Saint Valentine's Day Massacre: an Edgewater Connection
By: Chris Barbuschak
On a cold snowy Saint Valentine’s morning in 1929, a Cadillac sedan pulled up outside the SMC Cartage warehouse on 2122 N. Clark Street. Out stepped a group of men, two dressed like police officers, carrying machine guns. They burst into the warehouse surprising seven members of Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang. The men ordered the gangsters to line up and face a brick wall. Assuming that this was a routine police raid, the surprised men obeyed. The armed men then opened fire riddling the seven men with many rounds of ammunition. They then quickly fled the scene of the most astonishing gangland massacre in history.
One of the men slain in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was Edgewater resident, “Al” Weinshank. At the time of his death, he was listed as living at the recently opened apartment hotel at 6320 N. Kenmore. Although linked to one of the most gruesome murders in Chicago history, little is known about Weinshank. Albert Richard Weinshenker was born on December 23, 1893 in Chicago to Russian immigrants Edward and Sophie Weinshenker. At age 19, he married Irene Ruth O’Brian on August 3, 1912. They had one son, Myron, born on March 8, 1914, but he died two years later. Albert’s 1917 World War I draft registration card indicates his last name changed to “Weinshank” and he was living with his wife at 2610 N. Whipple St. His occupation is listed as a traffic superintendent for the Walden W. Shaw Corporation at 1006 S. Wabash Ave. Shaw later changed its name to Chicago Yellow Cab Co.
It is uncertain when Weinshank became involved in gangland activities but it is possible it started with his involvement in the taxi business. During this time, the still developing taxi industry faced fierce competition among rivals for dominance over taxi stands and other rights. Beginning in 1915 and climaxing into the 1920s, the “Taxi Wars” were waged between rival Chicago taxi companies predominantly the Yellow Cab and Checker companies. It was common for cabs to be blown up or fights and shootings between cabbies.
An August 15, 1920 Chicago Tribune article mentions Weinshank as the manager of a Yellow Cab Taxi garage at 1153 W. Monroe. The garage was bombed in the middle of the night with dynamite injuring one worker. When questioned by police, Weinshank believed the bombing was caused by a rival taxicab company.
It is known that Weinshank was involved in activities with the North Side Gang while lead by Dean O’Banion, Hymie Weiss, and Vincent Drucci. During the Prohibition Era, the North Side Gang was heavily involved in gambling, bootlegging, unions, front businesses, and other criminal activities. They were also the fierce rivals of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit gang. When Bugs Moran assumed leadership of the gang, Weinshank continued to stay on. According to some accounts, Weinshank was so tough he earned the nickname “Gorrilla Al.” Weinshank was also a club owner of a speakeasy called the “Alcazar” located in Uptown at 4207 Broadway. Bugs Moran provided the financial backing in the operation of the club. Today the site is a parking lot.
Under Moran, the North Side Gang entered the cleaning and dyeing industry. Previously the entire industry in Chicago was monopolized by the Master Cleaners and Dyers Association. Master Cleaners targeted small independent cleaners and Laundromats, pressuring them into joining and paying “dues.” This caused prices to rise causing customers to take their cleaning and dying work to the suburbs. In response, many cleaning shops turned to Capone and Moran to help them out. The Central Cleaning Company, a partnership of many small North Side cleaning shops, approached Moran and paid him to protect their businesses from the violence and threats of the Master Cleaners and Dryers. Moran obliged, and installed Weinshank as a top official and later president of the Central Cleaners and Dyers Association located at 2705 Fullerton Ave.
On February 14, 1929, Weinshank walked into the garage that was the bootlegging headquarters for the gang. It is unclear why Weinshank was at the 2122 N. Clark Street warehouse that day. Perhaps he was there to get liquor for his speakeasy. Regardless, it was Weinshank’s physical resemblance to Moran and choice of similar clothing that set in motion the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
It is widely purported that Al Capone arranged for his rival, Bugs Moran and his North Side Gang, to be eliminated that day. He planned for a bootlegger to sell Moran’s gang smuggled whiskey at a cheap price. The shipment would be delivered to the Clark Street garage on the morning of February 14 where Moran and his gang would personally receive it.
That morning, Moran was running late. As Weinshank entered the garage, two lookouts across the street mistook him for Moran, and prematurely telephoned the killers to begin their plan of execution. Weinshank was instantly killed along with James Clark, Peter Gusenberg, Adam Heyer, John May, and Dr. Reinhardt H. Schwimmer. Peter’s brother, Frank Gusenberg, survived for three hours after taking fourteen bullets, but refused to identify who the killers were before he died. No one was ever tried for the massacre.
Weinshank was identified by his cousin, former state representative and attorney Maurice T. Weinshank. The coroner’s report revealed about nine bullets downed him. He was buried in Waldheim Jewish Cemetery in Forest Park next to his son, Myron.
The Edgewater building at 6320 N. Kenmore, where Weinshank lived, was a six-story apartment hotel designed by Huzagh & Hill in 1927. It was originally christened “The Vater,” named after the building’s owner Donald Vater; however, it appears that name never stuck. In subsequent years, the building was simply referred to as the “6320 Kenmore.” Designed in the Georgian architectural style, the façade of the building had a unique mixed pattern of face brick. When it opened, it had sixty furnished 1-3 bedrooms, a recreation and card room, baby carriage rooms and linen rooms. It is uncertain when Weinshank moved into the building, but he could not have lived there for very long since the building was completed in 1928. As of the 1930 census, his widow Irene was still living in their $60 a month apartment.
Coincidently, three days after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre on February 17, 1929, Mont Tennes Jr., the nephew of Chicago gambling king Mont Tennes, was stabbed by his nineteen-year-old wife in his 6320 Kenmore apartment. After a night of drinking with friends, Tennes and his wife, Helen, returned home. Mrs. Tennes demanded that her husband go to bed, but he refused. In response, she procured a butcher’s knife and stabbed Mont, puncturing his right lung. Mont survived the stabbing and refused to prosecute his wife.
Over the years, 6320 Kenmore gradually deteriorated, suffering the fate of many of the common corridor buildings in the Winthrop-Kenmore vicinity. Loyola University purchased the building in 1981, where it underwent a $1.2 million rehabilitation. The building, renamed “Holy Cross Hall,” became a dormitory for students until it was decommissioned in Spring 2012. The building was demolished last summer for more “green space.” Edgewater’s connection to an event that defined Chicago gangland now only exists as an empty lot and a few scattered bricks, much like the scene of the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre itself.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Ancestry.com, Guns and Roses: The Untold Story of Dean O’Banion, Chicago’s Big Shot Before Al Capone by Rose Keefe