The famous house no one wanted to buy finally looks like it’s going to sell
By Stefano Esposito@slesposito | email
Ryan Smith has been made an offer he can’t refuse.
“It’s finally going to sell,” said Smith, the listing agent for a squat, brick two-flat in the South Side’s Park Manor neighborhood.
The city has had an uncomfortable relationship with the man who bought that house in 1923. At the time Al and Mae Capone took a liking to a quiet stretch of South Prairie lined with Model T’s and Packards, the home was was worth about $15,000.
Now, it seems, the price is right again. The house has been on and off the market since 2009, with the price dropping from $450,000 to $179,900. It drew no buyers. It went back on the market Feb. 9, listed at $109,900.
“We do have a couple of offers on the table,” Smith said. “We’ll probably get it sold here in the next week or so and put in under contract.”
On a recent morning, a frigid wind blew across the home’s snowy lot, ruffling the needles of two towering fir trees. That didn’t stop half a dozen people dropping by 7244 S. Prairie to take a look at the property — including Victor Anthony. He made an offer on the house two days after it went on the market.
He envisions possibly turning it into an Airbnb property.
“Who wouldn’t want to come visit Chicago from Berlin, Paris, Tokyo — wherever — and stay in the place that Al Capone and his family spent time in?” said Anthony, 56, who owns a number of rental properties in the city and out of state. “It would be a great Chicago experience to go home and tell your friends about.”
For Capone, the modest two-flat was a practical first home for a man just starting to make money but not yet “filthy rich,” said Jonathan Eig, author of the biography, “Get Capone.”
“This is a family of immigrants and they wanted to be in a neighborhood where they would fit in and where they felt comfortable,” Eig said. “He wanted to send his son to school and his wife and mother could go to church every day.”
It was a neighborhood of mom-and-pop grocery stores and kids tossing balls in their backyards — a world away from Capone’s glitzy headquarters, The Metropole Hotel at 23rd and South Michigan. The house on Prairie was Capone’s primary residence until he was sent to prison for tax evasion in 1931. His mother, Theresa, continued to live there until her death in the early 1950s. The home’s most recent owner could not be reached for comment.
Smith has represented the building for the past six months, after it went through a foreclosure.
As of last Tuesday, he’d done 60 showings in less than a week and fielded “countless phone calls.”
The house, built in 1905, offers six bedrooms and two bathrooms. The clean-looking interior has hardwood floors but, Smith admits, could do with some updating.
The listing narrative, which Smith wrote, doesn’t try to hide the home’s past: “Truly a piece of Chicago history.”
There’s no point, Smith said, everyone knows who lived there.
“Is that Big Al’s old hangout?” said Wayne Johnson, 68, who happened to be driving through the neighborhood. “Might be some money buried in some of those tunnels he’s got there.”
Legend has it that there was at one time a tunnel connecting the house to Capone’s garage at the rear of the property.
“That’s mythology,” said Eig, who has been inside the house. According to rumor, “every building he set foot in has a tunnel for him to escape. I don’t believe it most of the time.”
“No, no, no ghosts,” Smith said, with a chuckle.
Christine Moscinski isn’t so sure. She was a real estate broker in 2014 and had a handful of showings.
“Upstairs was normal, but in the basement, you definitely felt a presence — that’s all I can say,” said Moscinski, who described it as a “tingling” feeling.
That wouldn’t bother one of its would-be owners.
“For a city that tries so hard to downplay its organized crime background and history, it’s neat to find a little gem like this that’s so accessible and that you can reach out and touch,” Anthony said.
But with all the current interest, it might not end up being his.
“That’s tough because now it’s a bidding war and I don’t like that situation,” he said. “It’s going to be a real prize to have.”