Lansing’s Labahn House has ties to the Lansing Country Club, the Chicago Fire, and Al Capone

One of the services a newspaper provides is to document history. And one of the benefits of a digital newspaper is the ability to make history accessible and searchable. The Lansing Journal has created a Lansing History category where we can digitally store community milestones and events. Readers are invited to submit questions and ideas for this series to [email protected].

By Marlene Cook

LANSING, Ill. (February 11, 2022) – This story may require a bit of imagination. Imagine that it’s the early 1900s. You’re standing at Ridge Road and West Street. On the southeast corner, high on a sand ridge that once was a beach line, is a large brick house. The address is 3513 Ridge Road. The house is made of decorative red brick and trimmed in stone and enhanced with stained glass windows. At the sidewalk-level entrance to the yard are four steps up to the walkway that leads to the house. The front of the house is surrounded by a wrought iron fence mounted on a short stone wall. The walkway leads to a large front porch.

Six stairs lead to the front door. Six tall brick pillars support an upper-level porch where the white cross-board railing accentuated with bold cove corner moldings makes the house look like a mansion. Three stained glass windows are centered under the peaked roof. This house is known as the Labahn House.

Labahn House
Few photos remain of the Labahn House before Ridge Road businesses were built around it. This 1944 photo shows a For Sale sign in front of the house. Henry Labahn advertised the sale of the “cottage” in The Times on July 24, 1944. (Photo provided by the Labahn family)

The Labahns and Lansing in the 1900s

The house was built by Charles Labahn in 1900 when he was 30 years old, about the same time Ridge Road was completed but not yet paved. Charles was well known in the community. Since 1887 he and his brother John, along with a Mr. Wendall and Mr. Wolf, have owned the Labahn Brickyard at 186th and Wentworth Avenue. The brickyard would later become the Lansing Sportsman’s Club, more recently known as the Lansing Country Club. A great deal of the hand-made and sun-dried brick produced at the Labahn Brickyard was used to rebuild Chicago after the great fire of 1871.

Labahn’s neighbors to the east were the Winterhoffs. William Winterhoff owned and operated the general store where Gus Bock Hardware (now Gus Bock’s Ace Hardware) operates. Winterhoff had purchased the store from Henry Lansing, for whom the town was named.

History teacher Jeff White (left) leads a 2019 tour of Lansing historical highlights, including a stop at the historical marker outside Gus Bock’s Ace Hardware (3455 Ridge Road). (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
William Winterhoff was a leading businessman in early Lansing. The family name can still be seen on the north wall of the building at 3329 Ridge Road, which opened in 1926 as the Winterhoff Ford Agency. More recently the building was home to DeYoung Furniture Store but has been vacant since 2008. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Winterhoff and Labahn made a pretty good team. Together they operated Winterhoff and Labahn Grocery Store. And when Winterhoff built and opened the State Bank of Lansing in 1909, he made himself president and Labahn vice president. The announcement in The Times claimed the officers and directors were “some of the very best known men in the community.”

The Labahn House today

Now back to reality and 2022. You can’t see much of the beautiful Labahn House anymore, but it is still there. It’s hidden behind businesses that have taken over the front and side of the house. (Subway anchors the corner.) These buildings were constructed in 1956, changing a residential neighborhood into a downtown, and changing the Labahn House into extensions of the businesses.

Labahn House
The Labahn House is now surrounded and nearly engulfed by businesses. The Subway building and Norm’s Military Collectibles are in what was once the front yard of the residential home. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

At street level, if you look over the Subway building from Ridge Road you can get a glimpse of the second floor of the Labahn House and its three stained glass windows. From the west you see the side of the building. From the back, which now serves as a parking lot, you see that an addition was added at one time. This whole area is identified as a subdivision known as “Astells Add to Lansing.” However, no one seems to have any knowledge of that or who it might be named after. The property is currently owned by Jack Strand, a realtor and property manager in River Forest. He bought it from Midwest Suburban Publishing Company in March of 1998.

Labahn House
The roof and stained glass windows of the Labahn House are still visible from Ridge Road. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Lansing History
Lansing Historian Paul Schultz (circled) stops in front of the Labahn House to address the crowd gathered for his 2019 History Walk. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Paul Schultz, Lansing Historian, said he didn’t remember a lot about the house, but he did recall a stairway on the west side of the house. When I told him that in 1985 I went up a stairway through a door just south of Subway to deliver copy to the Pointer newspaper office (an affiliate of Midwest Suburban Publishing), he said, “Then you were in that house.” That was possible because the house was built on higher ground, and the businesses were on flat ground at street level.

The Labahn House can also be seen from West Street, peeking over the businesses that now surround it. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma, 2019)

Local memories of the Labahn House

According to Steve and Gloria (Kay) Piskula, who moved into their home on West Street in 1962, Wilder’s Grocery and Bakery store in the 1950s and 60s occupied the entire length of all the buildings along West Street. Dr. Wes Molenaar remembers that B. Clark Interiors sold furniture and draperies from that address. An ad in The Times touted “Three floors of furniture.” Molenaar grew up across the street in the building that now houses Molenaar Eye Care. He was good friends with Dewey Van Der Noord, whose family lived in the Labahn House in the early 1950s when the boys were ten or twelve years old.

They recalled a large barn behind the house with a loft inside where they would climb the ladder and play. They said they sometimes even slept up there. “It was like our own little clubhouse,” said Van Der Noord. “We had a stove, and we’d get a bucket of coal from [Willard “Butch”] Lorenz (Superior Coal) to stay warm. We collected old wax candles, melted them down, and made new ones so we had light.”

Molenaar remembered, “We’d also play in the attic of the house.” Van Der Noord added, “We’d climb out the stained glass windows onto the upper porch and throw snowballs at cars.” They also used that attic to hold boxing contests. “We put mattresses on the floor for our safety,” said Van Der Noord.

“In the kitchen was a dumb waiter, and we’d ride it up and down,” Van Der Noord continued. “There was no refrigeration, so the perishable foods were brought down the dumb waiter to the basement where it was colder.”

After Christmas the boys would collect discarded trees, haul them behind the barn, and have a huge bonfire. “Good clean fun!” said Molenaar.

Labahn’s descendants remember Al Capone

Some members of the Labahn family still live in Lansing. Charles (Chuck), a great-grandchild to Charles, and his wife Katherine live just down the street from the Labahn House in another house Chuck’s grandfather Henry built in 1917. Chuck’s sister, Anita Labahn Anderson, now lives in Griffith, Indiana. Conversation jumped from one topic to another as they recalled events and family members during a two-hour visit at the Lansing Public Library.

Chuck recalled that when he was very young his grandfather would get off the train just down the street after wintering in Florida: “The train would slow to a snail’s pace, and Grandpa would toss his bags to the ground, and then he’d jump off.”

Chuck said his grandpa made sausage in the basement. “It must have been pretty good because Al Capone would come to buy it. He’d drive up with his cronies and get out while his bodyguards stood outside.”

Anita said the Labahn House had a kitchen, dining room, living room, and five bedrooms. “One bedroom was off the kitchen and another off the dining room. The others were upstairs. Grandpa always sat in the dining room. The living room was separated by pocket doors. There was no heat upstairs, so I’d wear my clothes under my pajamas, and in the morning I’d take off my pajamas and I was fully dressed.”

Anita also remembered that her mother (Catherine) would make velvet flowers and sell them to earn money so she could buy linens. Her dad (Albert) didn’t think linens a necessity and refused to give her money to buy them. Albert played the piano and organ at a variety of events but would never teach his kids to play, although he advertised for music scholars in The Times.

A legacy of community

The Labahn name is not memorialized on Lansing buildings, parks, or street signs like Winterhoff, Lorenz, or Schultz. But for more than 150 years the family made significant contributions in a wide range of community involvements that helped write Lansing’s history. From Chuck’s great-grandparents (Charles and Anna Gehl), grandparents (Henry and Anna Van Behren), and parents (Albert and Catherine LeClair), to all the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, the Labahn community spirit lives on.

Labahn House
Ruth Ann Labahn Kirk was the daughter of Albert Labahn and sister of Anita, Diane, David, Charles, and Timothy. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 76, but her family provided these photos. Left: Ruth Ann at 2 years old. Gus Bock’s Hardware can be seen in the background. Right: Ruth Ann sits in the corner of the front yard of the Labahn House, 3513 Ridge Road, bracing herself by holding onto the wrought iron fence that surrounded the front yard at that time. (Photos provided by the Labahn family)
Labahn House
The Labahn House is a unique part of Lansing’s history, still visible in spite of the town’s growth. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

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