CHICAGO — Al Capone's Depression-era sin palace--a once-opulent hotel that was home to mobsters and madams--is about to become a museum honoring the virtues of women.
The old Lexington Hotel, a one-time brothel and headquarters and home for Capone and his henchmen, will be converted into an international women's museum and research center in time for Chicago's 1992 World's Fair.
The project, developed by the nonprofit Sunbow Foundation, a women's organization, will showcase achievements by women around the world in politics, arts, health and science, and will honor groups such as the Girl Scouts.
While the museum will be a repository of women's history, it will not ignore the storied past of the Lexington, which had 10 underground tunnels and a dozen secret staircases, one of them in the bathroom.
"We're trying to make this into a cultural structure," said Patricia Porter, Sunbow's executive director. "I'm not sure linking Capone to us would be real cool. But we will have something in his honor."
The 10-story, 400-room Lexington, now vacant, opened in time for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Then-President Grover Cleveland honeymooned there. Foreign dignitaries and members of high society rubbed shoulders in the lavish ballroom.
But during Prohibition, Capone moved his criminal empire from the Metropole Hotel across the street to the Lexington. And "Scarface" was undoubtedly king of his castle.
"He paid something like $18,000 a year to live there," said Porter, who did extensive research on the hotel.
From 1928 to 1932 part of the Lexington, decorated with crystal chandeliers and Italian marble, was converted into a brothel, she said.
Capone's personal quarters were on the fifth floor.
"We found 10 tunnels underground that go in different directions . . . and a dozen secret staircases," Porter said. One was behind Capone's medicine chest.
On another floor, a mirror hid a door that led Capone to other buildings where his bookies conducted business.