One of the nice things about living in Oak Park or River Forest is that the homes are full of history. You don’t have to live in a mansion in the estate section to own a good story in connection with your house.
While the two towns have had their share of local celebrities – Ray Kroc, John Mahoney and Carlos Zambrano, not to mention Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright, have all called the near-west suburbs home – a few infamous former residents were more renowned for their criminal acts.
The home at 1224 N. Kenilworth Ave. in Oak Park was briefly owned by one of those criminal minds. Once home to Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, a member of the Chicago Outfit who played a role in one of Chicago’s most notoriously violent chapters, the house eventually became more celebrated as a long-term family home.
Who was Jack McGurn?
Jack McGurn was born Vincenzo Gibaldi in the early 20th century in Sicily. He immigrated to the United States as an infant with his parents, settling in New York. He moved to Chicago as a teenager and changed his name when he took up boxing, under the premise that boxers with Irish names got more bookings.
John Binder, who runs Oak Park-based Gangster Tours, says that McGurn boxed for years under the name “Battling Jack McGurn.”
Binder, who stops by the Kenilworth house on his tours, says that McGurn’s stepfather purportedly had mob ties and was killed by bootleggers in Chicago in 1923.
Seeking revenge, McGurn gathered friends and killed three to five people he thought were responsible for his stepfather’s death. Around this time, McGurn began working for Al Capone’s gang. Binder says that McGurn became one of the gang’s top killers and was suspected in numerous murders.
Binder says the Chicago police kept a file on McGurn, and while he was a suspect in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, he was never brought to trial due to his alibi. He claimed that he spent the whole day with his girlfriend, Louis Rolfe, and she confirmed this when questioned by the police.
He later married Louise, and they lived in the house on Kenilworth Avenue from 1934 until McGurn’s death in 1936.
While McGurn had some monetary success early in his career with beer distribution rights and as a part owner of Chicago’s Green Mill jazz club, but Binder notes that his later years were not as fortunate.
“He was down on his luck and started to rub his superiors the wrong way,” Binder said. “He was killed gangland-style in 1936 in Chicago.”
Binder visits the former homes of 13 notorious gangsters in Oak Park and River Forest during his two-and-half-hour tours and says that for years from the 1920s through the 1980s, the area was famous for the number of people connected to organized crime who lived here. He states that it’s not really surprising that some many mobsters called the area home.
“By and large, when the hoodlums were looking to buy a house, they were looking for the same things we are: location, short commute to work,” Binder said. “They might’ve wanted good schools for their kids. The upper-income guys wanted nicer houses like you have in parts of Oak Park and River Forest, and they also needed to be near their work in places like the West Side of Chicago, Elmwood Park and Forest Park.”
Binder notes there was also a sense of community among the mob members who lived here.
“They really liked to live near their friends. There was a herd effect,” he said. “They had a tight-knit life and tended to socialize with the people they worked with, more so than the rest of us.”
Binder, who authored “The Chicago Outfit and Al Capone’s Beer Wars,” discusses the careers of local mobsters, the gangsters’ families and interesting features of each home, including secret tunnels, hidden rooms and gangland murders on his tours.
His next tour will run on May 26 and more details can be found at www.chitowngangstertours.com.
For Binder, homes like 1224 N. Kenilworth Ave. make the tour what it is.
“What Pauline and her husband have is a bona fide gangster house,” Binder said. “It’s not just a rumor like a lot of these connections can be. A gangster really lived there.”
The house today
When Pauline Trilik Sharpe’s parents purchased the 1927-era bungalow in the 1960s, it was the amount of space, not the home’s past that drew her parents’ interest.
There was an in-law suite upstairs that was perfect for her grandfather, and there was enough room downstairs for her parents to run a catering business. Although she moved out in 1984, Sharpe moved back in with her husband, Brian, in 2011 to help care for her aging parents.
She says the Jack-and-Jill bedrooms and bathroom on the first floor were ideal for her elderly parents and caregivers. Now that her parents have both passed away, she and Brian are selling the house as they prepare for another chapter in their lives.
Sharpe says there is so much about the house that will appeal to the next owners.
“It’s a typical bungalow, but it’s really big, with two large bays in the front,” Sharpe said. “You can sit in the kitchen and see the rest of the house.”
The home’s arched doorways and original woodwork have been maintained, as has the fireplace’s original tile, and with 2,400 square feet on the first floor and 1,100 on the second floor, there is more than enough room for a family.
In April, Al Capone’s home on the South Side of Chicago sold for more than twice its $109,900 asking price and garnered dozens of offers.
“Some people are just fascinated by that story,” Brian Sharpe said.
A real estate agent with Oak Park’s Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Pauline Trilik Sharpe is listing the house for $595,000, and it will be included on Berkshire Hathaway’s open house event, Paint the Town Cabernet, on May 19.