As part of an effort to identify historic resorts and lodges in Sawyer County, the Wisconsin Historical Society on May 22 sent a group of historians and architects to explore the buildings and grounds of The Hideout, the onetime lodge of the infamous prohibition gangster Al Capone.
The tour was arranged for Daina Penkiunas, deputy state historic preservation officer for the Historical Society, who was accompanied by Matthew Wiedenhoeft, an architect for MartinRiley Architects-Engineers of Oshkosh, and Rachel Peterson, an architectural historian with HessRoise historical consultants of Minneapolis. The tour was conducted by Susan Aasen, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe (LCO) and LCO Historical Society.
During the first round of its survey of resorts and lodges, the Historical Society looked at more than 100 possible sites of historic value in Sawyer County. That list was whittled down to 15 now under consideration for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s our chance to look at these sites that were part of that period during the height of resorts and clubs in this part of Wisconsin,” Wiedenhoeft said. Some of the sites also might be eligible for special tax credits if they are still income-producing properties.
Now owned by LCO, The Hideout currently is not being used for commercial purposes. The tribe is exploring a variety of plans for the site, including returning it to a tourist destination.
The tour included a visit inside the main lodge with its large fieldstone fireplace and twin winding staircases leading to the second-floor walkway to four small bedrooms and a bathroom. The group also went into the basement, where questions were raised about the function of two long concrete troughs on the floor next to the walls. One theory is that blocks of ice were placed there.
“This is really interesting to see this,” Penkiunas said of the lodge. “It is such a fascinating building. The interior has this formality with those staircases, and I even love the fact that it has those little hearts on the window shutters and the stained glass windows. It’s definitely unique.”
“It’s beautiful even if no famous people were ever here,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I think the façade itself is a beautiful façade with the fieldstone foundation, and certainly the interior is one-of-a-kind for lodging in this area. You have the fireplace, the two staircases going up either side and the stained glass windows — all of which makes this, I think, a piece that should be saved.”
Peterson said she’s read newspaper articles of the 1920s that mention “Al Capone and his friends” were in the area, but reveal no specifics about Capone’s location. Wiedenhoeft said he has read an FBI file in which one of Capone’s underlings claims the famous St. Valentine’s Massacre in Chicago was planned at The Hideout.
The group walked around the lodge and visited other buildings. One building on the property, popularly known as “the jail” because of the iron bars in the door of the small brick building, received Wiedenhoeft’s attention. He pointed out the building was, in fact, not a jail but rather an icehouse. He noted the iron bars on the door and the door itself are modern materials. He explained how ice was brought in blocks from the rear and covered in sawdust and straw set around the small brick room to keep it cold.
He also maintained that what had been called a “gun tower” on the property — a small, round stone structure about six feet tall and built on a nearby rise next to the former garage-turned-gift shop, was more than likely not a gun tower where Capone’s guards kept vigil over the property but rather a water tower.
Beside the former bunkhouse, the group looked inside a two-car garage with fieldstone walls and noticed how the building appeared to be a blend of old and newer materials.
Addressing the state of the buildings, Wiedenhoeft said, there is some concern about the condition of the masonry in the fieldstone foundations and the status of some windows.
He was reassured that the lodge roof was replaced in 2018 but had questions about the roofs of the other historic buildings.
Asked about what it takes to do a “historic” renovation, Wiedenhoeft said it begins with using materials that are similar to the original materials. The fixtures most often renovated typically are windows. At The Hideout there are several casement windows with a number of divisions or plates in the windows. He’s seen where some historic sites have replaced those older windows with modern vinyl ones that were not historic, causing consternation from historians.
“If you are going to be putting the property on the National Register, that is something the National Register and the Department of Interior and the State’s Historical Preservation Office are going to look for,” he said of a historic restoration. “What does the building look like? Does it maintain the original appearance that it had?”
Penkiunas said the Sawyer County survey will not produce a published report, but the information obtained will be entered into the historical society’s database.
“It gives us a better understanding of the resources that are here, gives a base of knowledge about the resort era of this part of the state,” she said.