The Lexington Hotel, located on the corner of 22nd St. and Michigan Avenue on Chicago’s South Side, was the headquarters and nerve center of Al Capone’s bootlegging and racketeering empire. Behind the innocent-looking closets of sheets and hotel uniforms were secret doors to stairways leading to dozens of rooms, such as the shooting gallery where Capone and his gangster cronies practiced their aim. Other secret passageways led to Capone’s own medicine chest, and to taverns and bordellos connected to one another by hidden tunnels. Other tunnels led to hatches on the Levee which provided routes of escape for mobsters fleeing from raids by police and rival gangs.
The Lexington Hotel was originally built in 1892 with design by architect Clinton Warren, who had also designed the Congress Hotel. The Lexington was rather hastily constructed of brick and terra-cotta, in order to accommodate the masses expected to come visit Chicago for the World’s Fair in 1893. President Benjamin Harrison once gave an address from the balcony to a huge audience in the street beneath. Al Capone moved into the Lexington in July, 1928 and, registered officially as “George Phillips”, he occupied the luxurious 5th floor suite of rooms. Capone’s office had a view of Michigan Avenue.
In the lobby an armed gunmen in a hotel uniform carefully watched all the front doors, and other guards armed with machine guns patrolled the floors above. From here he directed his far-flung and highly profitable illicit operations until October, 1931 when he was escorted from the hotel to prison. The pinnacle of Al Capone’s success – and also the harbinger of his downfall, was the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929, which effectively wiped out the last of Capone’s gangster competitors, but also brought the wrath of the public and federal government (who sent Eliot Ness to the rescue) down on his head.
Al Capone reputedly had some vaults on the lowest levels of Lexington Hotel where he had stashed his loot away. These vaults were so well-hidden that even Capone’s nearest associates didn’t know where they were. In the 1980’s, after the Lexington’s glory days were long since past, a woman’s construction company looked into the possibility of restoring the Lexington Hotel. Researchers exploring the crumbling ruins of the hotel located sealed rooms where the hidden Capone fortune reputedly reposed.
In 1986 Geraldo Rivera, the well-known TV talk show host, took a live national TV audience to the spot in his immaculate shirt uniform for a modern-day treasure hunt. IRS agents were also in attendance in anticipation of their share of the loot. Rivera’s crew blasted through the 7,000 lb. concrete wall which was thought to be the secret hiding place of Capone’s fortune … but when the smoke cleared, only an old sign and a few empty bottles were found. If there had once been a fortune there, it had long since been taken away.