Home Sweet Home? Al Capone’s Family Home Goes Off-Market

caphouse_truck.jpg

Al Capone’s family home at 7244 Prairie Avenue. Photo Source: ChicagoHS

7244 S. Prairie Ave., Al Capone’s family home in Chicago from 1923 to 1931, was taken off the real estate market on December 4th, 2015.  As of right now, it’s unclear if it’s been sold or foreclosed on—but this is hardly surprising given its spotty sales record.

While Capone himself stopped living there in 1931 (when he “moved” to Alcatraz), the house remained in the family for some time. In 1947, the ownership of the home passed to Al’s sister, Malfalda. She and their mother, Theresa, lived there until Theresa died in 1952 at the age of 85.1  After that, Malfalda sold it in 1953 to William B. Petty. Presumably, he owned the place until 1963, when it was bought by retired schoolteacher Barbara Hogsette.  She lived there until 2014, when she decided that she “wanted to sell the house and move into an assisted living facility.”2  She tried to sell the place long before 2014, however. Back in 2009, she set the price at $450,000. The house languished on the market for years, the price dropping and dropping until 2015, when it hit an all-time low of $225,000. But even at that price it didn’t sell. And why not? I mean, look at this product description from Zillow. How could you not want to live there? The place was built in 1905!

This was AL CAPONES Chicago Home WOW there are 3 bedrooms on each floor 1st floor was rehabbed in 2008 with new kitchen there is even a jacuzzi tub in bath 2nd. floor has hardwood floors both units have enclosed back porch 2 car garage newer windows full basement with lots of different rooms . Call for your appointment today HUGE DOUBLE LOT ” Must show proof of funds before showing” No Closing costs credits.

So why are buyers so reluctant to own a piece of Chicago history?

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A side shot of the home. Here you can see how deep and narrow the lot is, and how far it goes back. Photo Source: AmericanCareRevisted

It might have to do with the occasional bouts of controversy the house attracts to this day. Over the decades a couple different groups have tried to get Al’s home named as a National Historic Landmark. The most recent attempt was in 1989. The idea was originally floated by “some nameless researcher” at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.3  When local Italian Americans got wind of the idea, they burst into outrage.  Carl DeMoon, president of an organization that spoke for 60 Italian organizations in Chicagoland, claimed “enough is enough; we are fed up with being associated with Capone…we are ashamed of what he did, and we are ashamed by guilt by association.”4  As a result, the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council rejected it outright. And there the matter might have died if it hadn’t been for an amateur historian by the name of Mark Levell, who appealed the decision. A devotee of “the minutiae of Chicago gangster history,” Levell felt that Capone deserved a landmark—and he didn’t mean to anger anyone. As he said, “I didn’t intend to offend anyone. But [Prohibition] was an important time in history and Capone was a major figure. I wasn’t trying to portray him as a hero. To the contrary, I thought that what would come out was that as powerful as he became, because of good people, he was brought down and sent to prison. I thought that would be a good message. Being half Italian myself, I didn’t feel that Italian Americans should feel any responsibility for what he did.”5

However, most Italian Americans didn’t see it Levell’s way—and they had history on their side. Ever since the mass immigration of Southern Italians in the early 1900s, Italian immigrants in America have been dogged by suspicion of criminal tendencies, starting with the Black Hand scares in the early 1900s and on into organized crime, a hurtful ethnic stereotype that still persists today. Given that history, it’s hardly surprising that local Italian Americans wouldn’t want to seemingly champion a criminal, no matter how famous he was. As an Italian friend of Mike Ryoko put it, “What am I supposed to do—take my kid for a drive and say: Look, son, that’s where Chicago’s most famous Italian lived’? He used to kill people with machine guns and baseball bats. Is that the kind of role model my kid needs?”6 Eventually, due to the bad feeling generated, Levell was forced to withdraw his appeal—but he probably won’t be the last person to try.

Whether the home deserves it or not, those who want to preserve Al’s home have a decent case, as a historic landmark need only be a place where “prominent Americans worked or lived“—and the Registry already includes places related to other famous criminals, like Jesse James.  While he didn’t always spend a lot of time there, 7244 S. Prairie Ave. provided a backdrop to some major events in Al’s life and the life of his family. Besides raising his son and giving his mother a place to live until her death, 7244 S. Prairie was witness to:

  • The cops held Al “hostage,” more or less, at his home on December 18th, 1927. He was told that if he went outside he would be arrested. “It’s an outrage,” Capone said at the time. “I’ll seek the protection of the courts if I’m arrested when I leave here.” Police tried to arrest him in connection to a creamery that had been bombed while he was away in California.7
  • The wake for Frank Capone, Al’s oldest brother, was held in the parlor of 7244 S. Prairie:
  • 1421b73d0_frank capone funeral.jpg

    Frank’s funeral service. Check out the bunting on the seocnd floor balcony. Photo Source:

    My Al Capone Museum

  • The “fine apartment” he kept reflected Al’s money and taste.  It had “soft lights and velvet rugs” and “tapestries,” plus fancy imported European tubs, gold-plated cornices in the parlor room, and a large side garage for his big cars, which was unusual for the neighborhood.8

Ultimately, though, it seems Chicago is still not quite ready to officially and fully embrace Al as part of its heritage. However, the city’s tourism industry has never been shy about doing so. Tours like The Untouchables wouldn’t be possible without Al and the fame his “business” brought to Chicago. Whether the city likes it or not, Al is a big part of its history and certainly one of its most notorious denizens. As Bill Helmer notes in another Tribune article, the image of Capone his rat-a-tat-tat machine guns “is something the city has always tried to live down, with no success.”9  They are better off trying to find a way to “live with an image that in fact is a major source of fascination for visitors and tourists”—and recognizing his home as a National Landmark is one way of making peace with that image.10  It certainly would give a boost towards tourism, as Al is just as fascinating today as when he was alive. Decades after his death Al’s name is still instantly recognizable around the world. Many years ago when I visited Moscow, a store owner asked me where I was from. When I said Chicago, his immediate response was “Ah, Al Capone! Bang bang!” and he mimed shooting a Tommy gun with a big grin.

Whether its a National Landmark or not, however, tourists and gangster aficionados still manage to track down Al’s former home. They take pictures, poke around the neighborhood, and sometimes even try to drop in for a visit. Hogsette said that “every spring and summer” she “gets a steady stream of people riding by to take a look,” taking pictures and asking to come inside.11 Luckily, however, you don’t need to knock on anyone’s door to get a look inside the place: Mario Gomez from My Al Capone Museum took a whole bunch of pictures when he got inside. You can see them here.

House of the Day #4: 7244 S. Prairie

7244 S. Prairie Avenue as it stands today. Note the bars in the basement windows behind the bushes—Al had those installed. Photo Source: TripAdvisor

While the house is no longer on the market proper, the Zillow real estate listing is still up. You can check out all the home dimensions here at Zillow.  There’s also one here on RedFin.

Want more information on 7244 Prairie? Try The Chicago Crime Scene’s blog entry on the subject, or the Historic House Blog’s entry on the same.

~*~

What do you all think? Should Al’s home be a National Historic Landmark? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your opinion in the Comments section below! 🙂

~*~

F O O T N O T E S :

  1. “CAPONE MOTHER DIES AFTER LONG ILLNESS AT 85.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Nov 30, 1952. http://search.proquest.com/docview/178435687?accountid=3688
  2. Glanton, Dahleen. “Capone home languishes on market.” October 28th, 2014. Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/realestate/ct-al-capone-house-sale-met-20141028-story.html
  3. Royko, Mike. “Crime Landmarks: Let’s do them Right.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), Apr 20, 1989. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1015360096?accountid=3688
  4. Kamin, Blair. “Capone House Landmark Status Fought.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), Apr 14, 1989. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1015808219?accountid=3688
  5. Royko, Mike. “Crime Landmarks: Let’s do them Right.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), Apr 20, 1989. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1015360096?accountid=3688
  6. Ibid.
  7. “CAPONE, ECHOED BY SALTIS, CRIES OUT DESPERATION.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 18, 1927. http://search.proquest.com/docview/180877373?accountid=3688
  8. “SISTER TELLS HOW GOOD AL IS TO HIS FOLKS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), May 18, 1929. http://search.proquest.com/docview/180992546?accountid=3688
  9. Helmer, Bill. “Consider Capone Part of Chicago.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File), Aug 12, 1989. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1018709267?accountid=3688
  10. Ibid.
  11. Glanton.
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About lupachi1927

My name's Megan. I'm a writer with an interest in history. While I might not be a real historian, I'm a very thorough researcher! :) This blog is my place to post about all the interesting historical tidbits I find that can't use in the novel I'm working on, which takes place in Chicago in 1927.
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3 Responses to Home Sweet Home? Al Capone’s Family Home Goes Off-Market

  1. jazzfeathers says:

    You know, on the one hand, I understand that Italian Americans of Chicago feel unconfortable about Capone, but on the other hand, history is history. It isn’t right or wrong, it just is. And we should always remember it. I’d much rather remember an unconfortable past, protecting the places where it happened, that try to bury it.

    As an Italian, it feels very strange to me that a place that is clearly an historic place won’t be protected and offerd to the public. Unconfortable as it is. We have such unconfortable palces in Italy too and they are protected and offered to the public, so that we can remember and never do the same mistakes again.

    I hope the house will be preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lupachi1927 says:

      I agree wholeheartedly, but then I sort of have a soft spot for Al given my novel, heh ;). But it’s interesting to me how vehement some Chicagoans are about him, particularly Italian Americans. I think it has to do with the long, sordid history of discrimination against Italians, particularly southern Italians, in America in the early 1900s. I’ve been doing a lot of research about the Black Hand recently, and it’s amazing how much hatred and suspicion the newspapers whipped up towards anyone with Italian heritage and automatically connecting them with crime, no matter who they were. I think the reaction to Al comes out of that history, but at the same time, as you say, even the bad stuff is part of history and we can’t just ignore it. I mean, Al made the cover of Time magazine back in the day. Time magazine! If he can do that, surely he deserves some kind of acknowledgment…

      Like

      • jazzfeathers says:

        And wouldn’t the plight of all those Italians who weren’t gangsters but were suspected to be because of their culture deserve to be recounted?
        This is precisely the reason why places and stories like that of Capone’s have to be remembered, in my opinion. There is a reason for everything and oftentimes that reason lies in the past. Remembering is power, not weakness.

        Like

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