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Local landmarks from Chicago’s rich history of sexual adventurers, revolutionaries, misfits, and crackpots
by Dennis Rodkin
Erogenous Zones map, click here to download the pdf
The Leather Archives & Museum (6418 N. Greenview Ave.) contains fetish costumes and gear, S&M instruments, flags of leather clubs from around the world, and gay “leather” paintings by Etienne (the late Chicago-born artist, dancer, and choreographer Dom Orejudos).
Founded by Chuck Renslow and Dom Orejudos in 1972, Man’s Country (5015 N. Clark St.) is the oldest gay bathhouse in Chicago.
Once the setting for vaudeville shows, the 82-year-old Admiral Theatre (3940 W. Lawrence Ave.) is today an all-nude strip club.
The first African American to win the heavyweight-boxing crown, Jack Johnson (1878-1946), who outraged white audiences with his overtly sexual persona and his marriages to three white women, is buried at Graceland Cemetery (4001 N. Clark St.).
In 1914, at Diversey Beach (now Diversey Harbor), Chicago officials erected a fence extending into Lake Michigan to separate male and female swimmers. After loud protests, the fence came down the following summer.
In 1947, the gritty Chicago writer Nelson Algren and the French protofeminist Simone de Beauvoir began their torrid love affair in Algren’s apartment at 1523 West Wabansia Avenue (now demolished).
In 1964, Cook County sheriff Richard Ogilvie led a raid on a gay bar, Louie’s Fun Lounge (2340 N. Mannheim Rd., Melrose Park); 109 people were arrested.
The Big Party
Carnival of Desire
In 1924, while living at 1710 North Crilly Court, Henry Gerber cofounded the Society for Human Rights, the country’s first gay-rights organization.
Steve Toushin’s Bijou Theatre (1349 N. Wells St.), in operation since 1969, claims to be the longest-running gay-porn theatre in the United States.
On June 27, 1970, gay activists met at Washington Square Park (Walton and Dearborn streets) and marched on to the Water Tower and the Chicago Civic Center (now the Richard J. Daley Center), laying the foundation for the annual Chicago Pride Parade.
Built by a Chicago doctor in 1899, this grand home (1340 N. State Parkway) served as Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion from 1959 to 1984.
In 1954, Chuck Renslow opened Kris Studio (7 W. Maple St.), where he began shooting men’s “physique photos”; it later relocated to 22 West Van Buren Street before closing in the late 1970s.
The first Playboy Club (116 E. Walton St.) opened on February 29, 1960.
In the 1930s, the city’s bohemian cognoscenti hung out at the Dil Pickle Club (10 W. Tooker Place), frequently discussing such transgressive topics as homosexuality and sexual adventure.
Harold and Stanley McCormick, the rich sons of the reaper king Cyrus McCormick, grew up during the 1880s in an opulent Chicago mansion (675 N. Rush St.). But money can’t buy you love: After divorcing his wife (a Rockefeller heir), Harold married a young opera singer—but only after receiving the transplanted testicles of a monkey. As for Stanley, his marriage likely went unconsummated, and he spent the last decades of his life confined to a California estate because of his compulsive masturbation and violent attacks on women.
Offended by the provocative pinups drawn by Alberto Vargas for Esquire—based then in the Palmolive Building (919 N. Michigan Ave.)—the U.S. Postmaster General revoked the magazine’s money-saving second-class mailing license in 1944; the Supreme Court overturned that ruling in 1946.
In 1954, Hugh Hefner moved Playboy out of his apartment into 11 East Superior Street, across the street from Holy Name Cathedral. Subsequent offices were at 232 East Ohio Street and 919 North Michigan Avenue (known from 1965 to 1990 as the Playboy Building).