Archive for the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous’ Category

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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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 defined 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.

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Lucky Luciano Apartment Waldorf Astoria

Status: Standing

Location: 301 Park Avenue, Suite 39C


Sidestepping bullets, one-way rides and innumerable gang wars, he grew to be the master of prohibition era New York. He was vain, narcissistic, and volatile, a textbook sociopath, but he was also fabulously wealthy, an attribute about which most people could not boast during the Great Depression.


By the mid-1930s, Salvatore Lucky Luciano wanted to kickback and enjoy the fruits of his ill-gotten swindles. He had outgrown his “modest” suite in the Barbizon Plaza overlooking the Lake in Central Park and he wanted something a little nicer.




The Toniest Address in New York


Driven by a massive inferiority complex, Lucky needed something bigger, something better, something swankier. He wanted no less than the toniest address in the whole City of New York. He wanted to live in the Waldorf Astoria Towers.


He later reminisced to Richard Hammer and Martin Gosch, authors of The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:

 “I figured if everybody was gonna call me the boss, I was entitled to live in an apartment that was above Frank’s… the Towers was the best class address in New York.”

According the to Waldorf’s website:

“The Waldorf Towers represents the pinnacle of New York grandeur, with a long-established legacy of providing guests with exceptional privacy and personalized service.”


Privacy and personalized service were exactly what Luciano received at the Waldorf. He rented apartment 39C as Mr. Charles Ross and paid his $800 a month rent in hundred dollar bills.


Lucky Luciano Apartment, Frank Costello, Longy Zwillman, Meyer Lansky

Lucky Luciano lived in apartment 39c under the alias Charles Ross.


The gang lord could count on secrecy in his rooms where he entertained the moguls of the mob such as Longy Zwillman, Tony Bender, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. His criminal conspirators could then sneak out of Lucky’s pad and disappear into the city through the hotel’s packed arcade. A parking garage allowed the gangster to park his car and ride a private elevator to his room.


Lucky Luciano Waldorf Hotel


For kicks, Lucky would give the famed madam Polly Adler a ring and she would dispatch her best call girls. When Lucky felt more domestic, he spent evenings with his showgirl girlfriend, Gay Orlova.


Waldorf Int


It was a gangland dream come true, but things nearly went south when one of Lucky’s goons showed up at the front desk asking for Charlie Lucky. An outraged clerk stormed up to Luciano’s suite demanding answers.


Lucky recalled in The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:

“…I knew the towers wasn’t gonna throw me out. After all, I was payin’ my rent regular, which was more than they could say about some of the bluebloods that was freeloadin’ there. So I figured it was payoff time.”


Greasing the Waldorf’s Wheels

Lucky placed the Astoria’s desk clerk on the payroll, greasing him with $200 a month.The bribes eventually paid off in March of 1936 when detectives from Thomas E. Dewey’s office stormed the lobby looking for the gangster. The clerk tipped off Luciano, and he hopped into his private elevator and roared off in his car.


Dewey eventually caught up with Lucky Luciano in Hot Springs Arkansas. He was sentence to 30 to 50 years for operating a massive prostitution ring. Lucky was sent to the frigid Dannemora Prison on the Canadian border where hoped for a day when he could return to linens, massages and private elevators.


Luciano would eventually return to the lap of luxury courtesy of the United States Navy.

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Shang Draper, Thomas Shang Draper, Tenderloin, Al Smith, Casino, 6-8 West 28th Street

Location: 6-8 West 28th Street

Status: Standing


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.

Thomas Shang Draper, Shang Draper, 6 West 28th Street, Manhattan Savings Institution Robbery, Manhattan Savings Institution, Fredericka Marm Mandelbaum, Marm Mandelbaum, Casino, George Leonidas Leslie, Satan’s Circus, Al Smith

Shang Draper’s casino was located at 6 West 28th Street

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.


Standing six feet tall in his silk stockings, Tomas Shang Draper was a giant by 1800s standards, and he had a personality to match.

Standing six feet tall in his silk stockings, Tomas Shang Draper was a giant by 1800s standards, and he had a personality to match.

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.


Shang’s Casino

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.”


Underworld Fortress

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.


Thomas Shang Draper, Shang Draper, 6 West 28th Street, Manhattan Savings Institution Robbery, Manhattan Savings Institution, Fredericka Marm Mandelbaum, Marm Mandelbaum, Casino, George Leonidas Leslie, Satan’s Circus, Al Smith

One of the most opulent casinos in Manhattan, Shang Draper turned this brownstone into a fortress with steel grates and a battering-ram proof door.


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.

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Frank Costello, Majestic Apartments, 115 Central Park West

Frank Costello Lived Here at the Majestic Apartments.

Location: 115 Central Park West, The Majestic Apartments

Status: Landmarked 


He had a controlling interest in every slot machine from New York to New Orleans. He ran rum, bootlegged scotch, and controlled the appointments of Supreme Court judges and Tammany Hall politicians. He was a kingmaker, the puppeteer who made Manhattan dance, but more than anything else, Frank Costello wanted to be a legitimate businessman; and by the time the Great Depression hit, Uncle Frank, as his mob pals called him, was ready to buy his way into high society.


For his bid for legitimacy, he targeted the newly constructed 32 story Majestic Apartments, a twin towered, brick and steel framed art deco masterpiece. Located at 115 Central Park West across the street from the famous Dakota, nothing in the city was more modern and posh than the Majestic.


A Majestic View


For their home, Costello and his wife, Loretta Geigerman, selected apartment 18F, a nine room, two bedroom, two bathroom, corner apartment facing Central Park, which they rented for $3,900 a month (the apartment recently sold for $5,304,000).


The view from Frank Costello's apartment was majestic.

The view from Frank Costello’s apartment was majestic.


Because of the building’s unique cantilevered construction, there were no columns to block Costello’s view of the park and the breathtaking full morning sunlight that the mobster rarely tasted during his youth in the slums of East Harlem.


Frank Costello lived in apartment 18F in the Majestic Apartments. Vincent "Chin" Gigante attempted to assassinate him in the lobby in 1957.

Frank Costello lived in apartment 18F in the Majestic Apartments. Vincent “Chin” Gigante attempted to assassinate him in the lobby in 1957.


Nobody Loses in Frank Costello’s House


The couple hired James Mont, the mob’s top interior decorator, to deck the apartment out in mafia glitz. Mont hung a Howard Chandler Christy “Christy Girl” oil painting over the fireplace. Next, he placed a gold plated grand piano in the living room and ringed it with slot machines manufactured by Costello’s True Mint Novelty Company, a firm that reportedly earned the mob mogul $500,000 a day. But the one-armed bandits in Costello’s lavish pad had a unique twist: they were rigged for perpetual jackpots. Costello was known to say to guests such as publisher Generoso Pope Jr. and future New York Mayor Bill O’Dwyer,


 What do you think I am, a punk? Nobody loses in my house. 


Fred Astaire, Walter Winchell, and Milton Berle


Over the years, Costello would integrate himself in the parade of rich and famous neighbors like: the diamond merchant: Jacob Baumgold, shoe magnate: Andrew Geller, Fred Astaire, Milton Berle, Zero Mostel, and his arch rival—newspaper reporter Walter Winchell. Whenever he needed a cup of sugar, Costello could visit his pal Bugsy Siegal downstairs.

From this majestic incubator, Costello’s power would only grow. In 1936, Lucky Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years for compulsory prostitution. A year later Vito Genovese fled to Italy fearing murder charges, leaving Frank Costello boss of the Luciano Crime Family.


King of New York


For the undisputed king of Manhattan nightlife, Costello was an early riser. Waking at 9:00 am every morning, his daily ritual included a trip to the Waldorf Astoria Barber Shop for a shine, shave, and a manicure followed by lunch at the Madison Hotel. On Thursdays he hit the baths in the subbasement of the Biltmore Hotel for “the works”, sauna, steam room and a massage.


Frank Costello Majestic Apartments


He saw a psychoanalyst once a week and became a major donor to the Salvation Army, turning over the Copacabana night club for their holiday fundraisers. Wire taps placed on Costello’s home phone by D.A. Frank Hogan recorded New York supreme Court Justice Thomas Aurelio pledging his undying loyalty to the mob boss.


The Kefauver Commission

Just as the former bootlegger was ready to climb into the seat of respectability, things began to unravel. In 1951 Senator Estes Kefauver’s travelling committee rolled into town and hauled Costello in front of television cameras, forcing Costello to answer several difficult questions such as if he kept $50,000 in a safe in his apartment. Costello replied,


I believe I had a little strongbox… I keep forty-fifty thousand.


Refusing to answer anymore questions, the Prime Minister of the Underworld stormed out and was slapped with contempt of court and a 14 month prison sentence. Soon the IRS was on his tail, and INS wanted to revoke his citizenship.


The Return of Vito Genovesse

When Costello returned from prison, he had even more problems. Vito Genovese had returned from Italy, gunning for Uncle Frank. On the evening of May 2nd, 1957, Genovese struck. As Costello walked into the Majestic’s zinc and marble lobby, Genovese’s chief bully-boy, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, pulled a revolver and screamed:


This is for you Frank.


Just as Gigante fired a single round, Costello spun around, and because of some quirk of physics, geometry, and the hand of God almighty, the bullet grazed Costello’s scalp, riding around the rim of his borsalino hat. The attack left Costello shaken. He quickly sued for peace with Genovese, and retired from the rackets. Costello would live in the Majestic until his death in 1973


Majestic Apartments

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