In late 1970, Mr. Wilson Jr. purchased what had been the Midnight Magazine mansion after its owner, Editor and Publisher Clyde Douglass, in a mid-life crisis, decided to go west. He bought Doug’s place at what turned out to be a premium, becoming the first Black to own a building on Chicago’s Gold Coast.
“He showed them,” Barbara frequently boasted about the purchase. Meaning, he showed the Gold Coast Real Estate Association that his clout was equal to that of its protesting members.
Once the building was his, extensive renovation was done. “Mr. W. Jr. wanted the building to look like a world class office building, not just some converted Gold Coast party house,” Ernie told me. “He wanted Black people to see the building and be proud. He wanted white people to see the building and be dumbstruck.”
What Mr. Wilson Jr. wanted, Mr. Wilson Jr. got. The hand-carved entrance doors were relocated to the inside and replaced with glass and polished brass revolving ones. The photography studio, where scores of Midnight Honeys bared all for the camera, got a pretty dowdy makeover. Whenever I’d go there to check out the photography layout for one of my stories, I’d find myself wishing I were a time traveler who could visit the recent past.
The ballroom, where celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Gloria Steinem to Rev. Crowe had boogied, was transformed into the cafeteria. With the aid of a sliding opaque glass partition, its front could become a formal dining room. It had sliding glass doors to the balcony, which was off-limits to employees, except during business lunches or receptions.
The Raven offices were on the third floor where the Honey Dorm used to be. Mr. Wilson Jr.’s office topped off the stately building, transforming the penthouse where Doug had cavorted with many a Honey and Honey-to-be. It was at once an office space and private quarters. The majestic hand-carved entrance doors now stood as the portal to Mr. Wilson Jr.’s duplexed executive suite. A high-yellow, big-breasted secretary, in her 20s, with a gap between her front teeth, sat at a desk just outside his complex guarding entry. At another desk just inside the executive suite, sat another high-yellow woman, in her late 30s, with a wide gap between her front teeth and triple-D breasts. She was Mr. Wilson Jr.’s administrative assistant.
He had a cavernous office with an elevated desk made from glistening ebony wood that was trimmed in, we were assured, “legally imported” ivory elephant tusks. There were three matching modern sofas upholstered in genuine zebra skin. A four-foot diameter spiral staircase led to the upper level of the suite which was Mr. Wilson Jr.’s private complex. It secreted a bedroom with a shower, an exercise room and a completely mirrored nook with a classic Koken barber’s chair custom-upholstered in emerald green leather.
Although it was nearly 25 years in the making, it was literally a dream come true. While stacking magazines to sell in his father’s store, young Wilson Jr. experienced a vision. In it, the white magazines turned Black and rather than his putting them out for sale, others did the job while he supervised.
One month, he and his father were selling chitterlings, chickens, fresh greens and dry goods. The next month, the meats, milk and produce vanished. So did the magazine racks, the candy counter, the canned foods and the cases of Coca-Cola. Used desks and Corona typewriters took their places. Mr. Wilson Sr. ditched his entire business to fund The Reverie by investing the $727 numbers payoff and mortgaging himself from the manicured tip of his goateed chin to the glossy tips of his black and white spats. Three years later, when bill collectors were hounding father and son, the staff detected in Mr. Wilson Sr. a hands-up surrendering.
The morning after St. Patrick’s Day, the old man’s body was found floating belly up, in the eternally green waters of the Chicago River.