Posts Tagged ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Johnny Torrio and Roxy Vanella

Reformed gangster and member of Johnny Torrio’s first gang, Roxie Vanella opened this funeral parlor at 29 Madison Street.

Location: 29 Madison Street: Vanella’s Funeral Chapel

Status: Standing


He was the King of the Ragpickers and the Mayor of James Street. He knew judges and congressmen, and was a personal friend of Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, and Presidential Candidate Alfred E. Smith. His name was Robert “Roxie” Vanella, an ex-gangster turned prohibition-era undertaker who was the namesake of Vanella’s Funeral Chapel located at 29 Madison Street in one of the last-vestiges of the old Corlears Hook neighborhood.


A Young Man, Willing to Do Anything:


Born and raised in a district ruled by river pirates and street walkers, Vanella was born in a bleak tenement at 68 James Street, giving him virtually no other options but a life of crime.  In 1899, the sixteen year old Vanella proved his desperation by posting a classified ad in the New York Herald, which stated:


Roxy Vanella Johnny Torrio


The ad was a surprisingly accurate resume, and Vanella went on to prove that he was in fact, “Willing to do anything.”


Johnny Torrio and The James Street Gang


He became best friends with Johnny Torrio, whose stepfather ran an illegal moonshine still across the street from Vanella’s home, and together they founded The James Street Gang, an East River auxiliary for Paul Kelly’s Five Pointers.


By 1907, the duo had parted company. Torrio relocated to Brooklyn, while Vanella moved to Montana, a strange place for an Italian from New York to say the least. While he was in the Big Sky State, Vanella’s traveling companion suddenly died of an acute gunshot wound to the head. Vanella claimed it was suicide and the cops claimed it was murder. The jury believed the cops, and they slapped Vanella with life in prison.


Roxy Vanella

Ethel Eppstein would help Vanella win his freedom from a Montana Prison


After serving seven years in the Deer Lodge Penitentiary, Ethel Eppstein, a socialite prison reformer investigated Vanella’s case and found that he had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. In 1914, the state granted a re-trial and the New York gangster walked out a free man.


Johnny Torrio and Roxie Vanella: Together Again


After beating a life sentence, Roxie headed straight for Chicago where his old pal, Johnny Torrio, had become a big thing, managing Big Jim Colosimo’s brothel empire in the Levee District.It didn’t take long for the slugs to start flying.


Roxie and Torrio kicked off a shootout that left a policeman dead and Vannella wounded, but once again, Roxy beat the charges. However, after dodging two life sentences in a seven year period, the gangster smartened up and went straight. Click to read the newspaper story on Vanella.


Once again proving that he was willing to do anything, he returned to James Street where he joined the staff of Tammany Hall’s Big Tom Foley, was elected President of the Ragpickers Union, and opened Vanella’s funeral chapel where he made it big burying the casualties of the roaring twenties.


Vanella's Funeral Chapel located at 29 Madison Street.

Vanella’s Funeral Chapel located at 29 Madison Street.


Torrio never forgot Roxie. When the Mayor of James Street wed in 1921, the New York Tribune reported:


John Torrio, the best man, well known in Chicago politics, came in a special [train] car, bringing a party of fifty with him.


One can only imagine the identities of Torrio’s fifty associates. Click to read the full story of Vanella’s wedding.


If anyone else has any info on Vanella, I’d love to hear it.



Read Full Post »

Arnold Rothstein Death Site

After being shot at the Park Central Hotel, Arnold Rothstein would die in the Stuyvesant Polyclinic.

Click here to read Part I of The Death of Arnold Rothstein

Location: 135 2nd Avenue, Stuyvesant Polyclinic

Status: Landmarked


As he lay dying in a private three-room suite in the Stuyvesant Polyclinic, Arnold Rothstein, the Brain of Broadway, financier of the underworld, writhed in his hospital bed and groaned in delirium as police detectives peppered him with questions.


“Who shot you,” they asked and Rothstein snarled:

My mother. You stick to your trade and I’ll stick to mine.


A team of five surgeons led by Dr. E.I. Kellog dug the .38 caliber slug from his stomach, and Rothstein’s estranged, law abiding, family drew around the mortally wounded gangster, and waited with the rest of the world. Broadway ground to a standstill. Would Arnold Rothstein finally name names?


Rothstein’s Family

With his ex-wife on her knees sobbing and his father Abe “the Just,” a deeply religious, millionaire philanthropist towering over his son’s clammy, feverish body, the family drew together in prayer.


After a blood transfusion, house Dr. Alexander O’Hare pressed a stethoscope to Rothstein’s chest and pronounced alleged fixer of the 1918 World Series dead at 10:17AM, November 6, 1928, and hoodlums of Broadway went wild.


Stuyvesant Polyclinic

A historic plaque on the landmarked polyclinic today.


In the words of the Brooklyn Eagle:

“Rothstein did not keep documents which might tend to incriminate himself. But he kept documents which would tend to incriminate others.”


The Big Bankroll Arnold Rothstein

There wasn’t a man of any importance who hadn’t borrowed money from the Big Bankroll. Lucky Luciano, Legs Diamond, Dutch Shultz, NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker, and Frank Costello all had been aided by Rothstein on their crawl to the top, and the vultures raided Rothstein’s posh 5th Avenue apartment and looted his financial documents, stealing the files for the letters C, B, G, M, Mc, and T.


Rothstein Death Map

Rothstein would die of a gunshot wound in the Stuyvesant Polyclinic, 135 2nd Ave.


The police confiscated the remaining 56,000 pieces of paper left behind in two steel filing cabinets, and began sorting through the avalanche of incriminating papers that would lead to a seizure of two million dollars worth of dope the next day.

Some of the scraps left behind would provide fragmentary evidence that Rothstein had loaned Judge Joseph Force Crater, Tammany Head James Curry, and Mayor Jimmy Walker money.


Fiorello LaGuardia Investigates


Nearly a year later, Fiorello LaGuardia would also discover that City Magistrate Albert Vitale had repaid Rothstein a Loan for over $19,000. Lottie Pickford, the sister of famous actress Marry Pickford, also appeared in the documents. The names of Bobbie Winthrop, Dorothy King and Louise Lawson, a trio of dead showgirls used as narcotics smugglers, were also unearthed.

An international manhunt for Rothstein’s killers would ensue, resulting in the gangland trial of the century, but George “Hump” McManus, Rothstein’s probable killer, would walk free, and the murder remains unsolved.

With Rothstein dead, the twenties roared a little less loudly.

Read Full Post »

Arnold Rothstein was shot here in 1928.

Location: 870 7th Ave., The Park Central Hotel

Status: Standing

Doubled over with blood trickling down his leg and his hand pressed over his bloodied groin, Arnold Rothstein, kingpin of the New York underworld made famous again by Boardwalk Empire, groped his way through the carpeted hallways of the Park Central Hotel before collapsing in front of the service entrance.


Arnold Rothstein The Brain of Broadway


Known variously as the Brain of Broadway, the Wolf and the Big Bankroll, Rothstein was the grease that made Broadway go. A tight lipped introvert who loved silence as much as he loved his bankroll, a two inch thick stack of hundreds, Rothstein was a pool shark, a card shark, a bootlegger and a multi-millionaire who mentored a legion of hoodlums, like Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Legs Diamond.


Arnold Rothstein

Gangsters called multi-millionaire Arnold Rothstein the Brain of Broadway for his sharp-calculating mind.


The Wolf produced Broadway shows and owned hotels and drove a Rolls Royce, but now he was nothing more than another sucker bleeding to death on 55th Street with a .38 caliber slug drilled through his crotch. The New York Times would call it “the Crime of The Century.”

As the ambulance rushed Rothstein to the Stuyvesant Polyclinic, the police began ticking through the list of suspects and quickly realized; the real question was who didn’t want Arnold dead.


The Mother of All Card Games: Rothstein’s Bad Day


The Brain’s troubles started on September 27th at a floating five card stud game hosted at 161 West 54th Street in Jimmie Meehan’s home in the Congress Apartments. The $500 anty high-stakes game was organized by George “Hump” McManus, a mobbed-up goon, with one brother in the clergy and another on the force. But unfortunately for Rothstein, the fix was in.


Map of the Death of Arnold Rothstein

Armold Rothstein was shot at the Park Central Hotel after failing to repay card debts for a poker game at 161 West 54th Street.


Golf hustling and poker playing legend, Titanic Thompson had setup the game and was planning to take Rothstein for a ride.  The play was fast and furious. 13 hours later the Brain of Broadway emerged from 161 West 54th bleary eyed and $350,000 dollars poorer.

He had no intention of paying his I.O.Us. As far as he was concerned, he had been swindled.

Arnold Rothstein Card Game

The thirteen-hour five card stud game that broke the Big Bankroll was held here at the Congress Apartments, 161 West 54th Street.

And How Rothstein Squawked


According to the game’s host, Jimmy Meehan:

He was not a good looser. He always wanted to win…he would clean up a million or maybe two million and say goodnight boys and blow. But, oh boy, when they took him over the jumps, how he squawked.


As the game’s organizer, McManus was responsible for the payment of the dough. After a month non-payment, the Hump holed up in room 349 of the Park Central Hotel with a small posse of gorillas.

He phoned Lindy’s Delicatessen, Rothstein’s official headquarters, demanding that the Brain come to the hotel at once. Damon Runyon reportedly overheard Rothstein bark:


McManus wants me over at the Park Central. This won’t take long.


The Hump’s Revenge

It would be impossible to know what really happened in room 349 that night, but a gun went off blowing a hole through Rothstein’s spleen and bladder. The Hump split town, and New Yorkers would wake up to the Crime of the Century.

Click to read part two of The Death of Arnold Rothstein.

Arnold Rothstein

Gangsters called multi-millionaire Arnold Rothstein the Brain of Broadway for his sharp-calculating mind.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: