The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – and a bite of history

ClarkFrom the Saturday, Feb. 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

In 1929, it was just a nondescript red brick garage for the SMC Carthage Company. But by 1949, it had become a packing-and-shipping facility whose famous interior wall attracted far more tourists than it did actual customers, much to its owners’ chagrin. And by 1967, it had been demolished into nothing but a pile of rubble.

These days, the only thing still standing at 2122 North Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood are a few lonely trees and a wrought-iron fence dotting a lawn in front of a nursing home parking lot.

But the barren place is still plenty busy this time of the year.

“This is where history happened!” a young man dressed in black coat and 1920s-style fedora shouted last Saturday evening to a couple dozen bundled-up gawkers as they crowded around him on the sidewalk.

“Rat-a-tat-tat-tat!” he added, mimicking the noise of a tommy gun.

The demonstrative guide and his rapt group were in the midst of a historical walking tour of the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” And as the sightseers listened to the description of the bloody event which took place at 2122 North Clark Street around 10:30 a.m. 86 years ago today on Feb. 14, 1929, I passed by on my way to get a taste of its last surviving vestige – in both a figurative sense and a literal one too.

Across the street at 2121 North Clark Street stands a two-story brownstone that reportedly served as a lookout when five of Al Capone’s henchmen, dressed as police officers, burst into the SMC garage, lined seven of gangster rival Bugs Moran’s associates up against a brick wall and opened fire with machine guns, killing them all.

The alleged lookout building is one of the few remaining on the street from that era. And since 1972, its cozy, dimly lit basement has been the home of the Chicago Oven Grinder & Pizza Company, which is a great spot to get a taste of the city’s famed mob history while feasting on one of the restaurant’s famed pizza pot pies.

Just inside the door of the pizza parlor hangs a framed photo from the 1930s showing a crowd of men milling outside the vacant garage across the street and featuring a caption that read, “Just like Hollywood’s maps of the stars, Chicago’s tourism industry features highlights from the city’s Gangland heyday. Even in the Prohibition era’s ‘Roaring Twenties,” tourists to Chicago felt their ‘trip was a failure unless it included a view of Capone out for a spin.’”

As the city’s most notorious gangster killing, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was also the climax of Capone’s reign as it soon brought the unwanted attention of federal authorities upon him.

When the old garage was torn down, a Canadian businessman named George Patey purchased 414 of the bullet-marked bricks from its wall, intending to use them in a restaurant. Instead, he re-created the wall in a wax museum before later touring malls and exhibitions across the U.S.

Eventually, the bricks were installed behind urinals in the men’s washroom of a Vancouver nightclub and shielded with Plexiglass, which featured targets for, well, aiming. But today, the surviving bricks are more appropriately displayed at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which opened on Feb. 14, 2012.

Besides the framed photo inside its door, the Chicago Oven Grinder & Pizza Company doesn’t go over the top in its homage to the Massacre across the way. But I was amused by how the place accepts only cash payments, which is something Capone himself would surely appreciate.