Woody Allen, where are you when I need you? The story I'm about to tell is the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me..well you get the idea.
Following World War II the great migration and demographics of the great West Side of Chicago's Lawndale community began. Highways began construction. Housing in parts of Chicago, particularly Jeffrey Manor were built making the area appear to be a suburb within the city. Albany Park and Rogers Park on Chicago's North Side were the new homes of former Lawndale residents.
My parents however, who had originally immigrated from Eastern Europe decided to stay firm and remain in their apartment. This was on 15th and St. Louis streets in Lawndale. In 1948 the apartment building was sold to some brothers whose name I never knew and the change began.
We lived in a second floor walk up apartment. Below us was an old fashioned book bindery whose owner did not renew his lease and moved elsewhere. We all thought another business of sorts would lease the vacated store front. But who knew? The next thing that happened was a construction company gutted the interior of the store front, bricked it in and constructed a small apartment in the same space. They had to build an entrance to the new apartment so they knocked out a wall inside the doorway, moved the mail box and built an entrance with an appropriate doorway. Then, the new tenants moved in.
They were a nice looking group of girls that rented the space. So at the age of 16 when the opposite sex became a curiosity, the working girls moved in. As I learned later, our apartment was now on top of a brothel. I kid you not.
My younger brother and I shared the same bedroom that faced the street in front of our building. We started to notice men parking on the street, looking around and entering our building. They always went into the apartment to visit the ladies. What did we know in the age of innocence and before Playboy? Out of curiosity we asked our Mother why so many men came into the building. We didn't understand the answer as she simply said "everyone has to make a living". Oh my marvelous Mother trying to shield us from what was occurring. But we soon caught on: we were living above a brothel.
Before I started to write this article I looked up a meaning of the word. A brothel is "a business establishment where patrons engage in sexual activates with prostitutes". So that's it. They were engaged in a business. How dumb was I?
Now here's what I remember; then again how could a boy of 16 forget? One summer day we were sitting on the stoop in front of the building when one of the girls sat down next to me. She was beautiful and I was bashful and timid. "My name is Georgia, what's yours? "N..N..Norman" I replied in a stuttering fashion. She then asked if I had ever been with a girl and I really got nervous. After all, this was an experience to sit next to a working girl without realizing what she did. Moving forward, she inquired if she could offer her service to me as a learning experience. I quickly blurted out, "my Mother would not approve" or words to that effect. Now years later I wonder how dumb I sounded! But thank the good Lord for my innocence. Anyway I thanked her for her kind offer and ran upstairs to the safety of my apartment.
It was until 1953 when I was married to my wife that my folks lived above the business establishment. They moved to Albany Park where they remained for the balance of their lives.
Several years ago I visited the site of my boyhood and wondered if that apartment was still there. I was saddened to see the building, along with several others had been torn down. All that remained was rubble. At that point I had forgotten about the brothel and my memory saw the building in its original form with our second floor apartment, my three brothers and I cramped into a small bedroom and the book bindery under our apartment. Then, I must admit for one fleeting moment I wondered what happened to the business establishment.Woody Allen, did you get that? Somewhere in there is a movie to be made.
Memories light the corners of my mind, and I hope yours too!
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