Despite temperatures hovering around zero, Marshall Savings and Loan was packed with people.
For two weeks in early January 1963, crowds thronged to the savings and loan at the corner of Ogden and Harlem avenues in Riverside to join in the celebration of Marshall’s “100 Million Dollar-versary” and catch a glimpse of some of entertainment’s big names — singers like Vic Damone and Tony Martin and comedians like Shecky Greene, Jack E. Leonard and George Jessel.
In the parking lot out back, those hardy enough to brave the frigid temperatures could watch the Casey Twins — Judy and Trudy, who later were featured in the Ice Follies — twirl in unison on the small ice rink hauled in for the occasion.
“We called it the World’s Largest Ice Cube,” said Judy Zack, who told the Landmark that as late as 2010, she was still teaching figure skating in the northern suburbs. “We were hired for every tank show.”
Throughout the day small crowds gathered to watch the ice shows and then got warm inside the bank, sipping coffee and gawking at the shelves of raffle prizes and premiums for opening new accounts.
Tuesday, Jan. 15 was the finale.
At about 7:45 p.m. (the savings and loan stayed open until 8 p.m. during the big event) the celebration’s biggest star, Tony Bennett, stepped up on to the small stage erected in Marshall Savings’ lobby and took the microphone.
Backed by a trio of guitar, bass and accordion, Bennett belted out a song for the crowd for whom he also autographed a stack of glossy souvenir photos.
Bennett was reaching his peak as a singing star. The British Invasion was still a year away. At his Marshall Savings appearance Bennett may have sung “I Wanna Be Around,” which had just been released. Or he may have sung the song that became his signature tune.
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was a sensation in 1962. In May of 1963 Bennett would win two Grammy Awards for the recording — Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance.
At the time of his appearance at Marshall Savings, Bennett was in the midst of a two-week run at a new Las Vegas-style hotel and nightclub complex out on Mannheim Road near Chicago’s new O’Hare Airport, which would be dedicated by President John F. Kennedy and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in March 1963.
The hotel was called the Sahara Inn. A lavish, Moorish-themed hotspot, it was located at 3939 N. Mannheim Road just south of Irving Park Road. Its tall, dazzling, lighted marquee could easily be seen by motorists on the newly completed Tri-State Tollway as they zoomed past it to the east.
And at the top of the marquee in giant letters was the name of the man who ran the show at the Sahara — Manny Skar.
Skar, 39 years old in January 1963, was rolling, or so everyone thought.
A small-time hood and convicted felon, Skar had during the 1950s used his connections in the Chicago Mob to become a successful real estate developer on Chicago’s Southwest Side, building scores of homes near Midway Airport and in places like Burbank, which boomed after World War II.
The Sahara Inn on Mannheim — ballyhooed in the press as a $10.8 million hotel/nightclub complex — was the pinnacle of his career. It opened in June 1962, with Bobby Darin topping the bill. Darin was followed that year by singers including Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Eddie Fisher and comedians like Joe E. Brown and Jack E. Leonard.
And the Sahara Inn had a direct connection to Riverside through the aggressively expanding Marshall Savings and Loan.
Marshall Savings held the mortgage.
The savings and loan’s two-week “100 Million Dollar-versary” in January 1963 saw Marshall at its pinnacle as well. Throughout the 1950s, Marshall Savings had embarked on an aggressive campaign of expansion, buying up property along Harlem Avenue and adding onto its once-modest building there.
From 1958 to 1963, Marshall Savings and Loan launched three building campaigns, adding more and more space and equipping it with the latest technology. Henry Moravec Sr., the president of Marshall Savings, announced the third expansion in local newspaper articles published at the time of the “100 Million Dollar-versary.”
From a sleepy Bohemian building and loan association run out of a storefront in the 2400 block of Kedzie Avenue in Chicago, Marshall Savings and Loan was now a player.
“In the state of Illinois, Marshall Savings ranks as the 10th largest out of 613 savings and loan associations,” Moravec told the Berwyn Life on Dec. 30, 1962. “All of us at Marshall, on the occasion of this 100 Million Dollar-versary, are re-dedicating ourselves to the stable, progressive policies that have been responsible for Marshall Savings’ growth.”
In late December 1962, Marshall Savings feted itself at a private party for bank officers, employees and their families, about 310 people in all, at Manny Skar’s Sahara Inn. On Jan. 3, 1963, the Citizen newspaper reported that the group “assembled in the Regency Room for cocktails and dancing, then convened to the Club Gigi for dinner where Vic Damone entertained.”
Moravec and his son, Henry Jr., Marshall’s vice president, also invited several state banking officials to the soiree, including the state’s chief examiner for savings and loan institutions and the supervisor of the savings and loan division of the state of Illinois Department of Financial Institutions.
Just three months later, it would all begin to unravel.
By the end of 1964, the state would seize Marshall Savings and Loan. The freewheeling Sahara Inn would become a footnote. And on Sept. 11, 1965 Manny Skar would be dead — a victim of the very men who fostered his improbable rise to local fame and fortune.