180 West Washington and The Cook County Trust Company
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180 West Washington and The Cook County Trust Company

I enjoy learning about and sharing the history of Boardwalk Capital’s properties and am always surprised by the stories the buildings have to tell.  Our property at 180 West Washington is no exception as a bit of sleuthing found an interesting connection between one of Al Capone’s key lieutenants and the building.

180 West Washington, The Equitable Building

Caught up on the euphoria of the Roaring 20’s, investors were frantic to build in the Loop to serve the growing banking and related financial services businesses. It was in this environment that 180 West Washington, later known as the Equitable Building, came to be.

Designed by Chicago architects Paul V. Hyland and Redmond P. Corse, the twelve story building was completed in 1927, two years before the stock market crash.  180 West Washington was designed as an affordable alternative to expensive office space on LaSalle Street. With a relatively small foot print of 3,000 square feet, it was thought that each floor would have a single tenant, making it a unique and prestigious address for banking and related services.

Terra Cotta Flourishes and Beaux Arts Architecture

In Chicago at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Beaux Arts architecture was very much in vogue.  Hyland and Corse embraced the trend as they adorned the building with an abundance of Terra Cotta ornamentation.  As the photos below suggest, the spandrels and fretwork were intended to create a sense of opulence and whimsy, setting the building apart from its more pedestrian neighbors.

Largely untouched, you can see the building as it was in the 1930’s when one of its most infamous tenants, the Cook County Trust Company, called 180 West Washington home.

The Cook County Trust Company and the Chicago Outfit

Chicago suffered in the 1930’s with corruption throughout City Hall and untethered mob activity led by Al Capone. It was at this time that Anton Cermak, Chicago’s mayor from 1931 until 1933, carried on his predecessor’s, William Hale Thompson, tradition of graft and corruption.  During his two years as mayor, Cermak colluded with “his” group of mobsters to fleece the City and people for millions of dollars.

One of Cermak’s boldest moves was to form a trust company with Capone lieutenant and 24th Ward Alderman, Moe Rosenberg.  The intent of this partnership was to take advantage of the thousands of property tax foreclosures coming before the Cook County courts. Greasing the palms of judges, Rosenberg and Cook County Trust were able to buy hundreds of questionably foreclosed properties at fire-sale prices.

The scheme was fairly simple.  Rosenberg would identify plum properties where a contrived tax foreclosure could be had.  He would “encourage” the courts to seize the target properties and quickly turn them around for foreclosure sale. Cook County Trust would then purchase the properties for a fraction of their market value, pocketing millions from hundreds of transactions.

City Hall looking west on Washington Stree

The connection between 180 West Washington and Cook County Trust is another interesting BCH property story.  Every time I walk by the building, my thoughts turn to Moe Rosenberg and the Cook County Trust Company.  I can imagine him making the one block walk to City Hall to visit with Mayor Cermak and to report on the latest property they had purchased at foreclosure.

While you’d hope that Rosenberg would have faced justice, the truth is a bit less satisfying. Like Capone, Rosenberg was charged with tax evasion but he evaded conviction and incarceration by virtue of his passing away before he ever went to trial.