Turn around and go back to St. Marks Place. Turn right onto the block between Second and Third Avenues and walk on the south side of the street to the middle of the block. Look across the street at the All-Craft Center (a community organization headquarters) at 21 - 25 St. Marks place.
This building is often remembered as the address of the Electric Circus, a popular rock club situated here during the street's glory days in the 1960s. But years before this was Arlington Hall, a neighborhood host to weddings, bar mitzvahs, balls, and other get-togethers that the local tenement dwellers hadn't room for at home.
On January 9, 1914, labor racketeer and thug Jack Sirocco and his gang rented the building for a ball. This move was something of a provocation. Here was an Italian gang brazenly strutting its stuff in Jewish gang territory. And this soiree came in the midst of a struggle between the Sirocco group and the ascendant gang in the neighborhood; Dopey Benny Fein and his boys.
Dopey Benny Fein was then at the height of his power. Almost single handedly he had organized the nascent practice of labor racketeering and thuggery into a business. He brought order to what had previously been a scattered an occasional thing, setting up fee schedules, instituting written contracts, apportioning territory. He was, though, a man of principal: he broke heads only for the unions. Fein once refused $15,000 dollars to work for a manufacturer: "my heart lay with the workers," he explained.
Sirocco's gang, in contrast, worked for the capitalists. The gangs had come head-to-head just two months before when they took opposing sides during a strike by the Handle and Umbrella Makers' Union. A battle on Broome Street had resulted in the killing of one of Fein's men, Maxie Greenwalt, by one of Sirocco's minions, Johnnie Dike. So while Sirocco planned his ball, Fein vowed revenge.
Early in the evening on January 9, before the party got rolling, nine men took up posts in the recessed doorways behind you. They were Isidore "Jew Murphy" Cohen, Abie "little Abe" Beckerman, Angie "Augie the Wop" Del Gracio, Irving "Waxey Gordon" Wexler, Joe "Brownie" Brown, Julius "Little Yutch" Eisenberg, Morris "the Mock" Kaplan, Harry "Shorty" Gordon and David "Battling Dave" Sanders. As the Sirocco boys started up the stairs to the entrance, the well monikered gang opposite opened fire. A fusillade of pistol shots slammed against the hall as the Sirocco boys dived for cover and began shooting back. The Fein boys were not so handy with their pieces: not one of their targets was hit. An innocent bystander, elderly Frederick Strauss, was shot and killed in the random fire. It was two years before Irving Wexler and Isidore Cohen, alone among the gunmen, were put on trial, and, because of a lack of witnesses, both were acquitted. Wexler went on to become one of the city's most successful bootleggers.
Fein's power collapsed after this incident, and later that year, under pressure in an unrelated case, he began naming names to the district attorney. After that, it's said, he went straight.
Dopey Benny Fein
Irving "Waxey Gordon" Wexler (on right) accompanied by a U.S. Marshall, appearing in federal court in early 1933.