Chicago Tribune February 23, 1990
Colorful people hot spots of the Roaring ’20s renaissance
During Chicago’s literary renaissance of the early 20th Century new generation of bohemians congregated in the city s salons studios and flats Their hangouts were in Towertown rundown area in the vicinity of the Old Water Tower where the rents
were cheap Bughouse Square across from the Newberry Library and right around the comer from the Radical Book Shop at 817’/t Clark St and in the Jackson Park artist colo ny of 57th and Stony Island They were largely fun-loving free spirits one historian observed more inter ested in free verse than free speech Some of the more colorful people and places of that era induded The people Margaret Anderson Founder of the avant-garde literary magazine The Little Review Charming tric and flighty Anderson was true bohemian who lived by her own pe set of standards She published imagism dadaism futurism any thing that struck her fancy and in troduced the early work of an up- and-coming writer named Hemingway Floyd Dell Editor of the Friday Literary Review Dell was the town s most influential critic He was also socialist who advocated free love Dell and his plain-spoken wife Mar gery Currey hosted parties long into the night in their tiny Jackson Park studios Ben Hecht Reporter-playwright- novelist Hecht was the force behind Chicago’s bohemia In 1923, he and fellow maverick Maxwell Bodenheim began publishing their biweekly newspaper the Chicago Literary Times which purported to follow the comings and goings of the bohemian set Like most under takings of its kind it was short-lived lasting little more than year Ben Reitman Probably the most flamboyant figure on the scene was Reitman social reformer tramp intellectual physician and founder of the peripatetic Hobo Col- lege which sponsored lectures pre- sented short courses and offered sound advice The places The Dill Pickle Organized by drifter Jack Jones and located on tiny Tooker Place the Dill Pickle opened its doors to anyone with an opinion poets hobos unionists intellectuals street comer philosophers salts of the and presented speakers plays poetry se rious discussions lectures and de bates It dosed down in the early 1930s. Its successor the College of Complexes started where it left off The Whitechapel Club No torious social club that took its name from the grisly Jack-tho-Ripper murders in London’s Whitechapd district It consisted of mostly young reporters and car Finlev Peter Dunne George Ade John McCutcheon were three of the best known who engaged in devilish pranks and ma cabre escapades including the cremation of suicide victim on the shores of Lake Michigan Schlogl’s Famous tavern and restaurant frequented by Chicago Daily News Staffers and other literary figures As the Roaring ’20s drew to dose the literary tempest had cooled and the last of the city s bohemians packed their bags and fled migrating east to the coffeehouses of Green wich Village and the cafes of Paris
The Whitechapel Club notorious social club known for its cranks
Floyd Dell from left Maxwell Bodenheim and Ben Hecht
Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1920
Chicago Tribune October 30, 1990
Off-beat Myron ‘Slim’ Brundage
By Kenan Heise
Myron Slim Brundage 86, retired house painter and self-described janitor of the off-beat College of Complexes for many years provided Chicago with one of its most unusual forums for free speech resident in years of El Centro Calif he died there Oct 1 8 of brain hemorrhage 1971 article in the Tribune said of him He has failed so often that failure has made him free The article added The ‘fully discredited’ college which has been kicked out of five Chicago loca tions since its founding in 1951, offers free-for-all open forums with speakers discoursing on topics like ‘The Farce of the So-called Paris Peace Conference’ and ‘Why Chi cago Needs Political Kidnapping The college which helped make Wells Street popular attraction in the 1950s, later was located on North State Street and at 105 Grand Ave It featured speakers debates folk singing sword fights chess tournaments book reviews
and piano recitals Among its speakers were Alois Knapp nudist on fashions con fidence man Joseph Weil on confi dence men in government and Frank Holzfeind owner of the Blue Note on Jazz Is Beautiful When It Pays Debaters included Rev Andrew Greeley and atheist Madalyn Mur ray O’Hair as well as Clement Stone and beatnik presidential can didate William Smith American Nazi Party candidate George Lin coln Rockwell not to show up after police reportedly said they could not guarantee his safety Mr Brundage was born in mental hospital in Blackfoot Idaho where both of his parents worked He worked as mill hand piano mover organizer for the In dustrial Workers of the World and for most of his years as house painter When he arrived in Chicago he obtained work as bartender at the Dill Pickle Club an irreverent meeting place for Chicago’s literati and rebels During Prohibition he spent 30 days in jail for serving liq
uor there to two federal agents In the late 1930s, he was the rector of the Hobo College and th Knowledge Box The hobo deba ing team at the latter debated th University of Chicago and the Mc Cormick Theological Seminary de bate squads and lost on both oc casions The author of five unpublished books he took one to New York to try to sell it to publisher He was unsuccessful but reportedly fell off an elevated platform and used the money from an insurance settlement to start the College of Complexes Mr Brundage was also an in writer of letters to the edi tor The final book he spent many years trying to sell was and titled The Luckiest Man Alive Survivors four grandchil dren memorial service for Mr Brundage will be held at 7 Dec 1 in Mr Steer’s Steak House 3300 Lincoln Ave
Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1965
Old Too’s Is a -eu to asure tl oos froh Kullwortli, sater lib detractors. It’ll last. So’s jur old mua, tk autor, who s of started It a.
IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT WELLS STREET?
Myron (Slim) Brundage is an alumnus of the famed Dill Pickle club, the free-wheeling lecture hall, floating symposium, and speakeasy whose radical rallies made the more staid Chicagoan shudder in
the 1920s. Emma Goldman, Maxwell Bodenheim, i Ben Hecht, Dr. Ben Reitman, and numerous left wing theorists addressed the Dill Pickle; Slim Brun- dage tended bar there.
Times changed and the club died quietly in the early ’30s, but Slim didn’t forget it. He revived the idea at his College of Complexes in 1951, at 1651 N. Wells st., in what is now a night life center in Old Town. The College moved to North State street, close to the site of the original Dill Pickle, went out of business there, and now is reopened as a coffee house with the same kind of programming -debates, lectures, and just plain arguments. Slim, an Old Town resident, is well acquainted with the saloon history of Wells street.-Will Leonard.
A LL THE WISE BOYS round and about the
rat race on Wells street are prognosticating an early puncture of the business bubble. Some of these cats are former tavern owners whom the high rents have driven out. Some are real estate sharks who were too smart to buy real estate in such a crummy neighborhood. Some are old resi- dents who can t find a place to park. And, of course,
the inevitable wise guy at the next table who knows everything.
As the jerk who is supposed to have started it all, I asked these cats for the evidence. They answered, “It’s a flash in the pan” . . . “How long can it last? . . . “What’s it got going for it?”
They claim it s as phony as a Hollywood husband. How long are the suckers going to go for the “do-it- yourself pseudo art”? How long before they turn the merchandise upside down and read the “Made in Japan” label? How many easy marks are there for $2 steaks at $6.50? Fifty-cent hamburgers for a buck and a quarter, nuts! Books are marked up 50 per cent from what they are downtown, phooey! An- tique bars designed by 200-bucks-a-day decorators where the drinks are double price-how dizzy can you get?
What is there on Wells street you can t buy for less on any street in any town in America?
So, I say to them: It’s true you can buy most of the guck in Marshall Field’s basement for half. It’s true the street is a tourist trap for the kooks from Kenilworth. It’s true they come to sneer at the beats so they can feel a little superior. It’s true they do more looking than buying. And the beats hide around the corner and sneer at them for being tourists.
But it isn’t true the street is strictly for squares. It isn’t true it s a carnival that ll move to Armitage avenue next year. And it isn’t true I started the whole kooky mess.
Old Town was full of swinging cats when I moved in a dozen years ago. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have opened the College of Complexes there. At that time the area was inhabited by graduates from Nelson Algren’s “Forest of Furnished Rooms” around Chicago avenue. Such pseudo-intellectuals as George
Murray, Will Leonard, and Win Strache had started to buy homes round and about. Artists like the Albright Brothers, Dave Landis, and Francis Chapin owned theirs already.
I thought I’d get a little bar business from these characters. But I was a little late. If I’d caught them on their way up, they d have had to find a bar to drink in. By the time they d got to Old Town they had moola enough to build a bar in their basement. Why mix with the lower classes when you can mix your own martini right at home?
Nor did I bring in the drifters, junkies, nymphos, homos, and rejectees from Kankakee. They had long before made the scene. I won t name any of them. They’ve got troubles of their own. And so have 1. Maybe I did start the commercialism on Wells street. I’m not at all sure of it. Maybe Frank Ryan ought to get the rap for that. He moved his “Con- temporary Furnishings” in next to the College, at 1653 N. Wells st. Jane and Hildegard followed one door north of him with a ceramics oven. Dick Barnes opened his historical book store across the street next year. The Kjellands had a bird store over on Sedgwick and Eugenie.
Both Ryan and Barnes are still there. Esther Kjelland and her daughter run Madge’s dress shop at Wells and North. Erling Kjelland stil has a bird
Author Slim Brundage surveys the Old Town scene as a painter puts the finishing touches on Slim’s “stupendous, non-” new College of Complexes.
It took 20 years for
Randolph Street to fall apart.”
store somewhere on Sedgwick. Ryan is threatening to move on account of the tourists clutter up the joint all the time without buying anything. Esther says, “What’ll you bet he moves?” Barnes owns his own building and can do business anywhere. So he just closes the door before the kooks from Kenil- worth get there in the evening.
Incidentally, the same pattern was prominent in the “French Village” area on North State street. The same run-down brawling bars were my neigh- bors. The same off-beat characters were my cus- tomers. And the same thing happened. Within five years all the joints on either side of the block had become character spots. And the landlord tripled the rent.
Last week I met John Moody. He’s the cat who really made Wells street swing, when he opened Moody’s Pub in November, 1960, at 1529 N. Wells. When they tripled his rent, he moved to 1800 Lara- bee and is still swinging there.
Anyway, he came up with the usual question: “What has Wells street got going for it?” That made me think about it. What does a street really have to have? Why, COLOR! And this is the street that s got more of that stuff than any other street in America.
I watched the nite life streets bloom and bust for 40 years in Chicago. It took 20 years for Ran- dolph street to fall apart. Rush street finally got all its business. After 30 years some of the rents are coming down a little on Rush street. The only ex- ception to this 20- or 30-year pattern I know of was State street, where I had the. second College of Complexes. But that was a forced promotion by some operators out to make an easy buck.
There are a couple of syndicates trying to pro- mote property adjacent to Wells street. One of them has invested millions. So far they haven’t realized anything on it. In my opinion this is a thing that can- not be forced. But then, I’m usually wrong.
My favorite spot for the College of Complexes was always by the old Dill Pickle Club, and I’m back there again-without booze.
But we are talking about Wells street Take Mc- Dougal street in New York. Or Grant street in San Francisco. Their phenomenal rise in business is comparable to Wells. What have they got? The same thing. But not so much of it. They’ve got the same off-beat saloons, the same artsy-craftsy shops, the same far-out art, and book stores.
Maybe the main difference is the real beats. They are not so much in evidence here. Chicago beats are more insolent than anywhere else in the world. They refuse to put on a show for the kooks from Kenilworth.
There is no evidence any of it is going to fold up any time soon. I offer this as an expert opinion. in buying taverns in all three cities I carefully cased the streets that were going to swing. McDougal started 10 years ago and Grant about five.
When my rent was tripled on State street my cus- tomers urged me to move back to Old Town. But I was too smart. Wish now I had taken their advice and bought a building there.
The store I first rented for 125 bucks a month is now going for over 600. U
Chicago writers Sherwood Anderson and Carl Sandburg mingled with radicals, unemployed workers, prostitutes, gangsters, and slumming Gold Coast socialites at the Dill Pickle Club on the Near North Side. The enterprising radical Jack Jones was the brains behind the basement cabaret, speakeasy, and theatre located at 10 Tooker Place. His irreverent spirit is captured by the motto emblazoned on the club’s door: “Step High, Stoop Low, Leave Your Dignity Outside.”
Chicago Tribune November 23, 1958
Meet Bill Smith. His book store is a rallying place for Chicago beatniks.
Today’s Beatniks Howl in Precincts Once Famed as Sites of the Dill Pickle Club and Bughouse Square
SECOND OF SERIES
By William Leonard
IF YOU CAN T find members of the
beat generation in Chicago, it may be because our beatniks don’t think of themselves as beat.
But ” they are beat in the truest sense of the term, altho they won t admit it.” So declares Bill Smith, the loquaciously outspoken co-proprietor of Maury’s look store, a crowded and crazy, stuffy, and stimulating gathering place of left wing- ers and right wingers, atheists, and an- , orthodox and beatniks, Henry George fans and Jack Muller fans, stu- dents ahd stooges.
Maury’s, since it opened last August, has become the town s greatest rallying place for scholars and screwballs, thor- oly intermixed, since the halcyon days of the Dill Pickle club, where the literati and the lunatics met in the era after World War I. It is the only 24-hour-a- day book store in Chicago (“The only one in America! ” Smith asserts with the knowledge that records of such mer- are not readily at hand to facilitate a check-up on his claim.)
ts shelves and tables are crowded with the works of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlin- ghetti and Kenneth Rexroth and the other writers and quasi-writers of the San Francisco school that made ” the beat generation ” a catchword. Nowhere else in Chicago can be found such a library of the beatniks’ pamphlets and books. Nowhere else in Chicago can be found, at any hour of the day or night, such an assemblage of brilliant or eccentric citizens who might qualify for inclusion among the beat.
” We practically never sell a book,” says Bill Smith, “but I think the beat generation is a genuine thing. It shouldn’t be called the ‘beat’ genera- tion, tho; it should be called the ‘alien- ated’ generation. These are the young men and women who feel that their grandparents went for faith and religion and wholesomeness before World War I and were duped; their parents went for cynicism and irreligion and licentious- ness after World War I and until the time of World War II and were duped. So what does that leave them?
They have nothing to which they can
attach themselves, They’re – ed-what is known as ‘beat.’ And they have a point!
“No-they won t admit they re beat- niks; they despise the phony posing of the San Francisco beat mob. But I can show you, within a few blocks of this store, dozens of fairly young people who have quit cold in disgust, given up pre- tense of trying to live in this goofy world, ceased trying to make a square
living, gone off to vegetate with one another in a world all their own.
” If they re what s known as ‘beat,’ can you really blame them? ”
Right or wrong, if they feel that way they re in the right territory for demon- strating their boredom with the ortho- dox way of American life. For this is historic ground, in a town that had its own version of the beatnik long before the San Francisco group and the readers of Jack Kerouac ever dreamed of the term.
Maury’s book store is at the corner of North State street and Tooker place. Two doors north is an off-beat saloon called the College of Complexes. Smack between them, running off to the west from their rear walls, is a drab two story structure, long dark and locked, that once was the site of the Dill Pickle club at 10 W. Tooker pl.
Here, from 1917 until the early ’30s, gathered and spoke such literary figures
as Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, and Sherwood Anderson, along with less de- characters who ofttimes brought the gendarmes down on the place.
TheDillPickle tthe forum in town in the ’20s. At the Hotel Essex on the south side were the Seven Arts club, ‘which sometimes seemed more interested in the birds and bees than in more artistic outlets, and the Slow club, so named because its mem- bership was on record as resenting the speed of life in the jazz age.
T he Art Colony club a 1few blocks away from the Dill Pickle club, hard by the Bughouse square sec- tor of Washington square, and the Coal Scuttle met not far distant, at Oak and Rush streets.
” We were a generation that should have been ‘beat,’ tho,” declares Jack Sheridan, a habitue of those clubs, and a familiar (Continued on Page 30)
(Continued from Page 271
figure in Chicago’s Bohemian circles for nearly 40 years. ” But we had a quality of survival. We were adaptable, while these kids today want to roll over and play dead.
“We were talking thru bathtub gin, but we had ideas of doing something. Today’s beat generation attempts lit- erary derision of its elders. We were protesting all the shams and shows of life, deriding our elders on all fronts. Our literary weapon was ridicule, our social weapon was the organization of unions.”
N o colony of left wing thinkers or ora- 1tors was complete, in the early ’20s, without a complement of ‘ Wobblies,’ as the members of the Industrial Workers of the World styled themselves. The I. W. W. still has offices in Chicago, at 2422 N. Halsted st., but it is admittedly no more than a very slight shadow of its old self.
There are only W3 members of the I. W. W. in Chicago these days, and the
TV, Parking Meters
Doom Bughouse Square
national membership is only an approxi- mate 2,500, compared with a peak of 65,000 in 1923, according to W. H. West- man, general secretary-treasurer.
The soapbox orators in Bughouse square speak of the 1. W. W. largely in the past tense. And veteran observers of that open air forum have taken to speaking of Bughouse square itself in much the same way. For the once color- ful meeting place isn’t what it used to be, either. The gatherings aren’t as large, the speeches aren’t as dramatic, the whole atmosphere is milder.
M any think the decline set in when M F. M. (Cholly) Wendorf, ” dean ” of Bughouse square, left town in 1954. Cholly is a one armed spellbinder with a keen wit and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Constitution of the United States, which he can quote verbatim under any kind of challenge. He succeeded to the deanship of the square upon the death of Dr. Ben L. Reitman, ” king of the hobos,” in 1942, and ruled it wisely and well, assigning speakers their turns on the principal rostrum under the street light near the Newberry library.
Now, newly returned from a four year stay in Clarksdale, Miss., with his wife, Cholly thinks Bughouse square has some- thing in common with Hollywood. He admits interest in its product is falling off, and he blames the deterioration largely on movieland s nemesis – tele- vision.
Many Bughouse square old-timers think the Moody Bible institute spoiled the Bohemian atmosphere by sending its young evangelists over to try out their preaching technique. Others be- lieve the installation of parking meters along- the street marked the turning point for the worse and hint darkly that Stanley Pargellis of the Newberry library
across the way was the instigator be- cause he doesn’t crave the oratorial up- roar penetrating his halls of learning. Mr. Pargellis denies this and avers with a twinkle that he thinks Bughouse square is a splendid institution.
Cholly and his colleagues have other rostrums in the unlikely eventuality that Bughouse square ever should go completely out of fashion. Rainbow hall and other chambers at 333 W. North av., for nearly 20 years the location of Ald. Mathias (Paddy) Bauler’s celebrated saloon, the De Luxe Gardens, long have rung with the outcries not only of worthy Democrats and Republicans but of angry young men who foreshadowed today s beatniks.
Here, too, pre the headquarters of the Old Town School of Folk Music, where embryo guitarists sing traditional Amer- ican woes to their own uncertain obli- gato, and of the Proletarian party, an organization so obscure one finds it well nigh impossible to locate a representa- tive. Here, of a Saturday night, gathers the Social Science forum.
the Social Science forum, any student of Chicagoana will realize, is a direct descendant of the Social Science institute-and the Social Science institute was another name for the storied “Hobo college,” which met at 708 N. Clark st. until it, like many a more ambitious enterprise, ran out of funds in the thin ’30s.
Of a recent Saturday evening, with an audience of 30 on hand, speakers cas- the President and the press, union leaders and military leaders, the American Federation of Labor, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
In an early issue: Today’s rebels, beat and unbeat.