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mulberry-bend

Address: Mulberry Street Between Worth and Bayard Streets

Status: Partially Demolished in 1897 Now Columbus Park

 

A maze of back alleys and hidden passageways, the Mulberry Bend on Mulberry Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. From the Dead Rabbits to the Gambino Crime Family, the Bend’s horrific conditions served as an incubator for the gangs of New York. Today, only a tiny sliver of this infamous neighborhood still exists.

 

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

 

According to 19th century social reformer Jacob Riis:

“Where Mulberry street crooks like an elbow within hail of the old depravity of the Five Points, is “the Bend” foul core of New York’s slums.”–Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

 

Mulberry Street was the aorta that pumped life though the slums of the Five Points. Located between Worth and Bayard Streets, The Mulberry Bend was a place where the poorest of the poor scrambled to survive. A home for the unwanted and unwelcome, the street existed as a multi-racial, multi ethnic, polyglot community, unplanned and predating the city’s grid system.

 

The Mulberry Bend. 1)Ragpicker’s Row 50 ½ Mulberry Street 2) Bandits Roost 59 ½ Mulberry Street. 3) Bottle Alley 47 Baxter Street.

The Mulberry Bend. 1)Ragpicker’s Row 50 ½ Mulberry Street 2) Bandits Roost 59 ½ Mulberry Street. 3) Bottle Alley 47 Baxter Street.

From Country Lane to Urban Slum

 

In the days before the American Revolution, the street was named for a grove of Mulberry trees on the banks of the Collect Pond, one of Manhattan’s freshwater reservoirs. The Pond’s marshlands forced engineers to route the country lane in a west to east bend, which would become Mulberry Bend.

 

By 1810, Mulberry Street became urbanized. Heavy industry congregated around the Collect Pond. Slaughterhouses, potters and blacksmiths choked the shores of the Collect, while raw sewage from the slums of Mulberry Street ran into the water, transforming the pond into a polluted bog.

 

The freshwater Collect Pond quickly became a toxic bog. It was drained in 1817 and became the Mulberry Bend.

The freshwater Collect Pond quickly became a toxic bog. It was drained in 1817 and became the Mulberry Bend.

 

In 1817 the City Council drained the pond by digging a canal, which still runs under Canal Street today. The city then filled and graded the empty pond and Mulberry bend was born.

 

Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. Image via Museum of the City of New York

Mulberry Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. Image via Museum of the City of New York

The Bend

 

By the time of the Potato Famine, the Bend ranked as one of the densely populated urban areas in the world. For most of the 1800s the Bend’s population consisted of Irish immigrants and free African Americans, but by the 1880s an onrush of Italian overtook the squalid streets. Day and night on the bend, peddlers hawked stale bread, questionable meats and stolen goods.

 

The slums of Mulberry Bend in the heart of the Five Points. Image Via the Museum of the City of New York.

The slums of Mulberry Bend in the heart of the Five Points. Image Via the Museum of the City of New York.

 

Squeezed by landlords and forced to live in apartments crammed well beyond capacity, diseases wracked the neighborhood annually, accumulating an astronomical infant mortality rate. In 1888, over 3,000 infants died on Mulberry Street before reaching 6 years of age.

 

Mulberry Bend was the epicenter of incredible poverty. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

Mulberry Bend was the epicenter of incredible poverty. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

The poorest in the Bend, lived and worked in maze of back alleys stretching over to Baxter (then Orange St.) Street. With few options and little hope, it’s no wonder the denizens of the Bend’s back alleys turned to a life of crime.

 

The Mulberry Underground

 

A warren of hidden passageways and back alleys, with insidious names such as Rag Picker’s Row, Bandit’s Roost and Dynamite Alley, the underworld utilized the ramshackle architecture of the Bend to their advantage, hiding from both the police and sanitary inspectors. According to Jacob Riis:

 

“The whole district, is a maze of narrow, often unsuspected passageways-necessarily, for there is scare a lot that has not two, three, or four tenements upon it, swarming with unwholesome crowds.”–Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

 

Rag Pickers, the lowest echelon of New York society, congregated in Rag Picker’s Row, another of the Bend’s enclaves where they would collect their rags scavenged from the city’s trash. Nearby at 50 ½ Mulberry Street, visitors could find Bandit’s Roost, a favorite haunt of murderers and thieves dating back to the antebellum period.

 

Bottle Alley. Image Via Museum of the City of New York.

Bottle Alley. Image Via Museum of the City of New York.

A Lineage of Crime

 

The Dead Rabbits, the Roach Guards, the Whyos, The Five Pointers and eventually the Mafia all called Mulberry Bend home. During the Civil War, the Dead Rabbits, an Irish street gang,  headquartered their gang on Mulberry Street, where they committed many depredations during the Draft Riots. By the 1870s, a gang called the Whyos, known for their call “Why-o”, dominated Mulberry Street and much of the Five Points. Naturally, the warrens of Mulberry Bend became their homeland. According to Herbert Ashbury:

 

“The Whyos maintained their principal rendezvous in Mulberry Bend, slightly north and east of the Five Points proper…”–Herbet Ashbury, Gangs of New York

 

5

Bandits Roost. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

As demographics changed around the turn of the century from Irish to Italian, the Mafia emerged as lords of the Bend, but their reign would not last long. Appalled by the horrid conditions, the infant mortality rate and the rampant murder, photo-journalist Jacob Riis declared war on the slums with an unknown technological advancement, the camera.

 

Jacob Riis: Photo-Reformer

 

Armed with nothing more than his camera, Riis explored the back alleys, saloons and rear tenements, documenting the squalor of the Bend and other slums. Riis published his work in a landmark text titled: How the Other Half Lives. A best seller, Riis’ book  led to the demolition of Mulberry Bend.

 

Photo journalist and social reformer, Jacob Riis, revealed the horrors of The Mulberry Bend.

Photo journalist and social reformer, Jacob Riis, revealed the horrors of The Mulberry Bend.

 

The End of Mulberry Bend: Columbus Park

 

In 1897, the city completely demolished Mulberry Bend, except for a tiny sliver of land. In its place, the city erected the Five Points Park, hoping that the clean air and grass would reduce crime and give children a play to play. The largely Italian population of Mulberry Street renamed the park Columbus Park in 1910.

 

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

John Gotti's Ravenite Social Club

Address: 247 Mulberry Street

Status: Shoe Store http://cydwoq-ny.com/

 

On first glance, 247 Mulberry Street looks like nothing more than another high-end boutique in NoLita, but the cracked tiled floors of the CYDWOQ shoe store offers a glimpse back to the days when the mob ruled New York. Once a mafia nerve center entrenched in the core of Little Italy, the Ravenite Social Club hosted the Anastasia and later Gambino Crime Family for 66 years.

 

ravenite

 

The Knights of Alto Social Club

The mafia social club started life in 1926 as the Knights of Alto Social Club. A regular den of thieves, patrons included Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia and his chief enforcer, Aniello Dellacroce.  Tzar of the Brooklyn docks, Albert Anastasia operated the Knights of Alto Social club as his Manhattan outpost and drop off point for pay offs.

 

Father O’Neil Dellacroce

Neil Dellacroce, an old time Murder Inc. hitman, made his bones with Anastasia in the wild days of prohibition. The mobster, who lived across the street from the Ravenite, had a slew of nicknames including Neil, Mr. Neil, O’Neil, The Polack, The Tall Guy and most interestingly: Father O’Neil on account of the time he went on a hit dressed like a Roman Catholic Priest. According to NYPD Detective Ralph Salerno:

 

“You looked at Dellacroce’s eyes and you could see how frightening they were…The frigid glare of a killer.” Organized Crime Detective Ralph Salerno

 

dellacroce

Aniello Dellacroce

 

The 1963 Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics hearings had this to say about Mr. Neil:

 

Aniello Dellacroce, he is known as O’Neil. He is in gambling, shylocking, and extortion and strong arm. He has 10 arrests, 5 convictions…he has been involved in floating dice games, gambling, shylocking. He was involved with Al Anastiasia in Cuba in gambling and dice.” –Hearings on Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics, 1963

 

aniello-dellacroce

Dellacroce lived across the street from the Ravenite in this tenement.

 

The Ravenite Under New Management:

After Carlo Gambino and Vito Genovese toppled Albert Anastasia, Gambino purchased 247 Mulberry Street, renamed the club the Ravenite and installed Dellacroce as his underboss. The relationship proved to be incredibly lucrative with Gambino providing the brains and Mr. Neil providing the trigger-men. With Dellacroce’s help Gambino inched his way into total control of the Mafia Commission. By the time of his death in 1976, the Gambino Family boasted 500 made men and thousands of associates, but with Carlo gone, a chasm threatened to rip the Gambino’s in half.

John Gotti used the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street as his headquarters after becoming Gambino Family boss.

John Gotti used the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street as his headquarters after becoming Gambino Family boss.

 

Showdown With Big Paul Castellano

On his deathbed, Don Carlo named his son in law Big Paul Castellano the new boss of the Gambino family.  A schism immediately erupted between the Dellacroce’s blue collar soldiers and Castalano’s white collar followers. Big Paul had dreams of taking the Gambino’s legitimate, but Mr. Neil’s followers preferred gunplay and drug dealing.

 

To prevent an underworld war, Dellacroce swore fealty to Castellano and all was well in mob land. Around this time, Dellacroce would take an up-and-coming hoodlum named John Gotti under his wing.  The Queens based Gotti would do much to exacerbate the friction between Mr. Neil and Big Paul. Gotti openly trafficked narcotics, despite Castellano’s ban, punishable by burial in the East River.

 

By the mid-1980’s the center did not hold. Dying of cancer Dellacroce, Castellano,  and the rest of the Mafia Commission were facing a RICO trial with 100 year prison sentences. After the death of Dellacroce, Gotti struck, rubbing out Big Paul.

The Short Reign of Gotti

To celebrate his status as the new Gambino chieftain, Gotti picked up his headquarters, moving it from Queens to the Ravenite in 1985.  With Castellano in the morgue and the other bosses imprisoned for 100 years, Gotti became the FBI’s top target. Gambino capos paraded in and out of the Ravenite to give Gotti their blessings as the new boss, providing FBI surveillance teams with a road map of the Gambino Family. However, the FBI needed more, they needed wiretaps.

 

ravenite-floor

The original floor within the Ravenite Social Club still remains.

 

 

The Ravenite Gets Bugged

To take Gotti down, the FBI knew it needed to penetrate the Teflon Don’s inner sanctum: The Ravenite.  Jim Kallestrom’s FBI electronics wizards bugged the club in 1988 but their recordings proved to be fruitless. According to Jules Bonavolonta’s The Good Guys:

 

“Once it was in, however, the thing was virtually worthless. Gotti and his boys played jazz and old show tunes on a radio—constantly… ”-Jules Bonavolonta, The Good Guys

 

The paranoid gangsters even went as far as to install a white noise machine to further thwart FBI bugs. Bruce Mouw’s Agents listened and waited. Gotti it seemed disappeared for long stretches of time and nothing incriminating was recorded.

 

 

Perplexed, the agents questioned their informants and discovered whenever Gotti needed to discuss “real heavy stuff” he exited the Ravenite. Using a side door that entered into the apartment building’s hallway, Gotti crept to an apartment on the third floor rented by the widow of a former wiseguy.
An FBI special operations team planted wiretaps in this apartment and hit paydirt. In this inner sanctum, Gotti discussed murders, mayhem and a bevy of other crimes with his top henchmen, Sammy the Bull Gravano and Frankie Loc Locascio.  The Teflon Don was convicted in 1992 of murder, illegal gambling, bribery, tax evasion and a host of other crimes. Federal Marshals later seized the building and auctioned it off to the highest bidder.

 

Texas Guinan Owney Madden Hotel Harding Club Intime Speakeasey Club Abby

Address: 205 West 54th Street

Status: Standing (now Flute Bar)

 

It was the swingingest speakeasy of the roaring 20s. A partnership born out of the union of the fast talking queen of New York nightlife, Texas Guinan, and the real life Great Gatsby, Owney Madden, the duke Manhattan’s West Side. Their joint was the Club Intime, a lush cabaret dripping with wall-to-wall red velvet and hanging Chinese lanterns, an open secret hidden in the basement of the Hotel Harding on West 54th Street.

 

Owney The Killer Madden

 

The hotel represented the pinnacle of Owney Madden’s rags to riches story. A veritable Horatio Alger tale, Owney came up in the Irish slums of Hell’s Kitchen around the turn of the century. Owney ran with the Gophers, the most vicious mob ever to romp on the West Side. After being shot to pieces in a dancehall, Madden became the Gopher’s king but a murder conviction in 1915 put Owney on ice for the next nine years.

 

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

 

Madden emerged from Sing Sing in 1923 penniless. Prohibition was in full swing and all of the Gophers had gone into bootlegging. His old pal Larry Fay made a fortune operating glitzy speaks and a fleet of white and purple taxi cabs, but Fay had problems, problems that a man of violence like Madden could solve. Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schultz and heavies from the other New York mobs were moving in on the pacifistic money making Fay. Owney became Fay’s partner, protecting their clubs with fists and bullets and bombs.

 

Fay and Madden grew wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. His beer, “Madden’s No. 1 Beer,” which he brewed on West 26th Street, became the gold standard of Jazz Age New York. Flush with cash,  they ran an armada of rum runners, ferrying booze across the ocean that quenched the thrust of their speakeasies including the famed Cotton Club. However, the Hotel Harding and Club Intime would become the crown jewel of Madden’s empire.

 

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime.

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime.

 

Hello Suckers! Texas Guinan

 

Born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan in Waco, Texas, everyone in New York called her Texas for her oversized persona and trademark greeting, “Hello Suckers!” Guinan could shoot and rope and ride with the skill of Tom Mix. She could belt out a show tune with a belly full of bathtub gin. Texas was larger than life and no one, including gangsters, politicians, or coppers could evade her ascorbic zingers.

 

In her short career, Texas was a vaudevillian, a silent movie star, and  New York City’s greatest prohibition emcee. The gangsters loved her, especially Larry Fay, because she ran the most lucrative clubs in town, taking arrests like a hard nosed hood. Together the duo ran a string of clubs all over Broadway. The El Fay, the 300 Club, and Texas Guinan’s, bouncing from club to club as the authorities raided and padlocked their nightclubs, but eventually Fay and Guinan would come to rest at Madden’s Harding Hotel, with Texas headlining.

 

 

Madden Acquires The Hotel Harding

 

Built in 1903, The twelve floor Hotel Harding stood in an important crossroads situated in the heart of the Times Square speakeasy district. Always a shadowy figure, Madden acquired the Harding using Max and Tilly Landauer as fronts to purchase the hotel. Within months, the swank building was packed with showgirls, actresses, playwrights, gangsters, boxers and associated high-end riff raff. Legs Diamond lived upstairs in the Harding, providing freelance guns for hire for Madden’s mob. The boxer Kid Berg, and Madden’s latest infatuation, an actress named Mae West, also called the Harding home.

 

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden's posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930's Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden’s posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930’s Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

 

“So Sweet and So Vicious,” Mae West and Owney Madden

 

Although it’s pure speculation, Owney Madden probably fell in love with Mae West during her 1916 White Rats benefit in Sing Sing. In those days, Madden was nothing more than a small time hood with a chest full of bullets and a hacking, bloody cough. However, Madden and Mae would soon be together again. In 1928 after Madden acquired the Hotel, Mae and her mother were some of his first residents. Texas Guinan and Mae held a seance there in which Ethel Barrymore and Heywood Broun helped conjure the spirits of Rudolph Valentino and Arnold Rothstein.

 

A love affair soon blossomed in the Harding Hotel. Mae affectionately nicknamed madden “her clay pigeon” for all of the bullets in his chest, later saying he was “so sweet and so vicious.” Madden invested in her plays and backed the actress when the cops jailed Mae for her risque show, Sex. The gangster’s connections with Blackwell’s Island warden earned Mae a private cell and silk underwear.  Mae was of course a regular at the Club Intime downstairs.

 

The Hullabaloo of Broadway: Club Intime

 

When Guinan and Madden opened the Club Intime the suckers came by the boatload. Crooked politicians, actors, writers, stock brokers and mobster moguls all fought for the chance to pay an unfathomable $25 cover charge and the right to be zinged by Tex.

 

Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

 

Once inside inside the lush speakeasy, “the suckers” were greeted by Guiana’s troupe of scantily clad fan dancers and the chance to empty their bankrolls on $5 drinks and $35 bottles of erstaz champagne of dubious vintage.

 

 

On the postage stamp sized dance floor, playwrights, Broadway crooners, top shelf gangsters,  and half naked chorus girls danced the night away. Oweny’s childhood best friend, Broadway dancer and future Hollywood actor, George Raft,  could be seen cutting a rug with Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz. Club Intime was trailblazing cabaret, a sign of the future, a harbinger of the sexual revolution, utterly modern and utterly American. Of course the coppers wanted it closed. In April of 1929, Police Commissioner Grover Whalen raided the club for operating an unlicensed cabaret. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

“Texas Guinan’s Club Intime was Evicted from the Hotel Harding, 203 W. 54th Street Yesterday… Kennedy and his assistants piled the pianos, chairs, tables, draperies and other furnishings on the sidewalk…” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1929

 

The eviction was for show, however, Guinan and Madden simply sold the club to Dutch Schultz and within days the club had morphed into an even more decadent establishment, the Club Abby.

 

Club Abby: Dutch Schultz, Gene Malin and the Pansy Craze

 

Quickly after the demise of Club Intime, the Club Abby sprouted up in its place, this time with another emcee- Gene Malin, Broadway’s first openly gay drag performer.  By the 1930s, Pansy bars were all the rage and gangsters and homosexuals rubbed shoulders in the ultimate sign of social defiance.

 

 

The Abby’s tenure at the Harding hotel was short lived, however, and gunplay would bring about the end of an era.

 

Dutch Schultz Gets Blasted

On January 24, 1931 all hell broke loose in the Club Abby when the Dutch Schultz and Waxey Gordon mobs collided. While waltzing on the dance floor the two gangs began arguing over a female companion. Suddenly, Schultz and Waxey’s lieutenant Charles Chink Sherman exchanged punches on the crowded dance floor. Sherman landed multiple punches, staggering the Dutchman, causing Schultz to ram a broken beer bottle into Sherman’s face.  The Waxey Gordon mob pulled guns and pumped lead into Dutch, but his bulletproof vest saved his hide, leaving him with a shoulder wound.  Because of the wild affray, the police closed the basement speakeasy for good.

Vito-Genovese-The-Don-of-Greenwich-Village

Vito Genovese:  The Don of Greenwich Village. His Homes, Apartments and Businesses

Addresses:

43 5th Avenue- Apartment in 1935

Status: Standing

29 Washington Square- Apartment in 1937-1944

Status: Standing

180 Thompson ERB Strapping Co.- Legal Business

Status: Standing

 

Suave, shrewd, cunning and cruel, Vito Genovese’s tentacles stretched out across the globe from a tiny parcel of land in Manhattan’s bohemian Greenwich Village. Surrounded by clannish Sicilians on all sides and the Irish waterfront mob to the west, the Neapolitan gangster carved out a Mafia dynasty on the streets of the Village through a blend of treachery, gunplay and subterfuge.
A scoundrel until his dying breath, Genovese’s lifelong criminal career would take him from stick-up kid to Joe The Boss Masseria’s ace hitman to Mussolini’s bosom buddy. Over time, Genovese grew to be a gangland legend that would one day topple Lucky Luciano.

 

Vito-Genovese-Map

1. Vito and Anna Genovese’s first luxury apartment at 43 5th Avenue. 2. Vito and Anna Genovese’s second luxury apartment at 29 Washington Square West. 3. Headquarters of Genovese’s ERB Strapping corp, 180 Thompson Street.

 

The Streets of Greenwich Village

Born in 1897 in the outskirts of Naples, Genovese jumped a steamer bound for the United States at the age of 16 and settled in the Neapolitan Italian colony in Greenwich Village.

 

The bohemian neighborhood, known for its unorthodox sexuality, artists, writers and drug users, proved to be fertile incubator of the Genovese Crime Family. Vito’s first arrest sent him to the workhouse on Blackwell’s Island for carrying a loaded revolver.

 

The young Vito excelled in gunplay, assassinations and murder for hire, and by the time of Prohibition, his talents were in incredible demand. Collars for illegal guns, felonious assault and homicide followed, but Vito always beat the odds and the charges. According to Genovese’s 1958 Bureau of Prisons Classification Study:

 

“He is a suave, shrewd, cruel, calculating, cunning, ruthless individual, who would use any means to accomplish his objectives.”- Bureau of Prisons

 

The Greenwich Village Crew:

Tony Bender Strollo, Mike Miranda & Tommy Ryan Eboli

Prohibition was very good to Genovese and his gang tightened its grip around the Village’s rackets. Narcotics, prostitution, and bootlegging, Genovese’s Neapolitan mob ran the streets of the Prohibition Era Greenwich Village where law breaking became sheik. And pet gangsters were all the rage.

 

Tony Bender Strollo served as Genovese’s second in command, specializing in illegal lotteries. He eventually became wealthy beyond his wildest dreams bankrolling nightclubs, burlesque joints and gay bars. Tommy Ryan Eboli, a volatile ex-boxer and wheelman, provided the muscle battering anyone who stood in the way. In the future, Ryan would make a name for himself as a boxing promoter who cold-cocked a referee during a bout. Gunman and narcotics pusher, Mike Miranda rounded out the violent Greenwich Village heavies.

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Joe Masseria’s Top Gunman

Genovese’s penchant for solving problems with murder eventually caught the eye of Lucky Lucanio who introduced Vito to Joe Masseria a mafia kingpin warring with Toto DeAquila, the mafia’s reigning Boss of Bosses.

 

An old-fashioned Sicilian, Masseria preferred to work only with Sicilian gangsters but Lucky convinced Masseria to overlook Vito’s Neapolitan ancestry.

 

vito-genovese-mugshot

A NYPD mug shot of Vito Genovese.

 

On August 11, 1922 the duo put the blast on Umberto Valenti, DeAquila’s favorite assassin, at famed Italian eatery John’s of 12th Street. Later in 1928, Luciano and Genovese picked off DeAquilla on Avenue A.

 

During the Castellammarese Mafia War (1930-1932), Geneovese’s trigger finger served Joe The Boss well offing Gaetano “Tom” Reina with a double barrel shotgun. According to Lucky Luciano in the Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:

 

“Vito told me that when Reina saw him he started to smile and wave his hand. When he done that, Vito blew his head off with a shotgun.”—Lucky Luciano

 

However, Masseria’s lust for power would be his undoing and Vito would eventually turn his aim against the boss, helping to gun down the mafia chieftain at the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant in Cony Island, ending the Castellammarese War for good.

 

 

A Vito Genovese Love Story

Following the end of the Castellammarese War and the death of his first wife Donata, who died of tuberculosis, the love sick and forlorn Genovese made eyes for another bride, his cousin, Anna Vernotico. Unfortunately, Anna was already married, but that didn’t deter Genovese.

 

On March 16, 1932, Police officers discovered Anna’s husband, Gerard Vernotico, hog tied and strangled on the roof of 124 Thompson Street. According to The Valachi Papers:

 

“According to New York City Police records, one Gerard Vernotico, age twenty-nine, of 191 Prince Street, was found dead at 2:15P.M., March 16, 1932. On the roof of a building at 124 Thompson Street.

 

124-Thompson-Street-Vito-Genovese-Murder

To propose to his future wife Anna Vernotico, Vito Genovese had her husband strangled to death on the roof of 124 Thompson Street.

 

Twelve days after the homicide, the loving couple tied the knot in the Municipal Building with Tony Bender Strollo serving as best man. To celebrate, the newlyweds moved into a palatial apartment at 43 5th Avenue, just north of Washington Square Park on tony Fifth Avenue.

 

Anna and Vito Genovese’s Apartments

The Beaux Arts, Parisian style, apartment building define style and sophistication. The 11-story building boasted a grand entrance with limestone lampposts, a 24-hour doorman, and apartments with soaring 10-1/2 foot ceilings. Future tenants at 43 5th Avenue would include Marlin Brando, Julia Roberts, Noah Baubach and other top flight New Yorkers. Click to see inside the building.

 

Vito and Anna Genovese lived in the palatial 43 5th Avenue apartment building.

Vito and Anna Genovese lived in the palatial 43 5th Avenue apartment building.

 

For decoration, the Mafia Chieftain began amassing an art collection that would be worth $200,000 at the time of his death, despite the fact that he filed taxes as a “surplus paper dealer.”

 

To be closer to his Thompson Street social clubs, Genovese moved to 29 Washington Square West. Located across the street from the Hanging Elm, the oldest tree in New York City, the apartment had views of Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building.

 

Anna and Vito Genovese's second apartment at 29 Washington Square West had stunning views of Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building.

Anna and Vito Genovese’s second apartment at 29 Washington Square West had stunning views of Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building.

 

Greenwich Village Exile

The end of prohibition left Genovese richer and more powerful than his wildest dreams, but a Boy Scout prosecutor from Michigan sent the Mafiosi on the run for over a decade.

 

Special Prosecutor, Thomas E. Dewey, Woolworth Building, 233 Broadway, Frank Hogan, Eunice Carter, Dutch Schultz, Arthur Flegenheimer, Lucky Luciano, Prostitution, Governor Lehman, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia

In 1935, New York Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey began sweeping the streets of racketeers, winning convictions against Lucky Luciano, Waxy Gordon, Jimmy Hines, and other underworld scions.

 

29 Washington Square West Vito Genovese's Apartment / home for most of the 1930s

29 Washington Square West Vito Genovese’s Apartment / home for most of the 1930s

Following the conviction of Luciano, Genovese moved up to boss of the family and unwittingly climbed into Dewey’s crosshairs. To evade Dewey’s wrath, Genovese moved out of the special prosecutor’s jurisdiction to a sprawling estate in New Jersey. but Vito’s taste for blood became his undoing.

 

In 1937, the Ernesto “The Hawk” Rupolo admitted to murdering Ferdinand “the Shadow” Boccia at the behest of Genovese. Without missing a beat, Vito skipped town and escaped to fascist Italy, spending the Second World War as an aid to Benito Mussolini. Il Duce knighted Genovese, bestowing the rank of Commendatore upon the mobster.

 

After the Allied capture of Italy, Vito switched sides again, working for the Allies as a translator and as a spy, both covers for his real occupation: black marketeering. Agent O.C. Dicky, of the U.S. Army eventually caught up with Genovese and brought him back to New York to stand trial for the Murder Boccia in 1946, but like usual Genovese beat the rap.

 

Vito Genovese after his return to the U.S. in the 1950s.

Vito Genovese after his return to the U.S. in the 1950s.

 

The Return of Genovese

Back in Greenwich Village after a decade long exile, Vito set up shop with a bonafide business to explain his lavish lifestyle. He entered into partnership with the Erb family, owners of a dock-working firm that placed iron straps around pallets of cargo. Within a year, ERB Strapping had a virtual monopoly on iron strapping in the port of New York.

 

For a corporate headquarters, Genovese purchased the apartment building at 180 Thompson Street, where Joe Valachi, Vincent the Chin Gigante, and other well-known mobsters congregated.

 

Genovese owned this apartment building at 180 Thompson Street in Greenwich Village. It served as the headquarters for his ERB Strapping corporation, a powerhouse in the Port of New York.

Genovese owned this apartment building at 180 Thompson Street in Greenwich Village. It served as the headquarters for his ERB Strapping corporation, a powerhouse in the Port of New York.

 

But, being a megalomaniacal scoundrel, Vito wanted more. Not only did want to depose Frank Costello, the patriarch of the family. Genovese also wanted to overturn the Commission’s ban on narcotics and become the Boss of All Bosses. Vito’s newest acolyte, Vincent Gigante stuck on 1957, blasting Costello in his Central Park West apartment building.

 

However, Vito’s reign was short. In 1958, Genovese was sentenced to 15 years for narcotics trafficking. He would never see Greenwich Village, or freedom, again.

Albert Anastasia’s NJ Mansion Sold

Albert Anastasia's NJ Mansion

Head of Murder Inc., Albert Anastasia lived here from 1947 until his gangland death in 1958.

 

Albert Anastasia’s New Jersey estate was recently sold to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed amount. The High Lord Executioner commissioned the sprawling 25 room Italian villa style estate in Fort Lee New Jersey. Built with blood money, gallons of it, the mansion at 75 Bluff road overlooks sweeping vistas of Manhattan, the George Washington Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty.

 

Anastasia, the CEO of Murder Inc., Tzar of the Brooklyn waterfront and leader of the crime family that would go on to become the Gambinos, constructed the fortified estate in 1947. Seven-foot-tall gates surround the property and the stucco interior walls are over a foot thick to defend against unwanted bullets. A white tiled “slaughter room” with little more than a drain in the floor round out the mansion’s features. The Mafia Don dwelled in the estate until assassins gunned him down in the Park Central Hotel barbershop in 1957.

 

Read more about the story at the New York Times:

 

And Check out the interior at ABC News

 

Gangster puppet Mouthpiece Marconi and the MobSpeak Institute re-enact Edward G. Robinson’s famous performance as Caesar “Rico” Bandello in one of the great gangster movie death scenes of all time.

 

Monk Eastman enlisted to serve in World War One at the Bedford Atlantic Armory

Monk Eastman goes to WWI: The Bedford Atlantic Armory

Address: 1322 Bedford Avenue

Status: Homeless Shelter

 

* Part of this story originally appeared in an article I wrote for Military Heritage Magazine.

 

A hushed awe fell over the army medical inspectors when William Delaney’s clothing hit the white tiled floor at the Bedford Atlantic Armory located at 1322 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn. Veterans had scars, but what the doctors witnessed was ridiculous. Delaney’s long list of injuries included a busted nose, two cauliflower ears, a patchwork quilt of knife scars and two scabby old bullet holes blasted though his bulging torso.

 

When the physicians wondered aloud about the origin of the wounds, Delaney spat the answer through a mouth full of gold teeth, “A lot of little wars around New York.” Little did the army doctors know, Delaney was actually Monk Eastman, the toughest goon ever to swing a lead pipe on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

 

Prohibition, Monk Eastman, Lower East Side, Prohibition, Gangs of New York, Blue Bird Café, Jerome Charyn, Gangsters and Gold Diggers, Neil Hanson, Jerry Bohan, Prohibition Agent, Blue Bird Café, Union Square Subway Station, Crime, Murder, World War I, WWI, death,

Monk Eastman had survived turn of the century street wars of the Lower East Side, and the trenches of the First World War.

 

 

Monk Eastman Joins O’Ryan’s Roughnecks

 

Addled by opium and fresh out of prison, Eastman needed to a change. Time was running out for the middle-aged gangster. The day after his release in 1917, the ex-con headed home to Brooklyn to enlist in the 106th regiment of the 27th Infantry Division of the New York National Guard, a force aptly named O’Ryan’s Roughnecks for its commander Major General Frank O’Ryan.

 

Monk-Eastman-WWI-Bedford-Atlantic-Armory-Map

Monk Eastman enlisted for WWI at the Bedford Atlantic Armory located at 1322 Bedford Avenue.

 

Bedford Atlantic Armory: Monk Eastman Enlists

 

Monk must have marveled at the red-pressed brick castle on Bedford Avenue. Constructed in the Romanesque Revival Style, the architectural firm of Fowler & Hough the Bedford Atlantic Armory was built in 1891 with a 136-foot tall corner tower.

 

Scholars cannot say for sure what drove the forty- four-year-old gangster to join the 27th. Perhaps Eastman was following the example of his father Samuel who fought in the Battle of Bull Run. Some historians suppose that Monk just wanted to turn his life around and kick his opium habit. Now a member of New York’s 27th Infantry Division, the 44-year-old gangster prepared to bring his own brand of terror to the trenches of the First World.

 

Monk Eastman enlisted in the 27th infantry division here in the castle like Bedford Atlantic Armory (Image via Wikipedia).

Monk Eastman enlisted in the 27th infantry division here in the castle like Bedford Atlantic Armory (Image via Wikipedia).

 

Shipping Out: Trench Warfare School Camp Wadsworth

 

On August 30th 1917, Eastman and the 27th shipped out to the most intensive trench warfare school in the United States at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina. In their training, the recruits faced diluted chlorine gas, trench clearing drills, and all the other horrors of the Great War.

 

Monk-Eastman-Infantry-Traning-WWI-27th-Infantry-Division-Camp-Wadsworth

 

Platoon Sergeant Hank Miller recalled that the men teased Eastman, calling him “pop” because of his advanced age, but in basic training the elderly doughboy amazed his much younger comrades. The old man could outrun anybody in the unit. When Eastman hit a bayoneting dummy, he nearly tore it in half. Delaney’s secret eventually came out and the taunting ended: pop was Monk Eastman, the infamous Bowery desperado.

 

Monk-Eastman-Trench-Warfare-School-27th-Infantry-Division

 

Bowery Brawler in the Trenches

 

The prospect of fighting on the side of New York’s deadliest brawler thrilled the young recruits, and the doughboys were soon ready for anything, for the gangster instructed the men in the Eastman school of no holds barred gutter fighting. By now, Eastman served as the linchpin of the 106th’s morale when the 27th docked in France.

 

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Eastman was once the prince of the Lower East Side, but opium addiction and prison sentences destroyed his kingdom.

 

Monk on the Poperinghe Line

 

On July 9, Eastman and the 27th marched to the Poperinghe Line in the Ypres Salient to put a stop to the rampaging forces of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria and his Sturmtruppen assault troops.

 

British command charged the Roughnecks with holding the line behind Dickbushe Lake against the Prince’s seasoned storm troopers. Eastman and his comrades dug in under the shadow of Mont Kemmel and Vierstraat Ridge, two German strongholds bristling with heavy artillery. For days and nights, shells and shrapnel rained down on the 27th’s position.

 

As the barrage tore holes through the unit, the first waves of elite Sturmtruppen assault teams came over the top and engaged Monk’s unit in hand-to-hand combat. It was during this bitter defense that the first tales of Eastman’s heroism began to circulate. At night, Monk led his own forays into no man’s land. When the Germans nearly overran the trenches, Monk met the Kaiser’s finest with his tattooed knuckles. While rescuing a fallen comrade, a rifle round blew through the old brawler’s hand, but he wrapped the wound and fought on.

 

Major General Frank O’Ryan leader of the 27th Infantry Division.

The hard nosed Major General Frank O’Ryan leader of the 27th Infantry Division.

 

Taking Vierstraat Ridge

 

O’Ryan ordered Colonel Franklin Ward, commander of the 106th, to seize the heavily fortified Vierstraat Ridge. Under the cover of a barrage, Ward and the screaming men of the 106th went over the top. A German staccato of machinegun fire pined down the entire regiment, but Monk broke the stalemate with a fist full of Mills Bombs. According to the New York Tribune,

 

“The German gunners caught sight of him. They could not depress their gun sufficiently to hit him and Monk crawled forward and blew them up…”–The New York Tribune

 

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Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria.

 

Monk Eastman Is Wounded

 

In the attack, bullets shredded Eastman’s backpack and shrapnel sliced through his leg, but the destruction of the German machinegun nest allowed the 106th to take the ridge. Because of the success at Vierstraat, in three days time, the 27th captured Mount Kemmel, Rosignoll Wood, Petite Bois, Plateau Farm, and hundreds of prisoners, but Monk was not there celebrate. He was laid up in a field hospital nursing his wounds. On September 4, the 27th moved to prepare for one of the greatest battles in the war, the taking of the impregnable Hindenburg Line, gateway to the German Homeland.

When Monk got wind of the plans in the hospital, he went renegade. The gangster stole away into the night, fleeing the hospital half-naked and barefooted. According to Lieutenant J.A. Kerrigan,

“He escaped from the hospital, equipped himself from a salvage dump, joined his company, and was in action throughout the entire Hindenburg line show.” –Lieutenant J.A. Kerrigan.

 

Cracking the Hindenburg Line

 

Unfortunately for the 27th, the Hindenburg attack made the battle in the Ypres seem easy. According to Maj. General O’Ryan’s memoirs, the line represented the “rock of Gibraltar of German moral.” Devised by Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg, the position consisted of three concrete trenches surrounded by three belts of barbed wire, mines, and machine gun nests.

 

Paul_von_Hindenburg_(1914)_von_Nicola_Perscheid

Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg, engineer of the Hindenburg line of barbed wire, mines and machine gun nests.

 

Paul von Hindenburg

German reinforcements stood in the nearby St. Quintin Canal Tunnel, a bombproof 50 meters deep brick tunnel built by Napoleon Bonaparte. The tunnel housed thousands of German reinforcements on canal boats who could be shuttled anywhere on the line unseen and under cover. The task of cracking this impressive nut naturally fell to the 106th, and Eastman’s regiment served as the battering ram that led the first charge.

 

On the morning of September 27, the 106th stormed though a hail of machineguns and artillery fire to capture a precarious foothold from which the main assault on the St. Quintin tunnel would be led. Amid this carnage, Monk showed a tender side when the 106th seized a group of German prisoners, including a cocky teenager, one of the Americans attempted to ram a bayonet though the arrogant boy’s chest. Monk stopped the solider with only a few words, “Let him alone he’s only a kid.” he said. By now the troops knew not to argue with the gangster.

 

Monk Becomes Stretcher Bearer

 

With the position secure, the 106th withdrew to the rear, but Monk begged the head surgeon, Major Larson, for permission to remain as a stretcher-bearer. According to Major Larson,

 

“All through the time that men of his company were resting Eastman served in the front line trench, carrying back wounded men.”-Major Larson

 

A few days later, the 27th demolished the canal tunnel and broke the Hindenburgh Line. The war was over.

Monk is Pardoned by Governor Al Smith

 

On March 25, 1919, the 27th marched down Fifth Avenue as heroes, but Monk’s feats of heroism were all but unknown. The gangster’s officers prepared a surprise for the hero of the 106th upon their return home. Colonel Ward, Major Scott Burton, Captain James Conroy, and Lieutenant Joseph Kerrigan presented a massive tome of over one hundred letters and signatures to Governor Smith asking for Eastman’s pardon, and on May 8, 1919, the Governor forgave Edward Eastman’s past crimes.

 

 

The New York newspapers sang the mobster’s praises and spoke of the power of reform. Unfortunately, while reporters paid the mobster compliments, Monk was back to his old tricks working as an enforcer for the Brains of Broadway Arnold Rothstein. The gangster-turned-doughboy-turned-goon did not live to see fifty. Click to read The Death of Monk Eastman. www.infamousnewyork.com/2015/01/09/the-death-of-monk-eastman-union-square/