Friday, December 30, 2016

The Rainbo Building's History, 4812-4836 North Clark Street, Chicago (Uptown Community), Illinois.

An In-Depth History of the Rainbo Building Starting from 1894.
The Rainbo building (yes, 'Rainbo' is the correct spelling) on Clark Street and Lawrence Avenue (in the Uptown Community) has a long history of businesses, sports venues, nightclubs, way before the ice skating rink and the roller skating rink, we all remember.
As early as 1894, the site was occupied by a small roadside restaurant that likely enjoyed a robust business. After all, the roadhouse had a prime location. It was situated alongside what was then still the main road between Chicago and the northern suburbs, Clark Street (formerly Green Bay Road), and stood across the street from one of the city's largest cemeteries, St. Boniface. Like many other picnic groves that operated across the city's northern periphery during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Clark Street Roadhouse would have offered weary travelers and cemetery visitors a welcome place to stop and refresh themselves before continuing their journeys or returning to the city. There was a restaurant, a tavern, and a spacious picnic grove outback. Two lengthy horse sheds provided visitors a place to unhitch their horses and park their carriages.

Urban growth gradually engulfed the Clark Street roadhouse for the next twenty years. As the area grew, the roadhouse changed. By 1905, its owners had added a second floor to the restaurant and erected a two-story beer hall, a bowling alley, an outdoor dance floor, and stand-alone refreshment stands. These new amenities helped transform the old roadhouse into an urban amusement center. Whereas the old nineteenth-century roadhouse had catered to travelers and cemetery visitors whose dining options were limited by the site's remoteness, the enlarged twentieth-century eatery and outdoor pleasure ground competed with other urban amusements for the business of young, pleasure-seeking urbanites. By the summer of 1917, the pleasure spot had come to be known as the Moulin Rouge Gardens, with D'Urbano's Eccentric Italian Band heading the bill of entertainers.
After the First World War ended, Chicago restaurateurs Fred and Al Mann took over the Moulin Rouge Gardens. The pair changed the place's name to Rainbo Gardens, reportedly remembering Al's wartime service in the 42nd "Rainbow" Division of the American Expeditionary Forces. After a visit in July 1921, a Variety correspondent reported that the Rainbo Gardens was "running an easy first with the money-getters. The gardens are beautifully decorated, cool and inviting. Stunts are providing drawing cards, and a toddler contest went viral. An automobile is to be given to the winners."
But owner Fred Mann had bigger ideas. In 1921, he set about giving the old pleasure spot a million-dollar makeover. Plans called for redesigned outdoor gardens for summertime events and the construction of a two-story structure to house a cocktail bar and dining room that would remain open year-round. The rebuilt gardens opened in June 1922. 

According to a promotional pamphlet, the gardens were "surrounded by a wall with tall trees planted at intervals to provide an illusion of complete remoteness from city life." Four months later, the Rainbo Casino, housing the cocktail bar and dining room, opened for business. 

The dining room, known as the Rainbo Room, could accommodate as many as 2,000 diners at a time—plus an additional 1,500 dancers if need be. Variety said it was "probably the largest cafe in America conducted strictly on a dine and dance basis." Indirect, multi-colored lighting gave the Rainbo Room a romantic glow, and a revolving stage ensured that the entertainment—be it vaudeville, ballet, or dance music—never stopped.
Some of the biggest names in Chicago nightlife performed at Rainbo Gardens during the early twentieth century. During the late 1910s, singing sensation Ruth Etting performed there after making a name for herself as a costume designer at Chicago's Marigold Gardens. She wowed audiences at the Rainbo Gardens with her deep singing voice and eye-catching chorus-line costumes. 

Before leaving for Hollywood, many Chicagoans had come to know her as "Chicago's Sweetheart." Musicians were also an essential part of the Rainbo Gardens during these years. Renowned saxophonist Isham Jones led one of many so-called Rainbo Orchestras while performing at the Gardens during the early 1920s. Jones' Orchestra thrilled the Rainbo's dancers with snappy jazz pieces like "Dance-O-Mania" and "Jing-A-Bula-Jing-Jing-Jing," as well as more romantic tunes like "I Love You Sunday" and "Sahara Rose." Frank Westphal, Ralph Williams, and Sam Wagner were the other bandleaders performing at the Gardens during the 1920s.
Despite the top-flight entertainers, Rainbo Gardens, like many of the city's other nightspots, struggled during Prohibition. The ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages took much of the excitement out of the place. Patrons responded by smuggling their liquor flasks into the Gardens and sharing them with others. Rainbo's managers, not unlike their counterparts at other Chicago nightclubs, usually turned a blind eye to the surreptitious liquor consumption, not willing to risk driving away patrons. Federal prohibition agents, however, were not so tolerant. One of the first big raids came in October 1920, when federal agents stormed the Rainbo and the nearby Green Mill Gardens and seized an ample supply of liquor at both establishments. The raids continued, on and off, for the next eight years.

Jack McGurn of Al Capone's Chicago Outfit became a part-owner of the Green Mill and became Capone's north-side hangout. An access hatch to the tunnels led underneath the street to a different building; this was how Capone eluded the authorities when the Green Mill was raided.

Mann looked to protect his investments against the uncertainties of Prohibition by diversifying the Rainbo's range of amusements. In 1927, he converted the outdoor gardens into an indoor sports arena with 1,726 permanent seats. Initially known as the Rainbo Fronton, the arena pushed the Manns' total investment in the property to over $2 million. At first, the Fronton was used for jai alai matches, the novelty of which attracted the interest of many Chicagoans. For a time, the sports pages of the city's daily newspapers were filled with jai alai scores and profiles of various Rainbo Fronton players. As the novelty of the sport wore off, however, the Fronton began to be used primarily for boxing and wrestling matches. The facility could accommodate as many as 2500 for the matches by setting up an additional 800 seats on the arena's main floor.

Meanwhile, the Rainbo remained a top target of law enforcement officials. Prohibition agents intensified their efforts in 1927 and 1928. During the wee hours of the morning of February 5, 1928, agents raided the Rainbo and at least ten other Chicago nightclubs without the use of search warrants. Variety reported, "For the first time in the history of local prohibition enforcement, no search warrants were used, and every guest with a highball glass, ice, ginger ale, or charged waters at their tables were given the once over. Names and addresses were taken and verified before the people were permitted to leave." Law enforcement officials contended that night clubs functioned as public spaces and could be entered by law enforcement officials without search warrants–even though search warrants had always been used. However, Fred Mann and other Chicago nightclub owners challenged such tactics by forming a local trade association and taking prohibition officials to court. They contended that raids conducted without search warrants were unconstitutional and that local enforcement of Prohibition targeted outlying nightclubs, like the Rainbo while ignoring widespread liquor consumption at prestigious downtown hotels.

Following the February 1928 raid, federal authorities ordered Rainbo Gardens closed. Soon after that, Mann was arrested on gambling charges. Authorities alleged that Mann sponsored illegal pari-mutuel betting at the Rainbo Fronton. Mann fell into bankruptcy in February 1929 with the Rainbo still padlocked. The Rainbo reopened in November 1929, with the Charley Straight Band providing the entertainment. Shortly after reopening, a fire forced the Rainbo to close yet again. It reopened in December 1929 after a month of reconstruction and redecorating, but by then, many Chicagoans had found other places to enjoy themselves.

The Rainbo's struggles continued during the Depression. Most activities during the 1930s centered in the Rainbo Fronton, where jai alai tournaments and other sporting events continued to draw crowds. 

By contrast, the old Rainbo Casino remained relatively quiet. For a few months in 1934, the second year of the Century of Progress exposition, it reopened as the "French Casino." 
The French Casino
A few years later, in 1939, theatrical producer Michael Todd and a group of investors purchased the Rainbo Gardens complex. After spending an estimated $60,000 on repairs and new decorations, Todd reopened the old Rainbo Casino, calling it the Michael Todd Theatre Café. The new Theatre Café and its spectacular stage show proved very popular.
Michael Todd Theatre Cafe Dinner Stage Show 1939
Upsetting every nightclub tradition, he ran his establishment according to the principles of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, aiming the entire operation for the ordinary people. Admission was 50¢, dinner 75¢ (the most popular dessert was Jello); Champagne cocktails cost a quarter, cigarettes cost exactly what they did at any tobacco store, and hat-checking was free. Chicago's hard-working people loved the Theatre Café to the tune of $65,000 a week.

Inflation from 1939 to 2023: $65,000 x 52 = $ 3,380,000 a year in 2023.

This was too tempting for Chicago's gangsters to make their hands behave. The Nitti mob, heirs of Al Capone, began moving in and pressuring Todd's backers and several unions involved in the club's operation. A cover charge was instituted; food and drink prices soared; hat-check girls set out their saucers for tips; cigarettes cost a lot more; there was no more Jello to be had. Todd finally sold his stock and left Chicago in May 1931

Following Todd's departure, police raided the Theatre Café and discovered employees selling liquor to minors. The city subsequently revoked the nightclub's license, forcing it to close again.

After the Second World War, new operators reopened the Rainbo, holding wrestling matches in the Fronton. A bowling alley was also built on part of the property.
An ice skating rink was installed in 1957. It subsequently became a practice rink for the Chicago Blackhawks, including the year they won the 1961 Stanley Cup. 

It also became a training rink for several Olympic figure Ice Skaters and housed a pro bowling alley before it became a rock music venue.

The section of the building that became the Kinetic Playground was originally the Rainbo Gardens Ballroom (later a restaurant, casino, and bowling alley before it became a rock club). It was directly to the south of the Rainbo ice skating rink. 

Aaron Russo originally opened a nightclub called the 'Electric Theatre.' He was forced to change the name sometime in the summer of 1968, choosing "The Kinetic Playground" after a threatened lawsuit from New York City's Electric Circus. Gangsters fire-bombed the Kinetic Playground on November 7, 1969, destroying the roof and light show.
Led Zeppelin – Kinetic Playground, Chicago. 1969
The club was subsequently reopened in the early 1970s. A somewhat circular room with a manned huge projection booth hanging from the middle of the ceiling, filled with fifty automatic film and slide projectors and strobe lights for the psychedelic light show. The club featured a huge balcony, eight sound towers, a kaleidoscope of full-length mirrors, an amoeba-shaped stage, and meditation booths.
There was no relationship between the Kinetic Playground at Rainbo and a new Kinetic Playground venue that operated until 2011 at 1113 West Lawrence Avenue, Chicago.
The New Kinetic Playground, 1113 West Lawrence Avenue, Chicago.
One section of the building was originally the Rainbo Fronton, then the Rainbo Ice Arena and Rainbo Roller Rink). This section was used for the sport of Jai lai (A sport involving a ball bounced off a walled space by accelerating it to high speeds with a hand-held device called a 'Cesta,' a wicker basket used to catch and throw the ball.), boxing, wrestling, a 30-lane bowling alley, and an ice skating rink.

The Rainbo changed from ice skating to roller skating in 1980 until the Rainbo Roller Rink was  closed in 2003.

In 1980, the new Rainbo Roller Rink surface was laid atop the space that, for the previous 22 years, had been maintained for ice skating. Skating patrons entered the building from Clark Street, then walked down a 100-foot hallway, passing the Rainbo Skate Pro-Shop on the way. The shop moved to Skokie and is now located in Northbrook, IL.

Before it was demolished, the Rainbo Roller Rink was still open to the public. It was primarily a late-night roller skating rink but also hosted some concerts in the rink as well. The last event held in the building was on March 30, 2003, and it was demolished in November 2003.

Why Couldn't the Rainbo Building be Saved?
The Rainbo building was not saved because the owners, United Skates of America[1], were no longer making a profit from the Rainbo Roller Rink and their other leases, so they sold the property. The building had been up for sale for several years before it was purchased by the current owners. Even though the Social Security Administration office had originally planned to lease part of the building, they backed out of the lease due to the lack of maintenance. The building had been up for sale for several years before it was finally purchased, and preservationists did not attempt to buy or save it.

The New Complex.
There is a new condominium complex where the great Rainbo building once stood. The latest and unique condominium complex honors the original Rainbo building named the Rainbo Village, Condos & Townhomes, 4812-4846 North Clark Street, Chicago.
Rainbo Village, Condos & Townhomes, 4812-4846 North Clark Street, Chicago.
1894 - Roadside Saloon & Restaurant.

1905 - Additions to the restaurant include a 2nd floor, a two-story beer hall, a bowling alley, an outdoor dance floor, and several stand-alone refreshment stands.

1917 - Became known as "Moulin Rouge Gardens."

1922 - Name changed to 'Rainbo Gardens.' The Rainbo Casino and Rainbo Room were added in a significant renovation.

1927 - Outdoor gardens were converted into an indoor sports arena called the 'Rainbo Fronton' and 'Rainbo Arena' (used for jai-alai, boxing, and wrestling matches).

1934 - During the 1934 Chicago World's Fair, it was known as the 'French Casino'.

1939 - Michael Todd reopened the old Rainbo Casino and renamed it the 'Michael Todd's Theatre Cafe.' It was closed after a short period when Todd fell out of favor with the Chicago Outfit.

1940s - A bowling alley was added to the complex.

1957 - An ice skating rink was added to the facility.

1968 - The Electric Theatre opened.

1968-73 - The name was changed to Kinetic Playground due to a threatened lawsuit.

1980 - Rainbo Roller Rink opened.

2003 - The building was demolished for condominiums.

Chicago Tribune, December 3, 2003: Construction crews discovered bones (reportedly from two different people) in the rink's basement and a couple of sneakers. It was thought they died in the early 1900s.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] The United Skates of America is a nationwide chain of family-friendly roller skating rinks that began in Columbus, Ohio, around 1972. Rainbo Roller Rink was the location in Chicago in the 1970s. Today, In Chicago, it's the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Park & Family Entertainment Center, 1219 West 76th Street, Chicago, Illinois. 

The Rainbo Fades Away.
By Kevin Adair | Lerner News-Star - April 9, 2003
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Uptown residents will soon hear the sounds of wrecking balls and construction once a time, claiming the historic Rainbo Roller Rink, 4812 N. Clark Street , to make way for a condo complex. 

The last group of skaters left the rink around 2:40 AM. Monday, March 31. Within 24 hours, all 12 of the rink's huge mirror balls were lowered in preparation for the wall-to-wall sale of the building's contents on April 2 and 3. 

In the end, the historical and social value of the rink was exceeded by the property's real-estate value. 

Rainbo and its parking lot sit on two acres that have seen many entertainment uses over the past 130 years. In the 1870s, a beer garden was built there. Rainbo's current building dates back to 1922, featuring a theater/restaurant and an outdoor garden with lavish stage shows. 

Michael Ross, a former security employee, said that in the 1920s, the building included a tunnel up Lawrence Avenue toward the Green Mill on Broadway, allowing gangsters and other patrons to escape Prohibition-era police raids. 

In addition, the building has hosted wrestling, boxing, dog shows, bowling lanes, an ice-skating rink, and various performance uses, from rock concerts to Big Band ballroom dancing. 

In 1980, the Rainbo Roller Rink surface was laid atop the space that for the previous 22 years had been maintained for ice skating. Skating patrons entered the building from Clark Street, then walked down a 100-foot hallway, passing the Rainbo Skate Shop on the way. The skate shop has since moved to Oakton Avenue in Skokie (now relocated to Northbrook, Illinois).

As they entered, many didn't realize that to their left was a colossal, vacant, crumbling neoclassic ornate plasterwork juxtaposed with an Art Deco ceiling of extended and retracted circular platforms. Surrounding the chamber on three sides, 20 feet above floor level, is an abroade and deep balcony that suffered fire and water damage. 

In the 1960s, the forward space of the building was the Kinetic Playground concert venue, hosting such acts as the Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. By the late '80s, the former Kinetic Playground space had become one of the area's first skate parks, where skateboarders could navigate obstacles and display their skills on half-pipe-shaped ramps that propelled them nearly as high as the 40-foot ceiling. 

But, skate park installation park came the destruction and removal of the original bar and lower-wall paneling, both made of fine imported wood. The skate park was only used for a few years before it was closed down due to liability concerns. 

In the 1990s, the U.S. General Services Administration contracted to use the forward space of the Rainbo building for a new Social Security office. But then it halted in mid-construction, leaving the current gravel floor. General Manager Mark Stern said a fire in the neighboring Crafty Beaver Home Improvement store contributed further to the building's structural problems. 

The Rainbo's patrons, staff, and management gave different reasons for the club's recent demi. Still, several things are clear: Columbus, Ohio-based United Skates of America, which had owned the building and the business for 22 years, sold the building to a developer in early 2001 but continued to operate the business as Rainbo under their lease agreement. Patrons were notified at the beginning of March 2001 that their beloved rink would remain open for less than 30 more. 

Many of the over 500 patrons who skated on the club's closing night shared stories of growing up and making close friendships inside the Rainbo. 

"This should have been the last rink of all the rinks to close," patron Jesse Woolfolk said. "I've been skating for 42 years, and we had nothing (else) on the North Side as far as skating. So I was here the day it opened. I used to work as a Redi-Mix truck driver. If I was here around lunchtime, I'd jump out of my truck, run in here real quickly, skate and jump back into my truck and go." 

"Skating is one thing my wife and I have always had in common, and she's skating here with me tonight." 

Employees who had just completed their last shift at the Rainbo, including bartender Darnell Harris, blamed poor management for causing the North Side's only roller skating rink to go out of business. 

"I started DJ-ing here when they first opened, and I left, then I came back here in 1984, and I've been here ever since," Harris said. "This (closing) is about bad management. The Social Security Administration would move its headquarters entrance to the other side of this building. They reneged on the contract, but they still had to pay. That money didn't come back to keep this place open." 

Following community protests over plans to move the Social Security office from Lincoln Square to the Rainbo building, the U.S. General Services Administration agreed to place it at its current location at Lawrence and Leavitt.

Stern confirmed that United Skates' financial benefit from the Social Security contract still needs to be reinvesting into improvements at the Rainbo site. Stern also confirmed that the profits from the Rainbo had been used by United Skates to expand into additional rinks around the country. But few of the corporation's profits had come back to improve the Rainbo facility, except that a new game room, party room, and bathrooms had been added on the south side of the building. 

But the Rainbo didn't simply close because the company needed to redevelop the property further. Stern emphasized that while profits had increased under his management, the roller rink business was required to provide its owners with more profit. 

Stern said they notified the public as soon as they knew their lease was terminating, which forced them to cancel already contracted events tracked, including Monday night hockey, spring break programming, and concerts. 

Stern dismisses the likelihood of any last-hour preservation attempts, noting that Rainbo had the building for sale for several years before it was purchased by the current owners, who left the rink untouched for over a year. Preservationists could have stepped in at any point, he said. 

"Where were they three years ago when the building was for sale?" Stern asked. 

Jim Dvorak, United Skates President, pointed out that the monies generated from the Social Security Administration's pull-out were on the real-estate side of the ledger and were never intended to go to skating rink coffers. Had the U.S. government had agency not abruptly changed its plans, Dvorak said, its use of the other half of the building could have helped keep the Rainbo open. 

Dvorak encourages Chicago skaters to visit the company's newer rink located at 79th and Racine, which was opened about two years ago. 

But adults, kids, teenagers, and entire families will unlikely trek over 20 miles to the nearest open rink. Young people from Uptown and neighboring communities will no longer have that venue as a constructive outlet for their energy. 

Those present at the Rainbo on the night of its last hurrah will likely remember the fantastic moves of men, women, and children who were dancing, gliding, spinning and leaping backward and forwards, including moves reminiscent of singer James Brown, creating a Broadway-worthy performance that Chicago's North Side may not see repeated for many years to come.

Learner Newspapers


  1. Larry Fine was working at the Rainbo Room in 1928, where he was hired by Ted Healy to join what would become The Three Stooges.


  2. I saw its a beautiful day with a band called traqility. Does anyone remember that show? Lol if you do you probably weren't there

  3. i used to play hockey there, oh the stories i could tell......

  4. I did the now famous Saturday Night Dance Parties and Concerts from 1983 to 1978 featuring Djs And Dance Acts like LISA LISA & CULT JAM. #TonyBitoyProductions

  5. It was mostly a latino club. A lot of Puerto Ricans hung out there as well as Janell's on Clark st. The Tunnel was another Latin club on Belmont. There was a video on Youtube that showed the Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam performing there.

    1. Please reread the article because it was a club that latinos attended, but only for a short period of its existence.

  6. I worked at Rainbo in the 70's and the Carvells became good friends. Cale still is a good friend. Oh the stories I could tell.....

    1. Worked there too. Cale was a good guy.

    2. Dave Neustadter was my husband. We met there. Cale was our best man at our wedding. Dave passed away 12 years ago.

  7. I regret not having pictures of the skateboard ramps we used to ride in the 80's at Rainbo

  8. I loved rainbo in the 80s....Friday night 8 to 12 "lat night" ....John the dj, Sargon, Karen, Jack, Joseph and Eddie all worked there and Nino was the manager lol I'll never ever forget

    1. My name is Kim I was working there at the time I know all of them and eddie to

  9. I had my 6th or 7th birthday party there in '92 or '93. Lots of fun memories as a kid roller skating there. Pizza was terrible, though! :)

  10. I had my 50th birthday party there on September 27, 2002. We had years of skating there on Gay Monday Nights. And that is also where I courted my future husband. We have been together for 36 years!

  11. I have vivid memories of the Rainbo from when I was a kid in the 80s- countless birthday parties & school outings. I celebrated a couple of my own birthdays there and I will never forget doing the Hokey-Pokey w/the Skatesaurus & everyone else in the rink. Sad that the legacy of this amazing building has been replaced by something as uninteresting as condos.

  12. Remember slot car racing on multiple lane course, you could purchase fiber glass bodies, engines, tires for custom up grades!

    1. I had a couple of slot cars. We went to "Tom Thumb" in Evanston. They had 5 or 6 tracks and an elaborit track, HO gage. The Pro Shop had the goods. Lots of fun. Some parents would get inside the track to place spin-outs back on track.

  13. I remember The Fabulous Ones would skate there back in the 80's. They were amazing. I wonder what happened to them.

  14. Cool article. I ice skated at Rainbo in the 70's and I roller skated there once in the late 90s. That next to last photo of the skating floor circle with a jam skater surrounded by onlookers is interesting to me because the guy on the right with his arms crossed is probably me! I wish the resolution was a bit better to be certain. Never knew the history before.

  15. my dad ran the boilers and bar tended late 40 early 50s it was wrestling arena i used to play fight when i was 5/6 years old with the wrestlers


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