As a millionaire with dozens of profitable businesses, politicians in your pocket and a private army at your disposal, you can entertain any whimsy that comes to mind. When your whimsy demands an on-call barber and personal ice cream parlor, your whimsy will be satisfied. If you are the notorious gangster Al Capone, and you choose to indulge your whimsy atop the roof of one of your factories, well, no one is going to tell you it’s a silly idea.
That factory currently is occupied by a U-Haul storage and rental facility near the corner of Fullerton and Pulaski. Called “the Fortress of Logan Square,” it boasts 400,000 square feet on a compound of seven acres.
The Former Life of the Fortress
Manager Joe Alberts knows a lot about the building’s history. He owns a number of archival photos of the structure’s previous incarnations, a musical instrument manufacturer and a maker of novelty machines. Of course, the Capone connection inspires the most interest.
When U-Haul restored the facility, they incorporated Art Deco touches in the showroom, setting it up to resemble a bank from the 1930s. Alberts says it is not entirely clear what Capone’s stake in the building was. The official tenant at the time was the Mills Novelty Co., which manufactured coin-operated entertainment machines, jukeboxes and slot machines starting in 1926.
Alberts says during U-Haul’s renovations, workers turned up a number of old bottles, some clearly for liquor. He says perhaps Capone was shipping illegal booze around the country inside the factory’s legitimate products. Of course, that is only speculation. Those bottles now sit in Alberts’ office.
“We want to keep the history of this place in the building,” he says, but admits Capone’s violent reputation has piqued the imagination of his staff, adding that some of his employees have reported seeing seemingly supernatural activity such as flickering lights or shadows of mysterious figures.
“We took a look around the incinerator out back, to see if there were any old bones out there,” he said.
Whatever’s Capone’s connection with the business, the kingpin held court in the factory frequently enough that he felt the need for some comforts such as his roof-top barbershop and ice cream parlor.
The exterior of the barbershop is visible from the building’s exterior, located in a tower-like extension on the building’s façade on Fullerton. Inside, the room is long disused and bereft of much of its original furnishings. The windows are broken and bricked over. The dark wood of the barbershop has not seen the sun in many years. Its chandelier is now only a dangling chain. The barber chair is just a scar on the floor. Nonetheless, it isn’t hard to imagine a group of wiseguys plotting their schemes, fedoras on their knees and faces lathered for a shave, the barber struggling to stop his hands trembling with the straight razor.
A couple of dozen yards across the fortress’s roof is the ice cream parlor, converted from a utility room. The freezer is all that remains. Other than the incongruous location, it is remarkably similar to those you’d see in use today.
It’s hard to imagine Capone licking a cone of Neapolitan here. “It seems to me to be a bit bigger than he’d need for just ice cream,” Alberts says.
Speculation on Capone will continue for years. Perhaps an unlucky rival shared space with the frozen delights. Or maybe Chicago’s most notorious mobster just really, really liked ice cream.