Friday, January 1, 2021


I was recently in the Research Room at the Evanston Historical Society (EHS) looking up some information for one of the stories I was writing for this blog.  I easily found what I was looking for and was in no hurry to leave, so I went to the EHS's Subject files and pulled the folder for Rosehill Cemetery.  True, Rosehill Cemetery is not in Evanston, but so many Evanstonians are buried there that the EHS started keeping a file on Rosehill.  There was a lot of interesting information in the folder, but one clipping caught my attention:

The article was from the Reader in 1987 and looked like a perfect story for this blog.  After all I had written many stories about Rosehill, and they were some of the most frequently read stories in this blog.  Many Chicagoans were familiar with the story of the late Helen Sclair, the "Cemetery Lady" who lived at Bohemian National Cemetery but this story seemed to be even better - a man who was born at Rosehill Cemetery and planned to die there.  So, sit back and let's see what we can "dig up" about Nick Mayer, starting with whether or not he was actually born at Rosehill.

Nickolaus Majer, Junior was born October 29, 1915 at 2152 Peterson Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Nickolaus Majer, Senior (1887-1961) and Justine Oklestek (1884-1977).  

Nick's father was born in Bararc, Hungary.  I was unable to verify exactly when he came to the US.  Nick's mother was born in Vienna, Austria and immigrated to the US on August 18, 1911.

Nickolaus Mayer and Justine Oklestek were married in Chicago on November 19, 1912.

Was Nick Mayer, Jr. actually born in Rosehill Cemetery?  Kind of.  In 1910 Nick's father took a job with Rosehill Cemetery and as part of his job he was given a simple frame house that sat next to the Park Addition Section of the cemetery.  That's the part of Rosehill that's along the north side of Peterson Avenue and contains nothing but flush grave markers that are set into the ground.  Nick Mayer was born in this house:

(Note:  While doing the research for this story I found many different spellings of the names.  Nick and his father were originally named "Nickolaus" and the last name was spelled "Majer," "Meier," "Meyer," and "Mayer."  To keep my sanity I will use the American spellings of first names and "Mayer" for the last name unless the source document shows something different.)

Nick Mayer had four siblings:  William (1914-mmmm), Robert O. (1919-1919), Margaret (1921-2012), and Julius Jack (1925-1986).  In the article for the Reader, Nick Mayer talked about the loss of his brother Robert who was born March 8, 1919 and died July 5, 1919.

He related to the interviewer that "Over by the Peterson Avenue fence," his brother lies in a mass grave that was dug with a bulldozer to accommodate victims of an influenza epidemic around 1920.

The 1920 US Census finds the Mayer family still living at 2152 W. Peterson Avenue.  The Head of Household "Nick Mayo" was twenty-four years old, and had been born in Hungary.  He immigrated in 1913 (sic); was a Resident Alien and could both read and write.  His Native Tongue was Hungarian.  He was a "Laborer in a Greenhouse," and his house was rented.  

His wife, "Christina Mayo" was twenty- three years old, and was born in Austria.  She too had immigrated in 1913 (sic) and her Native Tongue was German.  She was also a Resident Alien  and could read and write.  Both Nick and Christina could speak English.

They told the census taker that they had two sons:  Seven year old "William Mayo" and five year old "Nick Mayo."

In the late 1920s, Rosehill decided to tear down the house at 2152 W. Peterson.  Mayer's mother never cared too much for living in Rosehill or for the funerary business. Every time Mayer's mother told somebody what her husband did for a living, they wanted to know if he gave discounts on funerals.

But Mayer told the Reader that he took to life in the graveyard from the start. There were fish to catch, ducks to chase, and plenty of places to hide when he got in trouble, which was often. He romped among the gravestones of Civil War heroes and snuck into the central mausoleum for games of hide-and-seek. He was teased at school, but even that wasn't so bad. 

The 1930 US Census finds the "Nick Meier" family living at 6052 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago.  Not adjacent to the Rosehill grounds, but not too far away either.  Senior citizen housing sits on that spot today.  The family consisted of forty-three year old Nick, forty-four year old Justine, sixteen year old William, fifteen year old Nick, nine year old Margaret, and four year old Julius. 

They rented their apartment for $40.00 per month.  The family had a radio, and now said their native language was "German."  Nick Sr. and Justine both said they were naturalized US citizens (they weren't - she was naturalized in 1944, he was naturalized in 1945). 

Nick Mayer attended Senn High School during the school year.  In the summers he worked at Rosehill.  The first summer he mowed the grass.  In 1934 after graduation from Senn, he went to work for Rosehill full time.  

But it was not just work and the departed that took young Nick Mayer's time.  On September 30, 1936 Nick Mayer married Florence H. Austerlade (1917-1967) of Chicago.  The groom was twenty years old; the bride was nineteen.  After their marriage, they rented an apartment at 5610 N. Western Avenue in Chicago - which is right across the street from the Western Avenue gate of Rosehill.    

5610 N. Western Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

What was it like at Rosehill during the Great Depression?  Nick reported that sometimes there were as many as 15 funerals a day at Rosehill.  Caskets, mourners and picnickers alike were brought to the cemetery by the train that stopped at Rosehill's entrance.  On Sundays, there were so many visitors that Mayer and his coworkers had to direct traffic.  

Once at the cemetery, visitors could ride a bus along the 25 miles of roads that crisscross Rosehill.  The bus driver sold dandelion wine and cherry liquor on the side.  In the winter visitors could warm themselves by an outside fireplace, and in the summer they could cook on the cemetery barbecue.  A conservatory was filled with mums and gladiolas and a clock made out of flowers rang out the hour.  Chinese pheasants and swans adorned the four ponds.

Working at Rosehill in those days was not an easy job.  Mayer remembered, "All the graves had to be dug by hand back then.  For a 10 AM funeral as many as ten men would start at 4AM to dig the grave."  There were also acres to mow and miles of hallways in the mausoleum to scrub.  During the winter months, most of the workers would spend their days in the mausoleum polishing the marble floors and halls by hand.  Nick Mayer also manned the pump house that used to supply the cemetery with water.  At the height of the Depression, 300 men at thirty-five cents per hour kept Rosehill spic and span.

The Great Depression finally ended but then World War II came on the scene.  Like all good American men, Nick registered for the draft on October 16, 1940:

On May 1, 1941 Nick and his wife left Western Avenue and were living at 5220 N. Damen in Chicago:

5220 N. Damen, Chicago

On June 1, 1942 Nick Mayer enlisted in the US military with the rank of Private.  He was 5' 9" tall and weighed 149 lbs.  After reporting his civilian profession the Army said he was a "semiskilled mechanic and repairmen."  As with all the others who enlisted in World War II, Nick enlisted for the "Duration of the War plus six months."   He reported his time in the military as uneventful and returned to Rosehill after the war was over.

Nick and his wife Florence were blessed with two children:  Leonard N. (b. 1956) and Arlene (b. 1957).  Neither had any interest in following their father into the cemetery business.

Things at Rosehill began to change in the 1950s, not long after Nick Mayer was promoted to Foreman.  The grave diggers had unionized and the resulting high labor costs made it to expensive to have all the extras at Rosehill.  Besides, by the 1950s the number of funerals had dropped off because people were living longer.  Mourners were not coming as often or quit coming at all.  Picnickers abandoned Rosehill for the parks.  "Death," said Nick Mayer, "had become a less congenial business."

Nick Meyer was asked by the Reader reporter which were his favorites among the thousands of monuments at Rosehill.  His answer will not surprise you:

Frances Pearce Stone and her daughter Frances


Lulu E. Fellows

Nick Mayer's father Nick died in 1961; his mother Justine in 1977.  They are both buried in Section 29 in the Park Section of Rosehill Cemetery in an area that is "where the family garden used to be, near the site of their old home":

Nick Mayer experienced tragedy on his own life when his wife Florence died from leukemia in October of 1967 leaving him with two young children to raise.  For a final resting place he bought four plots in Section 16: for Florence, for himself, and for their two children.  Here is her Death Notice from the Chicago Tribune of October 24, 1967:

Nick was too broken up to even attend the funeral.  "The cemetery workers did a nice job because it was for me."  Even though he spent his days nearby, Mayer stayed away from his wife's grave for a long time.

In the 1970s Nick and his two children moved to 8316 Springfield Avenue in Skokie, Illinois so Leonard and Arlene could attend Niles East High School.  



8316 Springfield Avenue, Skokie, Illinois

Nick Mayer retired from Rosehill Cemetery in 1989 after fifty-five years of faithful service.  His children were grown by this time and he could finally take it easy after so many years of hard work.  Among the retirement activities Nick enjoyed most were his several trips to Hawaii.  

In 1992 Nick moved for the last time - to 6951 W. Dobson Street in Niles, Illinois:

6951 W. Dobson Street, Niles, Illinois

Nick Mayer died May 20, 1993.  He was seventy-seven years old.  Here is his Death Notice from the Chicago Tribune of May 24, 1993:

He was, of course, buried next to his beloved wife in the plot they picked for themselves in Section 16 of Rosehill Cemetery:

The other two graves in the plot were not used by Nick's children - they were instead used for Nick's sister Margaret Wills and her husband Claude.

When asked about the plot Nick and Florence picked for themselves at Rosehill, Nick said, "I picked the spot with my wife.  She is already here."  "They chose the spot," he said. "because it had some height, which they liked."

"I was born here, I might as well die here." says Mayer.

Nick Mayer - born at Rosehill, spent his life at Rosehill, resting at Rosehill.  May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

THE VILLA VENICE - Albert "Papa" Bouche' - Revisited

In May of 2015 I told the story of Albert "Papa" Bouche', the owner and founder of the Villa Venice restaurant and nightclub in Wheeling, Illinois. At that time I was able to find only two side-view photos of Papa Bouche', and included them with my story.  This was very frustrating to me.  I thought that with someone as well-known as Papa Bouche' was to Chicagoans, I should have been able to find lots of photos of him.  Recently I found a dealer of old photographs who had seven different photos of Papa Bouche' and I was so excited I bought them all.  In addition to the photos I have found other items of interest about Papa Bouche' or the Villa Venice itself.  So for this month's submission I have decided to rewrite the 2015 story and add the photos and other materials I have found since then.  But before we start that, let me begin with a very nice full face photo of Albert "Papa" Bouche':

Albert "Papa" Bouche' (1881-1964)

The public television station in Chicago sometimes runs a program called "Chicago Time Machine."  It's sort of like this blog on TV.  The host stands before a spot in Chicagoland today, and the tells you what happened there years ago - along with photos of the way it used to look.  One rainy Sunday afternoon I stumbled on an episode of Chicago Time Machine and I thought, "Now that's my kind of TV show," so I sat down to watch.

After several stories the host stood in front of a chain hotel in Wheeling, Illinois and started to tell the story of the Villa Venice restaurant and nightclub which stood on that spot from its opening in 1924 until it burned to the ground in 1967.  The host said, "The Villa Venice was owned and operated by a character called "Papa" Bouche."  He then went on to talk about the time the "Rat Pack" appeared at the Villa Venice, and  of it's mob connections, all of which happened after Papa Bouche sold the Villa Venice in 1956.   

The Villa Venice was before my time, but my parents used to fondly reminisce about evenings at the Villa Venice - and saved their most effusive praise for Papa Bouche himself, and what a wonderful host he was.  After hearing the Chicago Time Machine refer sneeringly to "a character called Papa Bouche" I decided to see what I could dig up about him and tell his story in this blog.  So sit back and I'll tell you the story of magical nights in Wheeling, Illinois and gondola rides on the Des Plaines River.

When digging into someone's background you usually discover interesting facts about them and this is certainly the case with Papa Bouche.  So many interesting tales surround the life and times of Papa Bouche (many of them pure fiction) that it is difficult to separate the fiction from the true facts, but I will try.  

Albert Bouche was born Abram Laurin on January 13, 1881 (some sources say 1882 - he used both dates) in Celano, Arbuzzo, Italy.  When he applied for a tourist visa to Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 1940 he first said his parents were "Antonio Bouche and Benedetta Leonardi."  This could not be verified so he "revised" his application to say his parents' names were "Antonio and Benedetta Laurini."  We don't know much about any siblings he may have had.  Different sources mention brothers named Hugo, Augusto and Guido Laurini and one (possibly two) sisters. 

Abram Laurin came to the United States from Italy for the first time on August 29, 1901 a the age of twenty.   We don't know how long he stayed in the US on this trip, but we do know that he came back to the US on July 30, 1906.  At that time he reported his name as "Abramo Laurini" and his occupation as "Cook."  He was coming to live with his brother Augusto who lived at 1091 East 182nd Street in New York City.  Abramo said that he had been in the US once before - for a "Job" in 1901.

Interestingly his obituary in the Fort Lauderdale News said:

Bouche was born in Nice, France.  His father was French and his mother was Italian.  He came to the United States in 1920, working as an interpreter in five languages." 

Sometime after his arrival in the US in 1906, Abram Laurin changed his name to Albert Bouche'. History does not record why Abram changed his name, but he may have thought that the more exotic name of Albert Bouche' sounded better for a restaurateur.  After all, "bouche" is the French word for "mouth," so what better name for a restauranteur?  The newly named Albert Bouche settled in Rochester, New York, and the story is that he became not a restaurateur, but a policeman for the City of Rochester. (Note: Through the years Albert spelled his last name sometimes as "Bouche' " with the accent over the last "e", and sometimes as just "Bouche" without the accent.  For ease of typing, for the remainder of this story I will not use the accent unless the primary source uses it.)  Newspapers said his last name was pronounced "boo-shay." 

Papa Bouche was interviewed many times over the years and his reminiscences often varied from telling to telling.  In a 1959 interview he said that "I opened my first nightclub in Rochester, N.Y. in 1907."  I was not able to find any evidence of this.

There is no record of either Abram Laurin or Albert Bouche on the 1910 US Census but it was about that time that Albert made two life-altering decisions:  he got married, and he moved to Chicago.

For his bride he chose Flora Marseilles - a divorcee with a young daughter.  We'll let the new Mrs. Bouche tell the story in her own words:

"My maiden name was Flora Marseilles," she said.  "I met my first husband (Joseph) DeRepentigny, while I was attending the Notre Dame Convent in Montreal.  He forced my to elope with him to Rochester, New York, where the child (Marguerite Carmen DeRepentigny) was born. Subsequently Albert Bouche, who was then a policeman in Rochester came into my life.  I married him, and we moved to Chicago."

In fact, the first two times the name "Albert Bouche" was in the Chicago newspapers it had to do with his wife and step-daughter.  On September 3, 1912 the Chicago Tribune reported that a man named Joseph Milora tried to commit suicide because Flora would not leave Albert and marry him.

One year later on September 13, 1913 their names were in the Tribune again.  This time, Joseph DeRepentigny tried to kidnap ten year old Marguerite as she left Holy Name Cathedral Academy in Chicago. Luckily there were witnesses around, and within a short time DeRepentigny and his accomplice were captured and the girl (whom the Tribune called Marguerite Bouche) was reunited with her mother and step-father, who the Tribune called "a good French cook."

The Tribune did report that Albert Bouche was the proprietor of the Cafe Belvidere at 868 N. Clark at Chestnut Streets.  A parking lot occupies that space today.

In 1915 it was reported that Albert Bouche had donated $27.50 to the fund established for survivors of the Eastland tragedy.

The next time Albert Bouche's name was in the Chicago Tribune was on January 15, 1917, when the newspaper was reporting Bouche's arrest for refusing to observe Chicago's "Sunday Closing Rule" where restaurants could not serve liquor on Sundays.  There was a new police chief in town named Herman Schuettler and he was determined to enforce the "no liquor sold on Sunday" law.  On January 14, 1917, using eight teams of one policeman and one policewoman, Schuettler managed to close twenty-two "saloons, cafes and restaurants" and arrest their owners, bartenders, and sometimes even their waiters. Albert Bouche was among this unlucky group.  There was no further publicity about his arrest, so Bouche probably paid the fine and that was it.

On April 19, 1917 Abram Laurin, aka Albert Bouche applied for US citizenship - and was rejected - probably due to his police record.  In fact, Albert Bouche did not become a naturalized US citizen until 1926.  

On May 27, 1917 the Chicago Tribune announced that Albert Bouche was opening a new "summer restaurant" at Clark and Lawrence in Chicago at the site of the old Rainbo Gardens.  He called it the Moulin Rouge Gardens in remembrance of the time he worked as a chef (he said) at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.  Albert Bouche sold the Moulin Rouge Gardens in 1921 in preparation for bigger ventures.

First off, he bought a parcel of land on the Des Plaines River in Wheeling and built a roadhouse he named "The House That Jack Built."  It was on Milwaukee Avenue where it crosses the river.

The House That Jack Built - Wheeling, Illinois

Then he sold the Moulin Rouge summer restaurant and instead opened the Moulin Rouge all-year-round restaurant at 416 S. Wabash in Chicago.  416 S. Wabash is also a parking lot today.

Like everyone else, Papa Bouche caught "King Tut Fever" after the tomb of the famous boy-king was discovered.  This is from the Chicago Tribune of March 7, 1923:

Do we think there is anyone left (other than Steve Martin) who can perform the Tut Ankh Amen dance???

The Real Estate page of the Chicago Tribune of April 6, 1924 carried the following item:

The 1920s were good for people, and good for Albert Bouche.  People had a lot of money to spend and they liked to go out to dinner or even better, dinner and a show.  Albert Bouche already knew that "if you build it, they will come."  The Chicago Daily Tribune from June 12, 1924 announced the upcoming opening of the Villa Venice:

From the very beginning, Albert Bouche strove to make an evening at the Villa Venice an "event." He spared no expense on the exterior and interior of the restaurant and also on the shows he produced. 

He wanted the time spent at the Villa Venice to be "magical," and it was, but it was more than that. According to people I have talked to, Papa Bouche had the talent of making everyone feel that he was doing all this just for them.  He was a gracious host, greeting every guest by name if possible and went out of his way to make their evening one they would talk about for years to come. 

In the summer of 1925, Albert Bouche the showman had an idea - there were gondolas in Venice, why not gondolas at the Villa Venice? Here's the announcement from July 25, 1925:

Yes, you could actually take a gondola ride on the Des Plaines River - complete with singing gondoliers.  The gondolas Albert Bouche bought were original antique Venetian gondolas - he had to get permission from the Italian government to take them out of Italy.  Here's a view of the gondolas in the Des Plaines River and their launching point from the Villa Venice:

In 1927 Papa Bouche was looking for a combination emcee-comic for the Villa Venice.  A struggling young comic named Bob Hope auditioned for the job.  "Sorry, you won't do, but have a steak on me," Bouche recalled.      

But the Villa Venice was not the only one of Papa Bouche's ventures in the 1920s.  Sick of Prohibition, in May of 1920 he announced he was opening a new restaurant in Montreal, Canada in the Wilder Building called "The Blue Bird Cafe."

Here is a photo of the Wilder Building before its 2017 renovation:

The Wilder Building, Montreal

In 1929 Papa Bouche decided to try warmer climes for his next restaurant:  The Hotel Antilla Restaurant and Supper Club in Coral Gables, Florida:

(Note:  I live in Wheeling - I have never heard of it referred to as "Near Lake Forest, Ill."  I think I will start to give my address as "Near Lake Forest, Ill.")

PS - the Villa Venice was nowhere near Lake Forest, Illinois.

Bouche related years later that he was proud of the fact that his restaurant was the only place in the area where diners had to wear formal dress to be admitted.

Reviews for the food and entertainment at the Antilla Hotel were very good, so in the early 1930s, Albert Bouche decided to open another Florida venue.  This time he opened a second Villa Venice in Miami Beach, Florida, in the former Ocean Drive Casino.  Here's the announcement of the opening from January 12, 1930:

Here's a program from the Villa Venice in Illinois from 1933.  It will give you a good idea of what a night at Papa Bouche's meant:

Three shows each night - the first at nine, the second at midnight and the third at 2:45 a.m.!  And the midnight show was different from the other two and you were invited to stay!  Boy, those days are gone forever...

Here are color photos of two of the dining rooms at the Villa Venice:

Papa Bouche may have let Bob Hope slip through his fingers, but not so with noted fan dancer Sally Rand, who he hired in the early 1930s to perform her exotic dance at the Villa Venice.

Here is a full page ad for the Villa Venice from the Chicago Sunday Tribune of July 22, 1934:

You can't tell from the picture above, but this was the first full-page color ad ever run in the Chicago Tribune.  The color ad cost Bouche $4,000.00 ($77,891.00 in today's dollars).

Papa Bouche's restaurants may have been very successful, but his marriage was not.  He had married Flora back in about 1910 in Rochester, New York when he was a policeman.  Now he was a noted restaurateur and showman with nightclubs and restaurants around the US and into Canada.  During those days, Papa Bouche was either working or traveling.  He was constantly back and forth to Florida to New York to Chicago to keep an eye on things, and then off to Europe, Cuba or South America hunting for new talent and new ideas for his shows. Albert and Flora's marriage was essentially over by the late 1920s, although Flora was still calling herself "Mrs. Albert Bouche" as late as 1934.  I could not find any record of a divorce, but Flora seems to disappear after the mid-1930s.

Starting about 1930, Albert picked up an interesting travelling companion.  Her name was Edna Olts (1898-1984) and she accompanied Albert on all of his overseas trips.  By the 1940s she had even moved into the Villa Venice and was openly living with Albert.  In fact, as late as 1947, travel documents were referring to her as "Edna Olts known as Edna Bouche."  They must have finally married in 1948 because it was reported that the IRS audited Bouche's return for 1946 and 1947 and "the returns of Bouche and his wife Edna" for 1948, 1949 and 1950.

As I mentioned at the beginning, when I originally wrote this article  I thought that for someone in the limelight like Papa Bouche that there would be hundreds of photos of him in existence.  the truth was, in all my research I was only able to find two - and neither one is a head-on shot.  The first one is from June of 1948 where Papa Bouche is in New York looking for 25 girls to add to his show.  It seems he had gone through all the pretty girls in Chicago:

Here's one where he's a little more "formal", and the girls are a little less...a little less...well - a little less!:

Here are the additional photos of Papa Bouche I was able to obtain, with captions (if any)

Papa Bouche with Tamar Belamy, Connie Reed and Doris Africk

The Continental Artists now appearing in Bouche's European Music Hall Revue at the Villa Venice

Papa Bouche always took great interest in the acts appearing at his clubs.  After all, his name was over the door. 

It was during this period that Papa Bouche earned the title 

"The Ziegfeld of Floor Shows"

As time went on, Albert Bouche put more time (and money) into his Florida operations.  Here is the announcement from February 2, 1933 that he had just purchased the DeSoto Hotel in Miami Beach:

The Tudor Hotel, formerly the Hotel De Soto, Miami Beach

Albert Bouche ran his Villa Venice night clubs on a seasonal basis during the 1930s.  December-April he would be in Miami Beach, and then June-September he would be in Chicago.  The seasons usually started right on schedule but the endings could change depending on how business was going.  During the down periods he would travel extensively searching for and auditioning new acts for his nightclubs.  Bouche traveled all over the world, but his favorite touring spot in the 1930s was to Havana, Cuba.  Many of his acts originated there when Havana was the sun and fun capital of the Caribbean. 

When Papa Bouche was on one of his scouting tours, as soon as he arrived in a city he started running ads in the local newspapers:

and then his phone would ring off the hook as girls from all over made appointments to audition for Papa Bouche.

In the 1940s, Albert Bouche started referring to himself in his advertisements as:


"PAPA" of all nite clubs 

In 1942 the government took over Papa Bouche's Villa Venice in Miami Beach for an Air Force school, so he went northward, buying the Club Boehme in Hallandale, Florida:

We can find out a little more about Papa Bouche's family by looking at this obituary from the Rochester (NY) Register and Chronicle from December 6, 1943:

SUAREZ - Violet of 302 Smith St., after a short illness.  She leaves to mourn her loss, two children, Mrs. Joseph Castelano and Azio Suarez; also three grandchildren; three brothers, Albert Bouche, Ugo Laurini of Chicago, Ill., and Guido Laurini of Rochester; one sister Mrs. Orienda Pauline of Italy.

Friends may call at DiPonzio Bros. Funeral Home, 527 State St., where funeral will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 1943, at 8 a.m. and 9 o'clock at St. Anthony of Padua.  Interment in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Papa Bouche's name appears in newspapers throughout the 1940s and 1950s, usually in connection with the spectacular shows he offered each year.  Reviews continued to be very good year-in and year-out.  No matter what was going on in the world, there were still people who wanted good food and good entertainment.  During this period, Bouche began referring to himself as an "impresario."  The definition of impresario is:

A person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or operas, performing a role in stage arts that is similar to that of a film or television producer. The term originated in the social and economic world of Italian opera, in which from the mid-18th century to the 1830s, the impresario was the key figure in the organization of a lyric season.

In 1948 Bouche opened the Latin Quarter nightclub on Miami Beach which he renamed "Bouche's Parisienne."  He remembered, "I had my public.  They came when they saw the name Bouche.  I gave them the shows they wanted.  After my shows my people called for Papa Bouche to dance.  I introduced the rhumba in the United States and demonstrated it.  The people loved it."

Like many before and after him, Albert Bouche ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service who came after him in 1955.  He was accused of under-paying his taxes in the amount of $101,539.81.  After some back-and-forth with the tax men, Bouche agreed to pay $24,288 to settle all claims against him. 

The end of an era was announced in the Tower Ticker column of the Chicago Daily Tribune on October 12, 1956:

"Aging Papa Bouche sold his Villa Venice (in Wheeling) and poof goes Chi.'s most fantastic showplace."

Yes, the Villa Venice would continue under new ownership as the "New" Villa Venice, but it just wouldn't be the same.  The dream that was the Villa Venice finally ended when it burned to the ground on March 4, 1967.

Albert Bouche had maintained a separate residence in Miami Beach, Florida for years and he lived there full time after he sold his Chicago operations.  As he was winding down his businesses, Bouche and his wife bought a small house at 107 Third Street in Hallandale, Florida.  An industrial building sits on that site today.

In 1959 he sold his one remaining restaurant, the Villa Venice in Hallandale, Florida as age and poor health began to catch up with him.

Even in retirement Papa Bouche was in demand by showmen and restaurateurs.  In the 1960s Bouche discussed possibly putting on a "Villa Venice type revue" at the Deauville in Miami or the Flamingo in Las Vegas, but ultimately nothing came of it.  

Albert Bouche died August 5, 1964 in Miami Beach.  He was 83 years old.  He was buried in Fred Hunter's Hollywood Memorial Gardens East in Hollywood, Florida:

Photo Courtesy Find a Grave Volunteer JoeyC

Out of sight - out of mind.  There were big writeups in the Miami newspapers reporting the death of Albert Bouche.  But even after all his years as a restaurateur and showman in Chicago, the only note of the death of Papa Bouche was this mention buried in Herb Lyon's "Tower Ticker" column of  August 21, 1964:

"Albert (Papa) Bouche who ran the spectacular shows at the Villa Venice during its voom days, died in Hallandale, Fla., at 83."

His obituary in the Miami newspapers reported that he was survived by his wife Edna, a son in Argentina, a daughter in Italy, a brother in Chicago and a sister in Italy.

After the Villa Venice burned in 1967 it was not rebuilt.  Instead, a Hilton Hotel and Allgauer's restaurant (which they have the audacity to call "Allgauer's on the Riverfront") now stand on the site.

Since I moved to Wheeling several years ago I often pass by the site of the Villa Venice.  And if I concentrate really hard I can hear the sound of music and laughter and the singing of the gondoliers on the Des Plaines River. Oh, the Villa Venice - how magical it must have been.

Papa Bouche' - there will never be another like him.  May he rest in peace.