Location: 6-8 West 28th Street
He was like John Dillinger, Al Capone and Jesse James rolled up into a 19th century bundle. Generous, refined, wealthy and deadly, Tomas “Shang” Draper ran one of the most opulent casinos in Manhattan here at 6 West 28th Street in the heart of Satan’s Circus.
King of Safecrackers
The Italianate brownstone casino represented the pinnacle of Shang Draper’s life of crime. Former king of the bank robbers and safecracker extraordinaire, Shang was one of the best petermen in the country, blowing bank vaults from New York to Minnesota.
Fencing with Marm
Together with society figure and architect, George Leonidas Leslie, alias Western George, Shang and Leslie plundered millions, heisting the Waterford Bank in 1872, the North Hampton Bank in 1876, and the Manhattan Savings Institution in 1878. The gang specialized in looting securities, which they fenced through Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum.
A Taste for the Finer Things
It seemed that Shang got a taste for the finer things from Leslie, whom he eventually shot and dumped in the wilds of the Bronx. With his bank robbing fortune, Draper headed for the Tenderloin district, a place where the glitterati of Manhattan’s Gilded Age went to drink, whore, smoke opium and gamble in style.
With the backing of lottery king, Al Adams, Shang settled at 6 West 28th Street, just off of fashionable 5th Avenue. To attract wealthy patrons from nearby hotels and Madison Square Garden, Shang remolded the entire building.
He threw up onyx pillars on the first floor. Crimson silk curtains covered the windows. Oil paintings valued at $100,000 lined the walls. The buffet was all you could eat. The plates were china and the goblets were cut glass.
The roulette wheel spun for no less than $25 a twirl, and guests, who included politicians, prizefighters, millionaires and vaudevillians, could expect to find high stakes poker, faro and chuck-a-luck.
According to Automats, Taxi Dances and Vaudeville author, David Freeland:
“Future governor [and presidential candidate] Al Smith was once reputed to have stayed at the faro tables for fifty-two hours straight.”
Big money meant big security. To guard against raiding cops and stickup gangs alike, Shang installed a battering-ram proof door equipped with a mechanical cross bolt that dropped into the doorjamb. Behind the door, a steel cage provided secondary defenses, while a sliding steel grate protected every window. Simply put: it was the coolest fortress in town.
But the Parkhurst Society wanted the club closed. On October 14, 1902 police officers raided the casino, but the heavily fortified club took hours to breach, giving Shang’s customers enough time to scramble out of a secret back staircase on the building next door. The police eventually recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in Shang’s safe. After the raid Draper retired to Hot Springs Arkansans.