Friday, March 6, 2009

Colosimo's First Brothel

"Big Jim" James Colosimo started his first brothel at this location, 2001 S. Archer, known as "The New Brighton". Interestingly, at around the same time, Paul Kelly, the famed leader of New York City's Five Points gang, also opened his headquarters on the Lower East Side under the same name. Both men began long-lived criminal empires: the Five Pointers were later absorbed into the New York mafia, while Colosimo founded the Chicago Outfit, which would continue major crime operations in Chicago, Florida, and Las Vegas through the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Big Jim's career began in 1897, when he found a job working as a street sweeper, cleaning horse manure out of the alleys in pre-automobile Chicago. He quickly moved up from this lowly job to alley inspector in 1901, a position that gave him substantial ability to extort business and home owners. He also began unionizing the street sweepers, working together with Italian political power Tony D'Andrea and "Dago Mike" Carrozzo to create a powerful voting block of immigrant voters who could be purchased for the right price.

Colosimo had always dabbled in the underworld, working briefly in the business of writing Black Hand extortion letters, and pimping a group of streetwalkers in the old Custom House Place red light district. By 1902, however, he had left low-level criminality behind and was charting a path to becoming the city's first king of vice. He opened a pool room with gambling apparatus, renting space above one of "Mushmouth" Johnson's later resorts, the Frontenac, on 22nd and Dearborn. He also met and married a young madam in the Levee named Victoria Morseco.

Moresco grew up in the Northside Italian conclave known as Little Hell or Little Sicily, but as a teenager became involved in prostitution, and rose quickly to the position of madam at the brothel at 2001 S. Archer. In 1902, at age 20, she married Colosimo, who was three years her elder, and taught him the business of running a "disorderly hotel". He quickly took over the management of his wife's brothel, renaming it "The New Brighton".

Later, he opened a second brothel next door on Armour, which he named in honor of his wife, who operated the business for the remaining years of their marriage, "The Victoria" (Armour Ave. was vacated south of 20th St. to make way for the Hilliard Towers housing project in the 1960s; also, the rest of Armour was renamed Federal Street). He also opened a restaurant, the Brighton Cafe, on the first floor of the New Brighton.

By 1909, Colosimo had convinced Johnny Torrio (coincidentally, a member of Paul Kelly's gang) to move to Chicago from New York and take charge of his prostitution operations, headquartered at the New Brighton. Upon Colosimo's death in 1920, Torrio took over the entire organization, leading it into the Prohibition era.

Thus, it was Torrio who was cited as the proprietor for the New Brighton in 1914, when Chicago mayor Carter Harrison, Jr., was finally forced by public acclaim into closing down the Levee, and on May 30, 1914, the New Brighton's business license was revoked. The Tribune noted that Harrison's reason for shutting down the brothel "was not so much the activities of women as the character of the man habitues," an indication that the New Brighton was no peer of the Everleigh Club in class or amenities.

Through Colosimo's deep influence with aldermen Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna and "Bathhouse" John Coughlin, he was finally able to reopen the New Brighton, though most of his other gambling houses, drug dens, and brothels were closed as public pressure on the police forced the end of open vice in Chicago, forcing him to expand further into the suburbs, a process which Torrio and Al Capone continued in the 1920s.

The spot where the New Brighton stood -- and where most of the major Levee institutions stood -- has been completely vacated and turned into parkland surrounding the Hilliard Towers apartment buildings.

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