. Teresa died in 1952, and the family sold the building. Since then it has passed through several owners.

In 1989 the Capone home was nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Jesse James’s last home in St. Joseph, Missouri, had already been added to the list, and had even been converted into a museum. “[Capone] was a historical fact,” one historian said in defending the idea. “He lived here, and we need to come to terms with that.” However, Italian-American organizations, city and state agencies, and other concerned citizens immediately launched a protest, and the proposal was withdrawn.

A few years ago there were reports that the current owner was putting the property up for sale. Preservationists were concerned that a purchaser might tear down the building. At this writing the two-flat at 7244 South Prairie Avenue has survived, a private residence.

—30—

This is just one of the 60 stories in my most recent book, Hidden Chicago Landmarks.  Available at local bookstores or on Amazon.

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