Friday, June 20, 2014 || By Michael Romain and Roberto Hernandez
Wednesday, STONE PARK–On a sticky summer afternoon, a group of reporters, cameramen and photographers gathered awkwardly on a thin strip of sidewalk positioned between Lake Street and the parking lot of Club Allure, a Stone Park gentleman’s club. The crowd strained to hear the low-pitched voice of Sister Noemia Silva over the loud rush of four-lane traffic and the occasional honked horn in support of the nuns.
CBS 2 anchor Roseanne Tellez kindly urged the Sister to speak a little closer to the mics (Univision, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN–they each had one), lest the blare of the horns and the whoosh of speeding cars drown out her grievances.
“This strip club has created an environment of fear and insecurity,” Silva said. “Club Allure devalues and degrades our communities. A place like this should not be next to our convent and especially should not be in a residential area where children play every day. What mother wants to bring their family up next to a strip club?”
Sister Silva is the face of the nun’s years-long fight with the glitzy club, which is located adjacent to a residential area and the place where she and her sisters live, move and have their being–the convent of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. The convent houses about 20 nuns and nuns-in-training, many of whom come from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
The sisters’ latest frontal assault on the Allure is a lawsuit that was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by the Thomas More Society on their behalf.
On Wednesday, Sister Silva, aided by Sister Alma Rosa Huerta; Thomas Brejcha, the chief counsel and president with the Thomas More Society; Yesenia Sanchez, the executive director of P.A.S.O. – West Suburban Action Project; and several Stone Park residents, led the charge in a pitched battle that’s received both local and national attention.
“I am a mother of three children and a long-time resident of Stone Park,” said Emilia Marquez in a statement that was later translated from Spanish to English by Sister Silva. “Ever since this Club has opened, my family lives like prisoners in my home.”
Marquez, a 20-year resident of the Village, said that she often wakes to loud music, screaming and drunken fights. She fears going out on weekend nights. Five weeks ago, she said, she was awakened by a woman being brutally attacked. The worry for her safety, however, seems only to have strengthened her resolve. She said that she refuses to move out.
Pat Zito lives beside the Club in neighboring Melrose Park. Zito, who’s lived in the Village for 47 years, said that she often wakes up to loud music and cars being vandalized.
“I have never felt as unsafe and disturbed as I now do,” Zito said.
(A large sign advertising Club Allure, formerly Club Get It; children march to the site of the press conference; nuns-in-training intermingle with their supporters; Sister Silva walking to the site of the press conference with children, nuns, nuns-in-training, reporters and supporters. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).
Thomas Brejcha, the attorney with the Thomas More Society who is representing the nuns, was adamant about the simplicity of their case.
“The essence of this lawsuit is simple and straightforward,” he said. “[According to Illinois State Law], there shall be a buffer zone of 1,000 feet between” any place of adult entertainment and any school or place of worship.
“There are three chapels on [the convent’s] premises, all well within 1,000 feet,” Brejcha said.
He noted that, despite attorneys for Stone Park considering the buffer requirement unconstitutional, the law has been upheld by a court of appeals. Brejcha said that, although the Village can’t close strip clubs simply because they’re strip clubs, if his clients can sufficiently prove that Allure has produced at-risk secondary effects, such as the ones cited by Zito and Marquez, then the case for closure can plausibly be made.
But individuals representing both Allure and Stone Park say that those secondary effects aren’t nearly as clear-cut and simple as the nuns are making them out to be. In a recent New York Times article, Robert Itzkow, an attorney for the Club, said that the nuns’ claims were “an absolute fabrication.” And in the same article, Sean O’Brien, the Club’s managing partner, noted that there is “extensive soundproofing in the club that drowned out the music.”
Beniamino Mazzulla, Stone Park’s mayor, said that Brejcha’s secondary affects are exaggerated and that the media has helped blow the issue out of context. For all of the sensational appeal of the nuns versus strippers story-line, he said that Club Allure is much more than a strip club.
According to its website, the 18,000 square foot complex features fine dining by award-winning chef Michael Lachowicz and entertainment by national performers. Mazzulla said it only functions as a strip club part of the week.
In 2009, the Village of Stone Park initially denied a request for rezoning that was filed by Itzkow. This was due, in part, to the fact that the Club would be located so close to the convent.
After the denial, Itzkow sued the Village, “prompting it to spend more than $200,000 in legal fees fighting him off. Eventually, the village settled the lawsuit and in 2010 agreed to allow Mr. Itzkow to build his strip club,” according to the New York Times article.
In 2011, the Village mailed a public hearing notification meant for the sisters to the wrong address and by the time the notification was rerouted to its intended destination, the process of building the Club was already well underway.
Before the week is out, the nuns’ Wednesday protest and press conference will have gotten coverage from WGN TV, CBS 2, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, and the New York Daily News, among a slew of other outlets. While the media attraction has shed light on the nuns’ cause, it hasn’t necessarily been a boon for Stone Park’s image.
Such, however, is the cost of what the nuns and other local community activists hope is the beginning of a period of cleansing and renewal in a town that they believe is plagued by places like Club Allure.
A visit to a site that bills itself as the “Ultimate Strip Club List” yields no fewer than four such establishments–Scores, Club Allure, Playpen Lounge and Carl’s Lounge–in Stone Park, a town that is less than a square mile and that holds about 5,000 residents. Add in Melrose Park, which (ironically enough) was named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and the search yields no fewer than seven such establishments.
The number of strip clubs in Stone Park has made the conflict between the nuns and Club Allure that much more freighted with ideological significance. Some in the town believe that the nuns’ fight signifies a larger morality tale.
(Right to left: two children hold signs written in Spanish in support of the nuns, which read “Allure devalues our community”; two elderly nuns sit during the press conference; Yesenia Sanchez, executive director of P.A.S.O.-West Suburban Action Project; Mayor Mazzulla. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).
Diana Moreno, 15, a budding community activist who claims that she was followed one night by a man while walking within proximity of the Club, says that, in addition to threats to her personal safety, she is against the Club’s presence on moral grounds.
“This is completely against my moral belief as a teenager [and] a woman,” she said.
Mayor Mazzulla, who on the day that the nuns were protesting was about a block away tending to a gas leak, only wished that the media spotlight that was so intensely focused on Allure and the nuns could perhaps broaden its radius to include Stone Park’s other realities. He worries whether or not the nuns’ fight, which they’ve now carried nationally, is worth the negative media attention and the possible closure of what may be a significant source of tax revenue for the town.
The New York Times article mentioned above seems to justify some of the Mayor’s concern. It describes Stone Park as a “slightly run-down, working-class enclave just west of Chicago.”
“This media hype is normal,” Mazzulla said. “I knew it would happen. Everybody talks about the negative or something that will sale papers or get ratings. But we got a new municipal building–the first in 60 years. We’re in the process of opening two brand new community centers. We’re building Chicagoland’s first plaza park.”
If only the world could know, Mazzulla lamented, that Stone Park builds more than strip clubs. VFP
For regular updates, like us on Facebook:
Affordable Summer Dance Camp
Full Summer Camp $ 150 (6 Weeks) || Camp First Session $ 75 (3 Weeks) || Camp Second Session $75 (3 Weeks)
Full payment is due on the first day of camp (only 50 spots available)
CAMP HOURS: 1pm-4pm, June 23, 2014- August 1, 2014
CAMP LOCATION: Westchester Office Complex 1001 Derby Lane
Westchester, IL 60154 (across from Kentucky Fried Chicken)
Call 773-750-5124 for more information (ask for Daisy or Angel ), or send an email to email@example.com
Camp costs will include: Modern Dance, Ballet, Praise Dance and Dance Technique.