A Historical Society of Forest Park walking tour of Roosevelt Road last Saturday evoked the rollicking days of Prohibition and racetrack gambling.
Executive Director Diane Hansen Grah led a group west from Harlem to Desplaines Avenue pointing out historic sites such as the Harlem Jockey Club racetrack and McGurn’s gambling house.
In the days before the village became Forest Park, the mayor, members of the Harlem Village Council and the police chief were indicted for gambling at the racetrack, which lasted from 1894 to 1904. After village officials were swept up in a police raid, fed-up villagers finally pushed the horses out and the track was used for auto racing until it became a golf course, and eventually the Forest Park Mall.
The group wandered past Andrea’s restaurant, former home to the Torpedo Tap (later renamed the Armory Lounge), home-away-from-home for Oak Park mobster Sam Giancana.
The FBI bugged the joint in the 1960s by arresting a janitor on a trumped-up charge, Hansen Grah said. Emptying his pockets, FBI agents copied the keys to the eatery, entered after hours and placed their hidden wiretap microphones.
Miles away from any ocean, the Amertorp torpedo factory on Roosevelt Road pumped out naval ordnance during World War II.
“Forest Park was so proud of these distinctive products that the village vehicle stickers were in the shape of a torpedo for several years,” Grah said.
The plant closed in the 1970s and was refurbished into the Forest Park Mall.
The group also got a tour of the Nadeau Ice company offices, which included a historic display of ice picks and vintage ice boxes. The group walked through the company’s frozen party room which includes a roaring fireplace carved from ice as well as a basketball backboard and frozen sushi bar.
Hansen Grah was able to answer a question many have asked about Roosevelt Road: Teddy or Franklin?
The answer is, it’s named after Teddy. Local authorities changed the name from 12th Street in 1919, the year Teddy Roosevelt died — years before FDR was president.