Gene Harris’ Fashion Club Stables

 

In addition to owning and operating Chicago’s Club Alabam, Gene Harris loved horses and riding thoroughbreds.  In 1937, Harris’ deep Virginia roots were showing when he purchased the Fashion Club Stables, located on North Cleveland Avenue, one block west of Clark Street.

Harris’ lighthearted personality infused every business he launched and his advertisements for the stables echoed his amusing ads for Club Alabam.

Tragically, the stables burned in 1945, killing a total of eighty horses.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Gene Harris’ Club Alabam

By the mid-1930s, Gene Harris was the sole proprietor of Chicago’s Club Alabam and his effervescent personality defined the popular nightspot.  His wit and charm drew a relaxed, fun-loving crowd. His snappy advertisements in local papers attracted the outgoing patrons he enjoyed.

In 1939, ad headlines like “Maybe We’re Crazy . . .” sold a lot of Flaming Crater Dinners at the reasonable price of $1.50.  Four shows nightly kept customers flowing into Harris’ club until the wee hours of the morning. Solid talent like Lil Bernard and Flo Henrie worked Club Alabam for years.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

My Harris Family of Central Virginia

Minnie Garland Harris and Eugene Alexander Harris, 1900.

 

For several generations, my Harris family lived in central Virginia. My grandmother, Minnie Garland Harris, was born in Buckingham County in 1891. Her mother died that autumn and within two years, Minnie and her father, Clay Harris, migrated to a small town in southern Iowa called Leon. There, they joined an already established group of Harrises and kinfolk who were thriving in business.

Eventually Clay Harris married again and, in 1899, had a son Eugene Alexander Harris, making my grandmother’s brother the first of my very long line of Harrises to be born outside of Virginia.

“Gene” Harris proved to be a boy filled with wanderlust. Dissatisfied with the limitations of a small Iowan town, as an adolescent he headed for San Francisco where he worked as a waiter, beginning a life-long career in restaurants and nightclubs. Eventually, he traveled to Chicago and, by 1923, was settled in his new home. There he would meet songwriter, performer, and entrepreneur Dan Blanco, who introduced European-style cabaret to the city.

Blanco and Harris proved to be a dynamite team, launching Club Alabam in 1927. Together, they skirted the law and dodged gangsters during the violence-filled days of Prohibition. Even after liquor was legal again, there was never a dull moment at the nightclub. Illegal gambling drew customers and paid police protection didn’t always keep the cops from the door.

My new book, The Blackest Sheep, chronicles Gene Harris’ life story in which he befriends show people, deals with Chicago’s criminal element, and creates a loyal following of customers at Club Alabam.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Gene Harris’ Club Alabam

Gene Harris’s obituary, December 27, 1964.

Following my mother’s death, I discovered a surprising obituary in her filing cabinet. Dated December 27, 1964, it revealed that my grandmother had a brother, Gene Harris. He was a complete mystery to me. Why had I never heard of him?

Quickly, it became clear that my grandmother Minnie (Harris) Sanger and Gene Harris were half-siblings, sharing the same father, my great-grandfather, Clay Harris.

Gene’s obituary ran on page three of the Chicago Tribune, indicating he was a prominent Chicago resident. Written by Will Leonard, author of the newspaper’s weekly entertainment column, “On The Town,” the article stated that, at the time of his death, Gene Harris owned the oldest single-proprietor nightclub in the city—Club Alabam.  A local hero in Chicago, was Uncle Gene a “black sheep” in the Harris family?

Since 1995, I have explored the lives of my vast Harris family. Ultimately, the intriguing and sometimes shocking details of Gene Harris’ life resulted in The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam.

In upcoming posts, I will expand on the research behind The Blackest Sheep and share tidbits about Chicago history, especially the growth of cabarets and nightclubs before, during, and after Prohibition.

Please join me on a fun and danger-filled trip through Chicago after dark. You’ll meet gangsters, G-men, showgirls, and a wide variety of musicians and performers—including the scandalous beauty Evelyn Nesbit!

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on Facebook at The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.