Tucked away, on a side street off Lincoln Avenue lies a former speakeasy, horse stable and boarding house for traveling magicians. In a short while it will all be demolished.
The property, 2515 W. Carmen Ave., was purchased in the 1960s by Jay Marshall, founder of Magic, Inc. and a magician that shepherded a thousand careers. Marshall died in 2005 and the two branches of his family are still untangling the estate. Grandson Chris Marshall is one the people trying to carry on Jay’s weighty legacy.
“My grandfather and my step-grandmother were the parent figures to a generation of magicians,” said Chris Marshall when we visited the property last week. “They were writing books, setting up books. There was a print shop. Mail order. Building tricks in a workshop. This neighborhood was the hub for magic in the United States. This place.”
Marshall was an Ed Sullivan Show regular. Just before he died at 85 years old in 2005, he was filmed for the showbiz insider documentary, “The Aristocrats”. He’s the first one to tell the joke.
Chris gave us a tour through the sprawling, dilapidated property and recounted its history.
“It was built in the 1860s as a horse stable and after that the Chicago police took it over to keep their horses here. It was a carriage house…Al Capone bought it from the police department for cash, apparently, so it was a bit of a scandal, around the 20’s. [The yard area] was paved with concrete with overhead lighting so there was a speakeasy with a dancing floor.
“Capone bought it, turned it into a speakeasy and we think he kept prostitutes upstairs. It was cheap but fancy,” Chris said with a sly smile.
“After Capone died, the FBI tore up the concrete looking for evidence, but they didn’t find anything. Then it was owned by a roofing company and then my grandparents bought it in the sixties. My grandfather kept his magic collection here. It’s hard to believe that he could fill a whole barn, but he did. When we first started cleaning it up, it was full. The whole place.
“The house was used for traveling magicians would stay there. Just a list of magicians who stayed here in the 60’s and 70’s. Penn and Teller came and visited – before they were famous. Just teenagers who were into magic.”
The magic shop and its vast library and workshop at 5082 N. Lincoln Ave. will remain untouched. Chris, who is more musician than magician, works in the shop and tries to figure out something good to do with the Carmen Ave. property.
“I’ve been using this place as a woodshed. I’d turn it into a place where you can bring your instrument in a country setting. In a rustic setting where you can just be a musician. But that’s a $2 million project and I don’t have the money.”
According to Chris Marshall, there’s no specific schedule for the demolition yet, and the Marshall family doesn’t have a clear plan for the property – it’s listed for $1.3 million – but it probably won’t ooze history like the current buildings.