Lexington Hotel, New Michigan Hotel
Life Span: 1892-1995 (last occupied, the fall of 1980)
Location: Northeast corner of Michigan avenue and Twenty-second street, 2135 S Michigan
Architect: Clinton J. Warren
Chicago Tribune, April 24, 1891
PLAN FOR A NEW CHICAGO HOTEL.
How the Lexington, Michigan Avenue and Twenty-second Street, Will be Arranged.
Before May 1 ground will be broken at Michigan avenue and Twenty-second street and the Lexington, a new hotel of 370 rooms, will be erected on that site.
The projectors of the enterprise are Messrs. E. A. Bachelor, the present owner and proprietor of the Southern Hotel at Wabash avenue and Twenty-second street; Milo S. Hascall, and John Barton Payne. The plans for the new structure, designed by Architect Clinton J. Warren, are for a ten-story and basement building, of brown brick and terra cotta. The hotel will be absolutely fireproof. The interior construction will will be of steel, iron, and terra cotta. Fronting west 125 feet on Michigan avenue and south 161 feet on Twenty-second street, the main entrances are from the boulevard, with additional entries from Twenty-second street. From the main entrance opens a spacious apartment, 50×80 feet, roofed at the second story with glass and overlooked from the parlor floor from a glass inclosed balcony on all sides. Vari-colored marble will prevail in the composition of this rotunda.
The clerk’s desk will face south, commanding the three entrances, the great main stairway, two passenger elevators, and the corridor leading to the public lavatory in the rear of the rotunda.
On the Twenty-second street side will be allotted space for nine stores. The main stairway will be of marble, and on the first landing will be a large hall parlor, 50×75 feet, and opening from this are to be six private parlors. From the main parlor is a balcony 40 feet wide and protruding from the hotel 7 feet, which overlooks the boulevard. The dining-room is 46×96 feet, with high, decorated ceilings, and windows extending along the entire south and east sides, with a portion of the north side. On the same floor will be a banquet-room 25×50 feet, nurses’ and children’s dining rooms, and the ordinary. All the eight floors above the parlor floor are devoted to guest rooms.
Inter Ocean, July 19, 1891
MICHIGAN AVENUE HOTEL.
The proposed erection of a magnificent ten-story hotel at the northeast corner of Michigan avenue and Twenty-second street has been reviced again. It is authoritatively slated that it will now be erectd, as originally intended. E. O. Bacheldor, of the Southern Hotel, is at the head of the enterprise, and the designs by Architect Clinton J. Warren calls for an expenditure of $650,000.
Standard Guide to Chicago, 1893
Lexington Hotel Building. Location,Michigan ave.and Twenty-second st. The hotel has a frontage of 125 feet along Michigan blvd. and 161 feet along Twenty-second st. It is fireproof, brick and terra cotta being used in its exterior, and steel, iron, brick and cement in the interior. Wood enters into the construction of the building only in the doors and window casings. The interior of the hotel is an exemplification of modern architecture and decorative genius. The rotunda, which is large and nicely lighted, is made handsome by its appointments. The floor is laid with the small mosaic block and the room is wainscoted with African marble, rich in design and finish. The cafe and billiard-room are on the first floor on the Twenty-second st. side. The parlors of the hotel are on the second floor, and from them extends a large balcony over Michigan blvd. The parlors are luxuriously appointed, a feature being the heavy tapestry wall hangings. Here, too, the ceiling decorators have produced excellent effects. A large onyx mantel and fireplace attracts general attention and it is said that the slab of onyx across its front is the largest ever produced. At the rear of the parlors is a large balcony overlooking the rotunda. The main dining-hall is a large room on the Twenty-second st. side directly back of the ladies’ parlor. It is prettily decorated in dainty colors and looks most attractive when under the full blaze of the electric lights. On the other side of the parlor floor are the ladies’ restaurant, late breakfast room and banquet-hall. The furnishings of the rooms above the parlor floor are varied, no two rooms being alike. There is a notable absence of the red so familiar in the hotels a few years ago. The hotel has 400 sleeping rooms, and nearly 300 of them overlook Michigan ave. The building is owned by the Lexington Hotel company, and E. A. Bacheldor is the proprietor.
Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1928
Al Capone, Chicago’s itinerant gang chieftain, has moved from his old headquarters in the Metropole hotel, 23d street and Michigan avenue, it was learned yesterday. With him have gone his bodyguard, Frank Nitti, Frankie Rio, “Mops” Volpe, and Joe Kelly.
Rumors that he and his henchmen had moved only a block away to the Lexington hotel, at 22d street and Michigan avenue, where they planned to open a de luxe gambling emporium were denied by the manager of the Lexington, G. T. Miller. He said:
I haven’t heard from Capone. He’s not registered here and we don’t expect him.
During the last months Capone has been commuting between Miami, Fla., where he maintains a Spanish residence, and Chicago, where in a four room suite t the Metropole he has governed the affairs of his varied interests. But last week Capone moved out of the Metropole, according to the manager, H. C. Hayes, and failed to leave a forwarding address.1
Excerpted from Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1930
A report has been made by investigators on Capone’s headquarters at the Lexington hote, 22d street and Michigan avenue. Capone henchmen have the third floor. Day and night the lobby is guarded. All day two men watch the entrance from Block’s restaurant on 22d street and another watches the Michigan avenue entrance, with a full view of the elevator and stairway and mezzanine floor. They make it their business to know the identity of any who get above the first floor.
Formerly the Capone headquarters was at the Metropole hotel at 23d street and Michigan avenue. Frank Nitti, sometimes called “the Enforcer,” had to see and question everyone who wanted to see Capone. Boss Capone held forth in an inner office and callers had to pass through three or four rooms with several inspections and “friskings” for guns, to reach the gang chief.
“Capone is a great organizer, but he should stick to his bootlegging,” said one of the civic agency representatives.
Chicago Tribune, August 21, 1932
The Lexington hotel at 22d street and Michigan avenue, noted in recent years as the headquarters of the Al Capone gang, will be managed in the future by the Northern Trust company, according to an announcement yesterday. L. A. Reinert, pioneer Chicago hotel man, has been named resident manager. The hotel is owned by the Eber B. Ward estate.
More than $50,000 will be spent in reconditioning the hotel, it was announced. A complete refinishing, inside and out, and new furnishings and carpets installed. A new roof has been built.
Less than a year ago, the city acted to close the hotel after Federal Judge Wilkerson had referred to the Capone gang as an “organized body of men whose outlaw camp is at the Lexington hotel.” The action was dropped when Corporation Counsel Sexton advised Police Commissioner Allman that it would be necessary to obtain evidence of prostitution, assignation or violence of the prohibition law to support any actuin.
Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1981
Whose bones might be lie moldering in the 125-foot-long vault beneath the foundation of the old Lexington Hotel?
The hotel, battered, violated, and abandoned, stands at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road, a crumbling, festering monument to the memory of Al Capone and the awful secrets he left behind.
The Lexington was the epitome of turn-of-the-century elegance when it was built in 1891, with its crystal chandeliers, soaring arches, glittering ballroom, wrought-iron staircases, and broad lobby lined with varicolored marble from Italy, France, and Vermont. President Grover Cleveland stayed there when he came to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. It was the high point of the `10-story hotel’s existence, until the Roaring ’20s.
Enter Alphonse Capone.
Scarface Al, was imported from New York in 1919 as a 20-year-old bodyguard for Big Jim Colosimo, and by the time he reached 26 he was in charge of everything—murder, mayhem, and the mob; payoffs, pimps, and pols.
Capone gave Chicago the reputation it still is trying to loive down; and when he moved his headquarters from the Metropole Hotel diagonally across the street to the Lexington in 1928 he put it, too, on the map.
Its fortresslike construction of concrete, steel, and brick suited his purposes perfectly. Nestled snugly inside its thick walls, he was safe from any attack by Eliot Ness and the feds, uncooperative cops, or rival mobsters.
But was vulnerable from on high? Prohibition gangster-aviator Basil “the Owl” Banghart apparently believed he was. For years the story circulated that the Owl, an accomplished night flyer, planned to bomb the Lexington in the 1930s, taking off in a biplane from a dirt airstrip on the lakefront in what is now Grant Park. The aerial attack called for at least two large jerrycans of gasoline to be dropped on the hotel roof and detonated with gasoline.
The Owl, a soldier of fortune in the beer wars, who flew for the highest bidder, told the story to Police Lt. Jerry Mahoney, who questioned him in the old Joliet prison in 1959 about the assassination of his one-time ally, bitter Capone Roger Touhy.
“He didn’t say why he was going to bomb the hotel, or explain the reason for not doing so, but it had something to do with his association with Touhy,” Mahoney recalled recently.
Prohibition’s most notorious stepchild, Capone, took over the Lexington’s 5th floor for himself and his retinue, and part of the 4th floor for his henchmen and their molls.
He once was quoted as saying, “When a guy don’t fall for a broad, he’s through/” So from time to time he brought in dollies, and any of uis boys who faled to respond enthusiastically soon found himself looking for outside work.
Capone reportedly paid $1,500 a month for the space he used in the hotel. He had his own barber chair, his own private kitchen, and his own cook and food-taster as a precaution against poison. He even installed a gymnasium on the 2d floor so his coterie of bodyguards could keep in condition.
Capone himself occupied suite 530, above the corner of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road, where he could sit in a swivel chair in his bay window and watch his beer trucks rumble by. He had the suite decorated to suit his taste, installing a lavender bathtub, wash bowl, and toilet with gold fixtures. And the wrought-iron latticework elevator cage was lined with bullet-proof sheet metal.
“It was Capone’s hotel, even though he didn’t own it,” a former employe recalled. “It was wide open, but it was orderly, too. You could hear a pin drop in the lobby. Sure, they brought in the girls, but they didn’t run a disorderly house. It was for their boys.”
It was while camping in the Lexington that Capone came down with the disease that would one day rot his brain. His mistress, a plum, teen-aged blond brought in from one of the suburban brothels, was discovered to have syphilis.
Capone’s personal physician, David V. Omens, made the diagnosis but couldn’t persuade Capone to take a Wasserman test: The meanest, most ruthless gangster Chicago ever known was afraid of the needle.
Capone left the Lexington for the last time on May 5, 1932, when he was sent to Alcatraz for tax evasion. His brother, Ralph, along with Frank “the Enforcer” Nitti, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, Murray “the Camel” Humphreys, and Capone’s one-time driver and bodyguard, Anthony J. Accardo, ran things in his absence but gradually moved from the Lexington to more modern surroundings.
Shortly before the start of World War II (1936), the hotel was renamed the New Michigan in an effort to brush aside its tarnished reputation, but it never worked. It became a 400-room brothel, then a third-class residential hotel. Last fall the remaining 150 tenants, many on welfare, were ordered out by a Housing Cpurt judge after the gas and electricity had been shut off for nonpayment of bills.
Once empty, the building fell prey to vandals and scavengers, who ripped out Capone’s lavender sink and bathtub, leaving gaping holes in the exquisitely tiled bathroom walls. Steam radiators were disconnected and dropped down elevator shafts to be carted away for scrap. Windows were broken, rain and snow came in, and the ornamental plaster disintegrated.
Over the last few months the Lexington has become a treasureland for nostalgia buffs, seeking mementoes of the Capone era. Two of tyhem, Thomas Bangs and H. J. Rubin, have collected chunks of broken marble from the once ornate lobby from which they are manufacturing desk sets under the name Cement Shoes Co.
Other bits of yesterday uncovered include old bullets, hotel keys, shot glasses, and a ledger listing $5 “Christmas Donations” to certain policemen by name and badge number.
Also found was a library card of Willis Barker, a known swindler who even cheated the library by failing to return “The Emperor of Rome,” which he checked out in 1927.
In the 2d floor maids’ changing room was discovered a hinged mirror masking a secret door that now leads nowhere. An office building once abutted the Lexington at tyhat point, and Capone used top slip through the looking glass, like Alice, and sneak out unobserved through the building next door.
Crumbling tunnels were discovered, leading underground from Michigan to Wabash avenues, where Colosimo’s Restaurant and Capone’s notorious Four Deuces saloon, 222 S. Wabash Av., once were located. Today they are filled with the rubble of buildings that were torn down over them to make room for parking lots.
But it is the concrete wall, under the hotel’s vaulted Michigan Avenue sidewalk, that has attracted the chilling curiosity of the souvenir hunters, who believe it could be a gangland burial ground. Six feet high and 6feet wide, the wall extends nearly 125 feet under the sidewalk, to which it offers no support.
A masonry expert who inspected it said he could determine no purpose for the strange structure. He estimated it took 250 cubic yards of cement, and was poured some time in the 1930s.
“It’s a sloppy job,” he said. “It was done by amateurs.”
The abandoned Lexington appears doomed to the wrecking ball, but its death sentence—that might reveal the contents of the wall—is not likely to be carried out in the near future.
The city estimates that demolition of the still solid structure will cost $1 million.
A spokesman for the city said, “We could wreck 60 frame houses for the cost required to raze the hotel, and with funds at a premium our spending priority is out in the neighborhoods.”
“Legal proceedings are in limbo because of the size of the structure and the demolition costs,” said James Mallek, assistant corporation counsel assigned to the case.
So the city waits, hoping for federal demolition funds, perhaps to help open the secret of the solid concrete wall hugging the hoary old Lexington’s tattered skirts of brick.
Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1986
“The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults” found no hidden treasures at the Lexington Hotel, but it did find fortune in huge viewership.
In the Chicago area, where the program was carried live Monday night by WGN (Channel 9), the show apparently captured the No. 2 spot in local television ratings history, according to overnight figures from the A.C. Nielsen Co., falling behind only the local ratings won by the Chicago Bears-New England Patriots Super Bowl game on Jan. 26.
The show scored a Nielsen rating of 57.3 percent of all Chicago-area households with televisions and a 73 percent share of those who were watching television Monday night.
According to Nielsen, a 57.3 percent rating would translate to about 1.7 million TV households in this area. WGN officials estimated that as many as 5 million persons in their viewing area watched all or part of the show
The Bear’s Super Bowl appearance still holds the Chicago record, having recorded a 63.1 percent Nielsen rating and an 87 percent audience share.
In terms of household ratings, the Capone show edged out the Jan. 12 Bears-Los Angeles Rams playoff game, which at that time had set a Chicago Nielsen’s ratings record of 55.4 percent, although that game garnered a higher total audience share of 83 percent of viewers.
While complete nationwide ratings were not available for the two-hour show, which was carried on 181 television stations, the programs posted impressive Nielsen scores in several other major markets, attaining ratings of 33.2 percent in New York City and 45.6 percent in Los Angeles.
WGN Spokesmen said the show garnered the highest rating in the television station’s history.
Bob Hoffman, WGN’s director of sales, declined to comment on revenue earned from the show but said the station sold out all 12 minutes of available local advertising time well in advance of the airing. An additional 13 minutes of national advertising was sold by the Tribune Entertainment Co., which syndicated the show.
Chicago Tribune, November 5, 1995
Spread the word among the guys and dolls. And watch out for falling bricks. There’s a contract out on the Lexington Hotel.
You know the place in the 2100 block of South Michigan Avenue just west of McCormick Place. Big Al Capone ran his bootlegging and vice rackets out of there during Prohibition—the dry years of the 1920s when making liquor was illegal. That is, until the “g” and Eliot Ness got him on tax evasion. Now, the hotel itself is facing government assault.
Moving with unaccustomed speed against what is widely believed to be the last vestige of Capone’s criminal empoire in Chicago, city officials acknowledged Friday that they put out a contract to hit the Lexington. The weapon of choice is a wrecking ball. And taxpayers are paying to have the deed done; a demolition contract worth $671,000 to U.S. Dismantlement Corp.
Workers have already gutted the interior of the first floor and are eyeing the upstairs Art Deco ballroom.
The 10-story brick and terra cotta structure, designed by the architect of the Congress Hotel, opened in 1892, serving as a residential hotel. President Benjamin Harrison once spoke from its balcony.
A worker carries out debris Friday from the Lexington Hotel, which briefly was renamed the New Michigan.
No longer elegant, its fine dining and lodging gone with Capone, the 103-year-old Lexington is empty and crumbling. It may off lots of nostalgia but not much more.
City officials condemned it as a public nuisance and safety hazard. Demolition began Thursday.
“It’s in terrible shape,” James Walsh, demolition superintendent, said Friday as he warmed himself in a truck outside the hotel.
“It’s a dangerous building,” said co-worker Bob Westlund with a nod.
The Lexington had been on the city’s hit list of derelict buildings since it kicked out its last guest in 1980.
But its historic and architectural value won it protection as an official landmark. That designation was quietly removed last week by the Commission on City Landmarks, acting at the request of city lawyers.
Thomas J. Murphy, an attorney for the Lexington’s owner, Dr. Ganesan Visvabharathy, said his client “had hoped right to the ennd, and he still hopes, to develop 126 apartments on the site.” Visvabharathy acquired the hotel in 1989 (right), but his plans to renovate it never got off the ground. In July, he put the hotel up for sale.
A decade ago, the Lexington appeared on its way back to respectability. Owned by the Sunbow Foundation, a women’s self-help training group, the hotel swarmed with trainees preparing for jobs in the construction trades. Snbow trained more than 200 women in the min-1980s, but efforts to rehabilitate the hotel collapsed when an operating budget of public money ran out.
In 1986 came the embarrassing episode of “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults,” a television extravaganza narrated by talk-show personality, Geraldo Rivera. The show, with a worldwide audience of 60 million, was billed as a live exploration of the mobster’s supposed secret vaults under the hotel. But a disappointed Rivera was able to produce a couple of empty whiskey bottles.
Capone was indeed the most notorious person to occupy the hotel and was known to enjoy watching his fleet of beer trucks, passing as if on parade, below his fifth floor headquarters. In the years after Capone went to prison, the Lexington slipped from bordello to flophouse to firetrap.
In the 1950s, it was briefly named the New Michigan Hotel.
It is perhaps with good riddance that the building is falling to the wrecking ball. That is the view of the Chicago Crime Commission, which as long as 1919 declared war organized crime.
On Friday, commission President Donald Mulack clearly was in a mood to reminisce.
- Perhaps at last, we can put to rest any misplaced nostalgia for the violence, crime and corruption of the past and bury that image of Chicago once and for all.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
1Capone registered in hotels under fake names.George Phillips, Mr. Ross, Al Brown, and A. Costa among others. Chicago Tribune, October 13, 1931.