Do the owners of Lawrence House, a troubled "retirement home" at 1020 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, have a history of negligence when it comes to safety? It's not just the occasional, even understandable violation of a code due to innocent oversight. Rather, there seems to be a pattern of willful neglect of safety codes in the history of owners Sam Menetti and his partners. A fire at Lawrence House on March 9, 2010 had "suspicious" cause, and seems to be just one of many violations by its owners - not just at Lawrence House, but also in taverns owned and operated by them. Lawrence House is owned by "Lawrence House LLC," whose management is listed as Sam Menetti and Hodo Menetti at 2200 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago, which is also listed as the LLC's principle office. The fire alarms reportedly did not work properly during the March 9 fire at Lawrence House. "Many residents standing on the sidewalk in front of Lawrence House told Lake Effect News that the building’s alarm system did not go off during the fire," according to Lake Effect News (LEN; now defunct). "Some residents said they didn’t know there was a fire until they heard the fire trucks pulling up." LEN also noted that a resident was hospitalized in critical condition with second degree burns to the lower half of his body and suffering from smoke inhalation.
Note: The "Lake Effect News" website was taken down in the Spring of 2011.
Then, on June 6, another fire, resulting in more injuries. Again, LEN filed a report: Chicago Fire Department spokesman Quention Curtis .... said that the fire was upgraded when the first firefighters arrived on the scene. Additional response and equipment were brought in. Five people were taken to Weiss Memorial, St. Joseph and Illinois Masonic Hospitals in serious condition with smoke inhalation. It is fortunate that nobody died in the fires of March 9 and June 6, but the LEN report indicates that safety problems remain in the building: Residents said that firefighters evacuated them through the building’s stairwell. Unlike the fire on March 9 when the building was discovered to have a malfunctioning alarm system, residents reported that the fire alarm sounded during Sunday’s fire. However, one resident told LEN that the building's fire escapes are "falling apart on the second floor," and as a result residents could not use them. Instead, residents were evacuated through the stairwells. At the time of the March 9 fire, Lawrence House had 46 open code violations, including violations for failure to submit a life safety plan to the Buildings Department and Chicago Fire Department and a broken fire escape. (Click here for more about the fire escapes.) There is much more, however. A report by Shane Shifflett and Jena A. Lowe of Medill Reports noted on May 27 that "Building code violations ranged from rust and roaches, to failing to keep floors free of large cracks and leaving smoke detectors unrepaired, which was brought to light following a March fire that injured one tenant. The building has had 137 violations logged against it, a few dating back to 1989. As of Thursday, 39 of those violations were still open, according to documents provided by the Chicago Department of Buildings." Protest At Menetti's Wicker Park Tavern: The same Medill item reported that the Organization of the Northeast (ONE), a community activist group, protested on May 26 at Wicker Park Tavern, an upscale bar owned by the Menetti brothers at 1958 West North Avenue. According to Medill, ONE says it will take legal action against the Lawrence House LLC, which includes Sam Menetti. Medill reports that Menetti threatened the demonstrators: According to Jamiko Rose, executive director of the Organization of the Northeast, Sam Menetti was caught on video outside the Wicker Park Tavern, one of several upscale Wicker Park establishments also owned by Menetti and his brother Don, shouting, “I’m going to [mess] you up.” Another report on the Wicker Park Tavern protest seems to confirm the Medill report of bad behavior by Don Menetti. Megan Cottrell wrote this at TrueSlant.com: Why were activists taking to the streets in this upscale neighborhood, outside a club? Well, the Menettis don’t just own a bunch of city bars – they also own the Lawrence House, a low-income apartment building in Uptown. The activists, from Organization for the North East and other housing organizations in Chicago, were there to deliver a message to the Menettis: they say conditions there have been deteriorating for years and something needs to be done about it. Cottrell included a video of the protest, which shows Menetti seeming to throw that letter at a protester: They delivered a letter to the Menettis, but as you can see in the video (around 1:10), it was not well received. Sam Menetti threw the letter back in lead activist, Cory Muldoon’s face, and reportedly shouted, “I’m going to f*@& you up.” Later, Cory told me that a student reporter asked the Menetti brothers for comment, and they told them to tell Cory that if he was looking to get hurt, he was on the right track. ONE has since filed a police report. The video is fascinating, by the way, because it shows the old school, weird, creepy "hey hey, ho ho" kind of street performance protesting. That having been said, however, it must be said that these protesters had a valid set of complaints against the Menettis. The crude response of throwing the letter into that guy's face seems symbolic of the way in which the Menettis have responded to complaints in general: A big F*@& You. Green Dolphin, Inc. vs. Local Liquor Control Commission: Sam Menetti is the President of Green Dolphin, Inc., which does business as Green Dolphin Street, an upscale jazz club located at 2200 N. Ashland Avenue. If that address sounds familiar, it's because we've seen it already, above: That's the address of Lawrence House LLC's principle office. Green Dolphin Street's liquor license was suspended for three days by Chicago's Liquor Control Commissioner in August, 2009 (Case No. 09 LA 29). Sam Menetti is also listed with the State of Illinois as Green Dolphin, Inc.'s agent, and his address as agent is listed as 1958 W. North Avenue, which is also the address of Wicker Park Tavern. Is Lawrence House a "Problem Building?" “I moved in March 1 and totally regret it," a resident told LEN. "This place is a major crack house with a lot of drug dealers, prostitution and panhandling.” That resident also told LEN that he pays $600 a month in rent on a year’s lease but does not feel safe living there. “It’s total bullshit. It’s not what I was promised,” the resident said. “There aren’t too many old people left and they’re bringing in a lot of crack people. I’m going to break my lease. Let them come sue me.” While the Menettis are busy kissing the well-heeled rumps of their swanky Green Dolphin Street and Wicker Park Tavern customers, it seems they are content to allow residents of the heinous Lawrence House to live in fear of another fire and of criminal tenants.