White City

Chicago’s White City.

Located at 63rd Street and South Park Avenue on Chicago’s South Side, White City employed hundreds of entertainers, including Dan Blanco, founder of Rush Street’s Club Alabam.

The $1,000,000 pleasure park opened on May 27, 1905, proving a perfect venue for Dan Blanco and his troupe of “Rathskellerians.”  They played the park’s Rathskeller for many summers and, years later, Dan Blanco continue to hire his musical friends at Club Alabam.

White City’s diverse programing included a band concert, gondola rides, a fire show (a three hundred  foot street scene, complete with police, pedestrians, and a burning building, ultimately saved by men from three fire companies!), and thrill rides that “bumped the bump.” The famous and novel infant incubators, fresh from the Saint Louis World’s Fair, were on display. Midget City was a popular feature. There was a photograph gallery, an observation wheel, and a ballroom ready to accommodate 2,400 eager dancers.

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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.

Chicago’s Novelty Night Club: Club Alabam

In 1927, when Dan Blanco opened Club Alabam at 747 Rush Street in downtown Chicago, the Roaring Twenties were going strong and Prohibition still gripped the nation. Establishing a new cabaret-style nightclub without the ability to serve legal liquor was a risky move. Dan Blanco, however, was a seasoned showman who had worked steadily in saloons, amusement parks, cabarets, and on the vaudeville stage. He had mounted shows at the popular Moulin Rouge Café, located in the Loop, and had operated a notorious roadhouse called Northern Lights, frequented by Chicago’s criminal element.

Blanco was connected to the best talent in town and staged popular entertainment night after night at Club Alabam. He offered good food at reasonable prices. And, while Prohibition was still in force, there was a relaxed attitude about liquor. His headwaiter and eventual partner was my great uncle, the effervescent Gene Harris. Together, their personalities made the nightclub a Rush Street institution.

My new book, The Blackest Sheep, tells how these two men managed to juggle the law and booze-selling gangsters. Life on the margins of respectable society could be thrilling as well as dangerous!

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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.

Dan Blanco: Founder of Chicago’s Club Alabam

Dan Blanco, Center.

Dan Blanco, founder of Chicago’s Club Alabam, was born Daniel Leblang on January 3, 1877, in Mazatlán, Mexico. As a small child, he immigrated with his parents to the U.S. and was naturalized when his father became a citizen in about 1885. A performer, songwriter, satirist, and cabaret host, coming of age at the turn of the twentieth century, Blanco headed an act inspired by French and German cabaret. Ragtime, Honky Tonk, and syncopated rhythms were all the rage and Blanco’s shows pushed the limits of “respectable” middle class entertainment.

During the 1910s, Blanco and his group of “Rathskellerians,” became a longtime favorite act at White City, one of Chicago’s most successful amusement parks. The Rathskeller at White City would be Blanco’s testing ground for new material, where he and his players charmed Midwestern audiences with their titillating songs while mingling with the customers in an intimate setting.

After working in many saloons, cabarets, and nightclubs across Chicago, in 1927, Dan Blanco opened Club Alabam at 747 Rush Street.  A popular nightspot for decades, it was destined to become a Chicago favorite where locals and “visiting firemen” could relax, enjoy good food, song and dance performed by solid talent, and, occasionally, some illicit gambling.

In my new book, The Blackest Sheep, the easy-going Dan Blanco is rediscovered and regains his rightful place in Chicago’s entertainment history.

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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.