There’s no shortage of historic homes in suburban Oak Park. After all, it’s the city where Frank Lloyd Wright launched his career, inspiring a generation of architects to develop what's widely considered to be the first true brand of American architecture, the Prairie school.
But Oak Park also has a seedier history, one tracing back to the bootlegging days of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit.
At 1224 Kenilworth Avenue, a double-wide bungalow stands among historic homes built at the advent of the Prairie school. And while it's certainly unique for its double bay windows, the structure is better known as the former home of Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, a ruthless hitman and Capone confidant.
Legend has it, says Berkshire Hathaway agent and local radio personality Cara Carriveau, that McGurn was one of the masterminds behind the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which left seven Capone rivals dead on the North Side.
While police suspected McGurn to have been a key player in the attack, an alibi — spending the day with his girlfriend, Louise Rolfe — kept him from trial. Rolfe, dubbed “The Blonde Alibi” by the press, would eventually marry McGurn and share the house with him.
“I’m sure there’s a good reason why his nickname is Machine Gun,” Carriveau says. “There’s a gangster bus tour that goes through Oak Park and this is one of the stops.”
The house has even made an appearance on the small screen. In 2014, National Geographic visited 1224 Kenilworth with its show Diggers, on which co-hosts George Wyant and Tim Saylor perform archeological searches for relics at historic sites.
Beyond its small role in Chicago Outfit lore, the 3,349-square-foot bungalow has a much longer history with the family who currently owns it. Pauline Trilik Sharpe grew up in the house, which her parents bought 55 years ago, and fondly remembers sharing the space with friends and family.
“As a child, it was great with my grandfather living here … when my parents were at work, I could go upstairs and visit [him],” Trilik Sharpe recalls of the multi-generational household. “It’s a large home and we’d have gatherings and parties with up to 50 people.”
Given the home's sprawling first floor, it made sense for Trilik Sharpe's parents to stay there into old age. But with her folks gone, Trilik Sharpe says she feels increasingly like a caretaker of the house, and is ready to let another family build memories there.
She adds that she’s happy to share as much of the home's past with its next owners as they'd like. Because, she believes, “people are interested in the history of the houses they own.”