Friday, February 20, 2015

400 Block South Clark Street, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [400 Block South Clark Street, Chicago (ca.1890-1903) /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

While not on most, if any, architectural tours, this group of buildings comprise the last surviving cluster of what was once one of Chicago's most people-packed lodging house districts. A half-block stretch of structures built from around 1890 to the early 1900s, the upper floors of these nondescript looking facades gave shelter to hundreds of thousands of men (no women allowed) struggling to make a living in the big city.

  [400 Block South Clark Street, Chicago, Otis Building, 416 S. Clark Street, Chicago (ca. 1890) /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Located near several of the city's railroad terminals, Clark Street, from Van Buren to 12th, was lined with shops and saloons on the ground floor and lodging cubicles on the floors above. Men could rent a bed from 15 to 25 cents for the night, but if you were really down on your luck, a bed of sorts could be had in the dingy basement for 10 cents a night. Some owners actually provide accommodations that were relatively clean, although most were in it for a quick profit and clean sheets and bathroom facilities were in short supply. But, for the low-paid or no-paid worker, the lodging house was perhaps a little better than spending the night sleeping on the street, or in the local police district lock-up.

  [400 Block South Clark Street, Chicago, Workingmen's Exchange, 426 S. Clark Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The ground floor space at 426-28 S. Clark was once home to the Workingmen's Exchange, the "world's greatest barrel house." Owned by one of the Chicago's more notoriously infamous city council members Alderman Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna, the saloon served more than 15,000 glasses of beer a day. With a bar 84 feet in length, and a room 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, Kenna could pack 'em in, and was said to have racked in over $100,000 in profit in 1903. Kenna's building included clusters of cubicled lodging beds on the floors above the saloon which brought the crafty city official even more income, on top of the money he also collected from various constituents and city employees for various services. Prohibition put Kenna out of the legal beer business in 1919, but his acquaintance Al Capone made sure that the Alderman was well taken care of as beer flowed throughout the city, prohibited or not.
Always considered a blight on the nearby thriving business and commercial district of Chicago's Loop, eventually the derelict lodging houses fell, one by one. And although the surrounding neighborhood would be unrecognizable to Hinky Dink and his beer swilling cohorts, two of the buildings still provide lodging-style housing - for "Men Only." 

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