A grand home, layered with history

The Grunow/Accardo home will be on this year's Infant Welfare holiday walk

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Show/Hide Gallery

By Garret Eakin

If architecture represents who we are and what we strive to be — living in one of the most imposing homes in River Forest makes a statement. The English Tudor mansion, commonly known as the Grunow/Accardo estate, at 915 Franklin Ave., contains 24 rooms within its 22,000-square-foot interior, erected by the Buurma Brothers for William Grunow, a radio pioneer.

The complex structure was built in 1929 with an asymmetrical façade clad in brick and stone with copper details. A 7-foot-high black iron fence with gold accents provides security for the estate, complete with two electronic gates for access. One masonry gable contains an elaborate carved stone entrance and a two story stacked window pattern forming the elaborate overlapping steep peaks. A second gable in red brick and cut stone is faced with a three-part chimney with intricate diagonal brick patterns. The dramatic pitched roofs are finished in red terracotta tile.

The Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society (IWS) presents its 15th Annual Holiday Housewalk and Market on Dec. 6 and 7, featuring tours of five extraordinary homes, including the Grunow/Accardo mansion in River Forest. The current owners have restored the estate to its original design while updating to provide modern amenities for their family. Four other home owners have also graciously volunteered to open their holiday-decorated homes on behalf of the mission of the IWS Children's Clinic, located at 328 Lake St. in Oak Park.

The proceeds benefit the clinic, which provides medical, dental and social services to children under 18 from 50 west Cook County suburban communities and the city of Chicago, whose families are unable to afford the cost of private care. Tickets for the housewalk and market are $40 in advance or $45 at the door ($30 for senior citizens). Advance pricing tickets are available until Dec. 3 online at www.childrenscliniciws.org.

Not only is the estate one of the largest homes in the area, it is full of history. Tony Accardo, the infamous gangster, lived in the house from 1951 to '63. As the boss of the "Chicago Outfit" he was eager to display his success. The manse was the perfect physical symbol of his illicit power and ill-gotten gains.

Accardo advised his fellow mobsters to keep their heads down in low profile so as not to attract attention from the legal authorities. He lived unobtrusively among the respectable lawyers, doctors and businessmen in this quiet up-scale community. "Big Tuna," as he was known, only spent 12 years in the house, then moved to a much more modest ranch-style house in River Forest, taking his own advice about conducting business in low profile. Ironically, Accardo, who lived a lifetime in crime, never spent a night in jail and died of natural causes at 86 years old. He escaped the fate of the equally notorious Sam Giancana, who was murdered in his Oak Park home.

The opulent interior of the River Forest estate contains nine bedrooms, including six master suites one with a black onyx bathtub and gold fixtures, accessed via a dramatic mahogany spiral staircase in a 2½-story foyer. The monumental 25 x 40-foot living room has restored mahogany wall panels, a cherry parquet floor, floor-to-ceiling windows, twin crystal chandeliers and a pipe organ. A modern kitchen and breakfast room are connected to the large family room.

The lower level contains an enclosed swimming pool, finished in blue mosaic tiles. Adjacent to the pool is a two-lane bowling alley and an English pub/billiard room that can seat 50 people. A walk-in safe is located in a rear area. The owners have graciously opened their lovingly restored home for this great cause.

Oak Parker Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.

Reader Comments

12 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

John Binder  

Posted: June 23rd, 2016 5:40 PM

His intimates called him Joe Batters or a shortened version of that nickname. That nickname goes back to at least 1930, but probably even earlier. The press stuck him with the nickname "Big Tuna" based on large tuna he caught off Wedgeport, Nova Scotia around 1949. I'm sure no one who knew him ever called him "Big Tuna."

Paul Clark  

Posted: September 28th, 2015 12:19 PM

In the 1970s, after Accardo had moved to his more modest ranch house, I used to deliver groceries to his home. I often would deliver to Paul Harvey's house on the same trip; Harvey lived just a couple of blocks away. One of the most famous radio voices and one of the most notorious gangsters -- only in America. (Neither one of them tipped.)

Linda Lemke Zimmerman from Grand Haven  

Posted: September 27th, 2015 6:28 PM

What a beautiful home! No doubt Tony Accardo was a dangerous man and I don't think people forget that. However, to many of us, the subject of the outfit and its members is fascinating. The current owners are choosing to use the home's history to benefit charity. Very generous of them.

Ginny Lesak Jakoubek  

Posted: July 6th, 2015 9:12 PM

My grandmother, Bessie Lesak did domestic work at the Accardo home. She took the bus from Berwyn and did cleaning, etc. When I was a young girl she told us stories about the gold fixtures in the bathrooms and the bowling alley & swimming pool. She cleaned those gold fixtures! She also told us that she rarely saw Tony.

Mark Accardo  

Posted: July 6th, 2015 7:40 PM

He was know as Joey Batters because he used a baseball to beat people and Big Tuna because he alledgedly caught a 200lb or so pound Tuna fish he was known as both im pretty sure i would know he is after all my great-Grandpa

Bobby Long from BERWYN  

Posted: November 29th, 2013 9:16 AM



Posted: November 19th, 2013 10:24 AM

Per the NYT: "In the press he was often called Tony (Big Tuna) Accardo, a nickname given him after he caught a 400-pound tuna off Florida in the early 1950's...But inside the "Outfit," as its members called the Chicago syndicate, Mr. Accardo's sobriquet was the more sinister "Joe Batters" -- apparently a reference to his predilection for using baseball bats as a weapon."

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 18th, 2013 6:31 PM

How about "Tony the murdering piece of s__t"? They act like this guy was some celebrity because he ran a criminal organization and killed people.

Dante A. Bacani from Chicago  

Posted: November 18th, 2013 5:14 PM

I heard he was also known as Benny the Groin, Sammy the Schnazz, Elmer the Fudd, Tubby the Tuba, and once as Miss Phyllis Levine. ;-)

Jimmy from River Forest  

Posted: November 18th, 2013 4:27 PM

Sorry Lisa- The "tour" doesn't have the real details...grew up with the family...The "Big Tuna" moniker was known to all who knew him.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 17th, 2013 6:58 PM

Tony Accardo was in fact known by both monikers. He was called Big Tuna for decades, for the Bluefin tuna he caught sport fishing. He was also known in mob circles as Joe Batters, after Al Capone praised his brutal handiwork with a baseball bat that (allegedly) killed two fellow mobsters.

Lisa from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2013 3:03 PM

Sorry but Tony Accardo was not known as Big Tuna, he was known as Joey Batters...took the gangster tour a few years back and the author of the book on Chicago mobsters said that is a mistake a lot of people make.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2018

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad