Friday, May 26, 2017

Prohibition project: Affronti's grocery

The Affronti building today, 517 Gillis,.
Another post in a series on the Prohibition era in Kansas City, 1920 to 1933. Posts take the form of encyclopedic entries about surviving buildings and other structures with stories to tell about moonshine, bootlegging, speakeasies, "wets" and "drys," and associated events, activities and personalities.

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Affronti grocery – A neighborhood store run by Antonio Affronti, who had immigrated from Italy in 1890. The grocery occupied the street level of 517 Gillis, a three-story brick structure Affronti built in 1908 (his name remains etched in stone on the facade). The upper floors housed two families, including the Affrontis – husband and wife, five daughters and one son, Lonnie, who worked here as a youth. Age 21 as Prohibition began, Lonnie left the family business to become a career criminal.

Lonnie Affronti

He was characterized by the Journal-Post as "dapper and debonair … sleek-haired, neatly and jauntily dressed," but also "the exemplar of violence and lawlessness." His rap sheet included vagrancy, bootlegging, narcotics sales and murder. Apparently he benefitted from his father’s North Side political connections (although the senior Affronti was denied citizenship for having lied about Lonnie’s criminal record). When a robbery victim identified him from a photograph as one who barb-wired him to tracks just before a train severed the man's hand and foot, police appeared reluctant to cooperate, and a lineup contained no one resembling Affronti. Convicted in another robbery, Affronti received written support from influential Kansas Citians including Senator James A. Reed. In prison he somehow became the warden’s chauffeur and was allowed to leave to visit family. In 1929, after serving half of a 10-year sentence for a robbery in which two little old ladies were brutally beaten, Affronti was arrested in the West Bottoms while unloading a boxcar of alcohol. He was fined $300. Two years later he was caught selling morphine, and while awaiting trial he shotgunned a primary witness on a rural highway, killing the man’s wife. He eluded capture until 1937. After serving five years for possession of firearms, he got 10 years for the slaying and was doing time for the narcotics sale when he died at 61 in 1960. According to his obituary, prison officials considered him "a model prisoner and a good worker."

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