Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Notorious Uptown

We recently found a couple of books, Return to the Scene of the Crime, and its sequel, Return Again to the Scene of the Crime, by Richard Lindberg, that go to infamous places in Chicago, tell the stories of what happened there, and mention what's there now.

Uptown and its gangster past are well-represented (although the author makes disapproving comments about present-day Uptown). We recommend the books to anyone who might be interested in Uptown's -- and Chicago's -- past, and finding out who walked these streets and inhabited these buildings before we did.

Inspired by the books, Uptown Update made a few trips to places mentioned. We'll do an occasional series visiting scenes of Uptown's Notorious Past.

Today, in honor of Johnny Depp and Public Enemies filming in Uptown, The John Dillinger Edition:

Dillinger's Hideout: 4310 North Clarendon. In autumn 1933, Dillinger and his gang rented a "stately" six-room apartment on the third floor. They were "good neighbors" and kept to themselves, according to people in the building, and spent much time sitting on the veranda and talking. In mid-November, the place was raided, but Dillinger had gotten advance notice and was long gone.

Dillinger's Funeral Home: 4508 (was 4506) Sheridan. Dillinger was shot near the Biograph Theatre in July 1934. He was taken to McCready Funeral Home in Uptown, now a private residence, where his father claimed his remains. Thousands of curious Chicagoans lined Sheridan Road to see his body, but were turned away. The "M" on the turret of the home is a reminder of its days as McCready's. Several of our older Uptown neighbors remember going to funerals here, although no one admits to seeing Dillinger.

Other nearby Dillinger sites:

  • 3512 North Halsted (at Brompton). After escaping from an Indiana jail in March 1934, Dillinger went directly to Chicago, and hid out for a night just a block from the Town Hall police station. He stayed at the 2nd floor apartment belonging to the sister of his girlfriend, Billie Frechette.
  • 3504 North Sheffield. The Sheffield Hotel was a bordello belonging to Anna Sage, the Lady in Red, who betrayed Dillinger to the cops.
  • 1123 West Argyle. The offices of Dr. Harold Cassidy, who performed plastic surgery on Dillinger in May 1934 to disguise his appearance.


  1. This is really interesting! Thanks Uptown Update!

  2. What did they say about present-day Uptown?

  3. He makes the present-day conditions sound like Hell's Kitchen of yore. We all have valid complaints about parts of Uptown, but the author sees nothing good and no hope.

    "The former McCready funeral home ... is a private residence nested among a row of low-income SROs and other residential buildings in a section of Uptown caught in the grind of gangs, drugs, and street crime."

    Whereas I think of it as the block with Pollo Loco, where I got my business cards printed, and around the corner from the vintage building where my friend lives.

    About another property: "One senses a certain loss of dignity. Like other residential and commercial sections of Uptown, this building suffers from urban decay and neglect. When its street-level retail addresses were not defaced by the ugly collage of discount stores that are there now..."

    And on and on. It gets a bit wearisome to read after a while.

  4. Yes, thank you Uptown Update. This makes me actually feel like I live in a cool neighborhood.

  5. Another one of Lindberg's books that is quite good is, Chicago by Gaslight: A History of Chicago's Netherworld 1880-1920.

  6. Does anyone know what streets the movie is being filmed on? They usually bring in old cars and other props. Interesting to check out.

  7. Decay, neglect, ugly collage of discount stores, SROs ..., gangs.

    Sounds like the hammer hitting the nail, to me.

    Uptown just ain't what she used to be.

    But, we'll get the ol' girl back into her glorious evening gown of yore. I have no doubt.

  8. The Dillinger movie was filmed on Newport Ave. in Lakeview about a month ago - complete with a temporary brick paver street, vintage lighting and old cars. They probably used Newport as it is about the only block with all original buildings intact and has landmark designation.

    Too bad they didn't film on a residential street in Uptown, although most streets are not 100% original to the era of film they are making.

  9. For anyone interested who has never seen it the Magnolia Malden web site has a fun history animation about the Uptown gangsters:

    History TV

  10. There's also a really cool picture of the inside of the Rainbo Ballroom (most recently the Rainbo roller rink before it was torn down for condos) back in the day when Dillinger went there the night of his birthday.

    Uptown Chicago History

  11. According to comments here, they're supposed to shoot around the Aragon and Kinetic Playground on May 12-16.

  12. Return to the Scene of the Crime was published in 1999, so the description of the area was probably fairly accurate. I have only been here for four years, but the area has noticeably improved even in that short time.

  13. I'm not saying it isn't accurate, just wearying to read over and over. None of the good and positive is mentioned, just "there is poverty and it's ugly and gray" over and over. I've never found it as bleak and ugly as Lindberg paints it, and I've been here a while.

    Oh, well, to each his own.

  14. Interesting thing this Dilliger movie and history. I live a block away from this Dillinger residence on Clarendon and I used to live a couple blocks from his penthouse on Surf.

    I remember going to the Biograph theatre and in the front window was a map and on the map were two cities listed Chicago and Lima Ohio. I grew up in Lima and remembered my grandmother saying that in the 1930's she saw Dillinger in Lima. She said Lima was known as Little Chicago at that time. So that would make sense that Lima would be listed on the map.

    Then I come across this article about the same thing. Here's a link.


  15. Sorry that last link should have been...


  16. Ray Mccready was a friend of my father.I remember visiting his funeral home in the 60s when I was a kid. that area was changing when I was a teenager and I remember if you wanted a cheap crappy apartment you could find it there.

  17. I may as well put my two cents worth of Dillinger history to the dialog.

    Ray McCready was a family friend and my father had workrd for Ray during the time of Dillinger's death. Many of my family members remains were take to this funeral home. I remember my first visit to this home in 1948 for my uncles funeral. I was only eight years old at the time.

    Ray had many friends in the Chicago Police Department and knew the Cook County Coroner. It was not uncommon for the police or Coroner to call Ray to pick up bodies, which they did in this case with Dillinger and my father was assigned to to pick up his body.

    I remember my father telling me how mobs of people and a long line outside the funeral home wanting to view Dillinger's body. Ray and my dad prepared the body to be transported to Indiana.

  18. I grew up in Uptown and lived in several addresses throughout the years. My most memorable was when I lived on the 2nd floor apartment that looked over the right side of the home. I was about 6 yrs old at the time and remember how gloomy the apartment seemed to always be and looking out the side window seeing them bringing in bodies. Years later, I had several family members that had their services at MaCready. I was told that my brother's funeral was the last funeral held there before it was turned into a residence.