My parents spent their honeymoon there. My Aunt Faye and Uncle Harry had their high school prom there. They wanted to dance on the Beach Walk, but the 17-year cicadas were swarming, so they had to stay indoors in the Marine Dining Room. I don’t remember the place, but I do remember my dad driving us by in 1970 to watch it being demolished. We sat in the back of his black Thunderbird while he took home movies of the wrecking ball crashing into the pink stucco structure.
In its time, everyone stayed there and everyone danced on the glorious Beach Walk of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. They were all there, from Jeanette MacDonald to Johnny Weissmuller to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. All of the big bands played there. Paul Whiteman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Xavier Cugat–and what a night that was when his wife broke down the door to confront the bandleader in his quarters with lead singer Abbe Lane.
Legend and fiction also visited. That day in ’32 when Babe Ruth hit a home run to a spot he may or may not have pointed to in Wrigley Field, he’d been ticked off, they say, by someone spitting at his wife at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. You might say Roy Hobbs of the New York Knights in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural was shot there. You might say Eloise of the Plaza in New York stayed at the Edgewater, too. When Samantha and Darrin Stevens, of TV’s Bewitched, attended a convention in Chicago, their room was at the Edgewater.
The hotel had a thousand rooms and was designed by Benjamin Marshall, who also designed the Drake and the South Shore Country Club. When Marshall and his partner Charles Fox set out to persuade the tony Edgewater neighborhood to accept a hotel, they described it in the most wonderful terms, as a Blackstone on the sea. And so it was . . . There were two buildings. The first, shaped like an X, had eight floors and 400 rooms and opened in 1916. The 18-story tower had 600 rooms and opened in 1924. They were connected by a passagio that was lined with fancy shops. In the old days, the bands used to play under the sun and moon on the marble-floored Beach Walk, which went practically to the lake. When the Outer Drive was extended north past Foster in the early 50s the Beach Walk disappeared, but the hotel installed an Olympic-size swimming pool with cabanas.
In 1929, the Edgewater Beach Apartments, also designed by Marshall, opened a long block north, on the far side of the hotel’s tennis courts and garden.
The hotel and apartments were owned by Marshall and Fox, by managing director William Dewey, and by John Connery, president of the Edgewater Beach Hotel Corporation. The hotel was sold in 1947 to Chicago businessmen, who passed it on a year later to the Hotel Corporation of America. Among this Boston-based firm’s other properties was New York’s Plaza. Dewey stayed on as manager.
In time, the Edgewater started to go downhill. As hotels everywhere added air-conditioning, those breezes off the lake lost much of their allure. Then the beach was lost. The neighborhood went to seed. The carriage trade drifted downtown and the hotel began courting conventions. In 1962, the hotel was unloaded to a Buffalo outfit called the H.R. Weissberg Corporation. Now Jimmy Hoffa and his Teamster associates could be seen around the premises. Now maintenance problems went unattended and sections were closed off. The new owners made claims that they were working to refurbish the place, but they filed for bankruptcy on December 19 of 1967 and locked the Edgewater’s doors two days later. The 65 permanent residents were given two hours to move out. The Edgewater reopened for a short while as a dorm for Loyola University, but it was torn down in 1970.
The Edgewater Beach Apartments, which became a co-op in 1949, remains. Today the hotel site is occupied by a senior citizens high rise called the Breakers. The people there like to sit in the lobby and reminisce about the old hotel. A glass case displays old menus, silverware, and decorations from the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
“I had my wedding there,” said one woman in the lobby. “I had it there in 1927. Oh, was it a beautiful place! It was so palatial. Glenn Miller played at our wedding, I think.”
Agnes Redemski lived in the Edgewater Beach Hotel from 1927 to 1930, and she remembers listening to the Paul Whiteman and Wayne King orchestras on Friday nights. “Back then,” she said, “you could get a large lemonade for $1.25 and it lasted the whole evening.”
“When I first saw the Edgewater Beach Hotel,” said another woman in the lobby, “it was a beautiful enchanted island in the middle of the city. You could go there and feel you were in another world. Sometimes when you look out the window and you watch the waves coming up on the beach, you can almost see the old girl there. And if it’s a quiet night and you listen really closely, you can almost hear the big bands playing there.”
George Stanton was there from the very beginning. He became chief executive steward in 1924 and held the post to the day the Edgewater closed in 1967. He had come to Chicago in 1923 and taken a job running a DeMets luncheonette on State Street. The DeMets brothers had several luncheonettes, and according to Stanton they were the ones who created chocolate turtles. Stanton now lives in Andersonville and runs the Swedish Bakery on Clark Street.
George Stanton, chief executive steward: When I first came to the city, I was in my high school days and I wanted to have a few bucks in my pocket. In those years, 50 cents bought you a good meal. My brother and I, we decided to come to Chicago to see what it was like. We had a little flivver, a little roadster convertible with a rumble seat, a tin lizzy. My father said, “Well, I can tell you all about it. Chicago is a nice city. A hardworking city. But if you want to go see, I’m not going to stop you. You’re old enough to know what you want to do.” So we took off.
When I was in Chicago, I was living only a few blocks from the Edgewater Beach Hotel on Gunnison Street, which back then was Lafayette Parkway. They changed the name to Gunnison because there was a Lafayette Parkway somewhere else. I remember watching this construction going up. I said, “Boy, a lot of steel is going into that building.” We used to go skin diving in our shorts right there before the building went up. Back then, the squad cars were big Cadillacs and the police would say, “Hey you guys! Stop making all that noise!” I said, “We’re not making any noise. We’re just cooling off.”
I remember when they were building it and I remember the sad days when they had to tear it down floor by floor. The idea was that the building would never collapse. An atom bomb wouldn’t have brought it down–they crisscrossed the steel beams so well. An earthquake might have cracked the walls or the plaster, but we thought it would never fall down.
Romeo Meltz, bartender, bandleader: When I got out of high school during the Depression years, I worked at the Edgewater Beach. I mopped the floors there from 12 at night to 8 in the morning for $40 a month and a meal. The fellas that were elevator operators, they got $75 and they were college kids. There was an opening in the bar as a bar porter. And they had opened the Yacht Club downstairs. That was in 1934, when booze became legal.
So you’d have to bring in kegs of beer whenever the beer ran out. You’d squeeze the lemons for lemon juice, and then with the Yacht Club closed at night I swept out the club with a push broom. That job paid me $75 a month.
George Stanton, chief executive steward: In the Yacht Club, it was made up to look like the inside of a ship. We had snacks in there and you’d walk in on a gangplank. And when you hit a certain spot, it blew a whistle like a yacht. It was so unique and the walls were huge canvas walls and after a couple of drinks the head bartender put the switch on and the walls would go up and down.
“Hey,” you’d say, “we’re sailing! How the hell can you be sailing in a restaurant?” It was so unique.
Romeo Meltz, bartender, bandleader: When the Beach Walk opened in the summer, I was promoted to bartender. That’s when the big bands were playing on the Beach Walk and people would be dancing. And then, when the set was over, all the waiters would come over because everyone wanted to be served at the same time. So we had to set up the drinks before. Like we had trays and trays and trays of scotch and bourbon poured, fixings for mint juleps and crap like that.
I worked at the Beach Walk for a summer. I met my wife there. She was a hostess in the Grill Room and we bartenders used to eat in the kitchen of the Grill Room where the chefs ate. And I met my wife there, dated her, and eventually married her. I’m building this up for you because the story of the Edgewater Beach Hotel is really the story of my life.
Frank Masters, bandleader: We used to play the Beach Walk before they filled in the lake. It came almost all the way up to the hotel. In summertime, they had the outdoor place. It was pretty enough, but you found out that half the time the floor would be covered in sand flies. And you’d have to pack up and go back in the dining room.
In the summer, dancing was on the Beach Walk. When it rained or when it got cold, dancing was inside in the Marine Dining Room. There, big band performances would be broadcast nationwide over NBC and locally over the AM station WEBH (for Edgewater Beach Hotel), according to Chicago radio personality Chuck Schaden. That’s the station where Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden, who later created Amos ‘n’ Andy, got their start.
Every month would bring a new floor show featuring top national acts from across the country and a line of dancers. Through the 40s and the 50s, the Dorothy Hild Dancers performed there.
Alice Ann Knepp, Dorothy Hild dancer: Dorothy Hild was terrible to work for. She was very unpopular, but she got results. She would always have some kind of big production number. We did a Polynesian theme with Freddy Martin’s band. Our job included room and board and our salary was $30 a week. If you lived at home, the girls got $40 a week. We were free to choose what we wanted from the menu. At the time, we left a ten-cent tip for the waitress.
They would have circus parades with camels and the girls rode the camels in a parade around the dance floor. One time we did a number with bustles and some of the showgirls would walk around in Gay 90s outfits and some of the smaller dancer girls would pop out of the bustles.
When you’re young, you can do it. I think we were ahead of our time with aerobics. It was fun, and Dorothy was very strict. During the summer she would prohibit us from getting suntans, and we weren’t allowed to mix or mingle with the people in the hotel. She was strict with us. I’m sure it was for our own good, but we did find ways of escaping her.
Ruth Homeuth, line captain, Dorothy Hild Dancers: It was like a reformatory. We used to wear uniforms and we were supposed to go to our rooms right after the show. We did get by with things, though. We had a little door on the side of the hotel that went through the garage where we would sneak out. Once in a while we used to catch Dorothy coming in the same time we did.
She had her good days and her bad days. Probably more bad than good. We all were able to sneak out when we weren’t supposed to. We managed somehow. It was a challenge. For not being able to go out with any of the employees, there were more marriages that came out of that place than you’d believe.
Betty Gray, organist: I remember one Christmas show that Dorothy Hild put on. They’d have all different Christmas tunes with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at dinner for the house guests. Dorothy Hild had the dancers put bells on their ankles and they would kick their feet and make a tune out of it like “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells.” Feet would be going up in the air to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.”
Ruth Homeuth, line captain, Dorothy Hild Dancers: It wasn’t as glamorous as it looked. Some of our costumes were pretty out of sight. We always used to say that Dorothy had a nightmare and that’s what she would dream up for a costume. Huge headpieces and stuff you could hardly walk in, very cumbersome. You’d get hot, but being on the lake there was a very nice breeze.
We had to cope with bugs. They were horrible. Plus we always had animals when we worked out there, elephants and all of those good kinds of things, and you had to cope with what they did on the floor. You’d have to step over it gracefully. But we got along very well. For a bunch of women, we did real fine.
Irwin Kostal worked at the Edgewater Beach Hotel for a few years writing orchestrations for the floor shows. At the time, he was also orchestrating the floor shows at the Latin Quarter, the Palmer House, and the Chicago Theatre and was doing arrangements for NBC. Eventually, he says, he was told by the musicians’ union to stop doing so many jobs, so he headed to New York, where he worked for Your Show of Shows and the Garry Moore Show and orchestrated Fiorello.
Then Kostal shifted to Hollywood, where he won an Academy Award for his arrangements for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Currently he teaches at the University of Southern California.
Irwin Kostal, arranger: I had adapted a lot of pieces by Dmitri Tiomkin, and Dorothy Hild always had great ideas for production numbers. We would do all kinds of music–Chinese music, Duke Ellington music. Sometimes the lights would go out and all you would see would be the radium-treated costumes, and the girls would make like a Chinese pagoda design or a chariot of some kind and it would roll across the stage.
One time we were playing some music based on something by Dmitri Tiomkin for some sort of African picture he had done. We had a live tiger, a live elephant, and a few other things on the stage. And on Monday nights, when I conducted the orchestra to play the floor show, Dorothy Hild was always the choreographer.
What happened this time was I was conducting the music and everything was going along fine until, all of a sudden, there was pandemonium onstage and I didn’t know what happened. The audience was hysterical. The whole stage had sort of fallen apart. Dorothy Hild was waving at me from the sidelines to keep playing, so I called out a bar number to the orchestra and we went back and played a little bit to the end again.
And finally the stage cleared and we went back and I asked her, “What happened?” She said, “We forgot to tell you. If the elephant shits, go back to the top.”
From the age of 4 to the time she was 13, Marilou Hedlund lived in the Edgewater Beach Hotel. The adopted child of elderly parents, Hedlund was one of only two children in the building. Later, she would become a Tribune reporter, a Chicago alderwoman, and the vice president of a Chicago public relations firm. Back then, she was one of the Edgewater regulars; and she got to know Kay Thompson when the future author of Eloise was staying at the hotel and singing on the Beach Walk.
Marilou Hedlund, resident: The entertainers were my friends and I used to love to go down and watch them rehearse. A lot of them were animal acts. There were some standard lines that I used to become friends with entertainers. I said, “My mother’s four foot eleven; she wears a size three-and-a-half shoe,” and that’s quoted in Eloise. So, Eloise is a composite of many hotel children that Kay Thompson knew in various places.
In the wintertime every year they had Sharkey the seal, and Sharkey the seal lived in a tank in a room just off the garage, and Sharkey was my good friend. I would feed him twice a day with the trainer present. There were a lot of magicians with rabbits, and I used to get the rabbits when the rabbits got to be too big for the magicians’ hats.
Girls would ride in on camels, and then they’d bring in horses and that sort of thing. So I got to ride elephants and camels and all that sort of thing when I was growing up. The circus troupe that came for three or four years had a girl who was a year older than I, and she was tremendously skilled in trapeze stuff and she taught me some of that. It was wonderful and bizarre growing up.
I remember my mother was thrilled when I met Barbara Stanwyck and her husband. But I think the biggest thrill for me were the dressage horses.
Betty Gray, organist: You want a list of the people who played there? Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Russ Morgan, Vaughn Monroe, Freddy Martin, Wayne King, Rob Flanagan, Xavier Cugat, Liberace with his brother George, Henry Brandon, Johnny Long, Tex Beneke, Woody Herman, Guy Lombardo, Frankie Carle, Bill Snyder, Evelyn and her magic violin, Patti Page, Tony Bennett, Jack Cavan, Griff Williams, Claude Thorndale.
Louise Lindahl now is a booking agent, but from 1947 to 1951 she was Louise Summers and she sang in the Marine Dining Room and out on the Beach Walk. She played the off-nights, Mondays and Tuesdays, with Jack Cavan’s band.
Louise Lindahl, singer: The Marine Dining Room was one of the elegant spots in town and it was a performer’s dream. They had a stage and a dance floor and where the people sat was all tiered. I had two different things that I did. When you sing with a band you sing the current tunes and some of the old standards.
The band would swing into the chorus and I would swing into my key and I would get up and sing the song. Besides being a singer I was a soprano, and I had an act with Italian street songs and the kinds of things Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy would sing.
When I sang dance music, I always wore beautiful gowns and the men always wore beautiful tuxes. It was just very, very elegant. I sang Cole Porter–“So in Love.” I sang, “I Love You So Much It Hurts Me,” “Night and Day,” “Stardust,” “Temptation.” The same stuff that everyone else sang.
Betty Gray, organist: Russ Morgan was a very fine musician with a strange background because he came from the coal mines of Pennsylvania and he was very rugged looking. He was rough and rugged and had a heart of gold. He was generous with his money. One Christmas he gave war bonds to everyone he was acquainted with in the hotel.
He was very temperamental, and he’d be in the floor show and he said, “I’m tired of having the orchestra give [the singers] background. Come down, Betty, and finish the show.” You just better know that number or else you’re in big trouble. We segued from orchestra to organ and back again all evening. One time he had a 19-piece orchestra and he made them change the key of the piece just to upset me so that I would come in on the wrong key.
He was doing something and I said, “Something sounds a little strange.” I pressed one pedal on the organ and he looked over to me and said, “What are you doing? Checking me out?” His ear was that good that he could pick out one little pedal out of 19 musicians.
Les Waverly, bandleader: Jack Cavan was a trumpet player and quite a character. Eventually he became almost a bum. And he was driving a cab out in Vegas and I guess he drank himself to death–and you hated to see that happen to a guy like Jack who was so nice and talented. He’d do crazy things.
Yet as fast as he’d goof on one thing he’d do three more things right. He was sort of a portly gentleman, and he’d put on a nice white coat and after five minutes it looked like he’d slept in it. He had problems with some of the music, but until he left it didn’t affect his ability to get more work.
Betty Gray, organist: During the war period, we were packed there every night. Mr. Dewey used to have people from the war every Saturday night. So one Saturday night it would be soldiers and the next Saturday it would be sailors, and they would be entertained in the Marine Dining Room for the whole evening.
It was just so unbelievably popular, filled to capacity almost every night. It got so smoke-filled. The only thing during the war was you had to be careful what you played. You couldn’t play numbers like “Japanese Sandman.” You had to be careful not to provoke any criticism.
Romeo Meltz, bandleader: At that time, they had quite a few ballrooms in Chicago that they called “over 30” for people over 30. Those were places that wouldn’t hang you by your thumbs if you were over 30. Most of the people who came there were in their 60s and 70s. And the guys would tell their wives they were out playing cards or bowling with the guys, and they were dancing with gals who told their husbands that they were out with their girlfriends and knitting clubs. But they loved to dance. And you had the Aragon and the Trianon and all that in those years.
Betty Gray, organist: One evening there was a group at the ringside table, and there was one gentleman who was just recovering from a massive heart attack and he mentioned to one of the guests that he would like her to dance with him around the floor. Just around the floor for a little bit over to the organist, because he wanted to ask me for a request or something.
She said, “You are just getting over a heart attack, you should not be dancing.” He said, “I’m gonna do it.” They danced from there across the floor and he dropped dead right in front of the organ.
Marilou Hedlund, resident: Usually when there was a big show, we would have a table for one night. Just once a show. But that wasn’t nearly as interesting as being behind the band shell or up in the wings. I don’t remember getting all dressed up and watching the floor show. It was a lot more fun to be watching in play clothes from the wings.
And the ballrooms were wonderful. Part of the joy of that hotel was the vast amount of interesting space to explore. It would be fun to go there when they were setting up the ballrooms and hide out and watch them. There were lots of secret passages, and you’d go down after the events and pick through the debris to find treasures. Kids have different treasures than grown-ups. What grown-ups throw away can be a treasure for a kid.
Betty Gray, organist: One night at the hotel, three bellhops decided they were going to find out what Liberace did after his shows to entertain himself. They followed him all night. They followed him to a place where he had a bite to eat. Then they landed down in the Loop, and what do you suppose they saw him doing? What do you suppose the wild evening he had was? He went to a midnight show on Clark Street. Nothing too fascinating.
There were a couple of scandals that rocked the Edgewater Beach Hotel and put its residents on the front pages of the Chicago papers. One incident occurred when Xavier Cugat was playing with his band at the hotel. One night, Cugat’s wife broke down the door of his hotel room and found him in bed with his singer (and next wife), Abbe Lane.
Betty Gray, organist: They had an exciting time there. Xavier Cugat was exciting because whenever he was there he had trouble with the ladies. They crashed down the door and Abbe Lane appeared nude there. The little elderly, wealthy ladies who lived in the hotel–and there were a lot of them–they very rarely came into the dining room to eat.
They were very conservative. But the next night they were all there to see what excitement had happened the night before that made the Chicago Tribune. Cugat told me one time, “I don’t care what kind of publicity I get as long as it’s publicity. All publicity in my way of thinking is good.”
He once asked me to go on a tour with him of Europe. My husband said, “No, thank you. Not for you.” I didn’t go, but Cugat’s band was always an unusual group of men. He had an albino because he had an interesting look, a black drummer who was dynamic and used to throw his sticks in the air every once in a while when he got aggravated and the sticks would break. It was an unusual group and I just loved it.
Louise Lindahl, singer: We had a big laugh about it. I went to work one Monday and all of the waiters and waitresses couldn’t wait to tell me how Abbe Lane was found in Xavier Cugat’s room. Today, they’d probably put that on television. But in those days that was a no-no. My, that was something. It was such a scandal to find a girl singer in bed with the bandleader.
Betty Gray, organist: One time Xavier Cugat wanted audience participation at the end of the show. He would have a couple of the claves players come down, and they’d be at the front of the stage. And Abbe Lane and he would ask for someone to come up to participate in Latin dancing, like the mamba or the rhumba or whatever. And he’d ask these people to come up.
The funny thing was that Abbe Lane, who was much younger [33 years, in fact], had all of these sharp-looking, sometimes Latin, very sexy men come up to dance with her. Cugat, being older, always got these matronly, heavy women. And it just floored him. He did it for a few weeks and then he quit because he was horrified at the type of woman that he drew. He thought he’d get girls like Abbe Lane and he didn’t. It didn’t flatter him at all.
Then, there was the time that Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus was shot in the hotel by Ruth Steinhagen. If you talk to the people who lived and worked at the hotel at the time, most of them get the story wrong. “Some fella got shot from the Cubs,” one told me. Marilou Hedlund had gone with her parents to the movies that night, and from what she heard, Waitkus was shot by his girlfriend. The girls from the Dorothy Hild Dancers were so sheltered that none of them had ever even heard the story. But Bernard Malamud knew it. And a couple years after it happened, he put a very similar incident into The Natural. According to Malamud critic Earl Wasserman in his essay “World Ceres,” the shooting of Roy Hobbs by a mysterious woman in a Chicago hotel room mirrored what happened one June evening in 1949 in the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
A star first baseman, Eddie Waitkus was hitting .300 and leading the National League in all-star votes at his position when he came to Chicago to face his old ball team, the Cubs. At 29, the former Harvard man was at the height of his career.
And Ruth Steinhagen was obsessed with him. On a table in her Chicago home she’d arranged a display of Waitkus mementos–baseball cards, photographs, game programs. Steinhagen was 19 years old, worked as a typist, and lived at 1950 N. Lincoln. But when the Phillies hit town for a midweek series with the Cubs, she checked into the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Back then, National League baseball teams favored the Edgewater Beach Hotel because of its convenience to Wrigley Field. Her first night there, Ruth Steinhagen’s best friend came over. She told the friend that she was going to “get Eddie,” but the friend didn’t believe her. Steinhagen was always talking about Eddie Waitkus. Another time she’d said she was going to move to Philadelphia because Waitkus played there.
Steinhagen would later say that she had wanted to do this for two years. She had made her hotel reservation a month before. She brought with her a change of clothes, a knife, and a .22-caliber rifle. She wasn’t a big drinker, but that night she had a couple of drinks.
She tipped a bellboy $5 to deliver a note to Waitkus that according to the Tribune said, “It is extremely important that I see you as soon as possible. We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain this to you as I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow. I realize this is out of the ordinary, but as I say, it is extremely important.” It was signed “Ruth Ann Burns.”
Waitkus got the note and phoned her. She told him that she had to get dressed first so he should come by in half an hour, at 11:30 PM. Steinhagen assembled her rifle and put the knife in her purse. She’d explain that she had wanted to stab Waitkus when he came in, but he walked by so fast that she didn’t have time to open her purse and pull out the knife.
Waitkus sat down in a chair and Steinhagen said “I have a surprise for you” as she walked to the closet. Out came her rifle. She told him to move toward the window and she said, “For two years you’ve been bothering me and now you’re going to die.” Then she pulled the trigger. Hit in the chest, Waitkus fell to the floor and looked up at her. He smiled as she went for the phone. “Baby, what did you do that for?” he asked.
Steinhagen held Waitkus’s hand until the hotel detective arrived.
Steinhagen was charged with assault with intent to kill and placed under psychiatric examination. She told reporters that she was happier in jail than she had ever been, for the people in jail were much nicer than the people she knew in the real world. She said she shot Waitkus because she admired him.
For a while, Eddie Waitkus’s life hung “in balance”–or so a Tribune headline declared. But he recovered and went back to playing baseball. And when reporters wondered what had happened in the hotel room, Waitkus said, “I asked what it was all about and when I turned around–holy smokes! She had a rifle in her hands. . . . Before I could say anything, Whammy!
“Why did she have to pick on a nice guy like me?” he said. “Oh, brother–it was safer in New Guinea.”
The baseball players came. So did the celebrities and the heads of state. They all came to the legendary Edgewater Beach Hotel. On a given day, you might see Don Ameche or Kate Smith; during the 1959 Pan American Games young Fidelito Castro, son of Cuba’s new boss, celebrated his tenth birthday there. When the Mets were in town, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see Casey Stengel at the bar. Magician Jay Marshall played the Edgewater Beach Hotel three times in his career, in the 40s, the 50s, and the 60s.
Jay Marshall, magician: When you’re old, your mind starts to go, but I remember seeing quite a few people there. Groucho Marx. Franchot Tone. It was the ideal place for prom parties. For a lot of the girls, it was their first time out, they’d get a little drunk, and you know that story.
It was a very tall hotel. There was a room at the top where they had a bar. Casey and the other people hung out at the bar on top. You always could see him up at the bar. It had a lovely view of Chicago.
Les Waverly, bandleader: My bass player told me that he and the saxophone player were sitting at the bar one night having a drink, and sitting next to them was Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra. And Casey was buying drinks and pretty soon Yogi said, “Hey, we got a game tomorrow, I’m gonna go get some sleep.” Casey said, “OK, go ahead.” In the meantime, Casey’s still there buying drinks and the room was closing, so he said, “Hey, where can we go for some serious drinking?” So they went across the street and had a couple more hours of drinking.
They got back at four in the morning, and the next day my bass player and saxophone player were watching the game on TV. And there’s Casey, sitting in the dugout like nothing ever happened.
George Stanton, chief executive steward: I would see everybody there. But from a distance. Like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. [The Yankees would have stayed there during the ’32 World Series against the Cubs.] People would flock to them for autographs, but I’d seen them all out on the field. We had every one of the governors staying there at one time. The governors were a happy-go-lucky bunch. They wanted an American menu. Steak one night. Prime rib the next. We had to make a thousand steaks or a thousand prime ribs. We had two slicing machines, huge sterilized slicing machines. The chef and I would make sure that no one put their fingers there.
Gandhi stayed there. His menu was the most unusual one. He had his own special milk delivered, his own goat’s milk was delivered especially for him. We had to make up a special preparation for him because he was a vegetarian.
Marilou Hedlund, resident: The king of Saudi Arabia. That still is in my mind. Absolutely. I can look and I can just see the whole thing. They came in a stream of limousines and they took over the octagonal part of the hotel and our apartment was directly across from the octagonal building in the tower. And I can remember looking with binoculars when they would pray to Mecca.
Talk about provincial, these were the most exotic things to me. Back then, there were magical books and you would read quite a bit about Arabia and Persia and wonderful, magical places, and that’s where these people were from. So to me, they were very strange and wondrous.
Betty Gray, organist: King Saud was there one time and the orchestra was being led by Henry Brandon. And I remember he didn’t know what to play when the king entered the Marine Dining Room. So he finally picked “The Sheik of Araby,” which I thought was about as corny as you could get. It’s funny what people do when you’re caught, because you have to think of something and you don’t have a lot of time. Afterwards, I remember the king gave away a lot of wristwatches to the various people around the hotel. I didn’t get one.
Alice Ann Knepp, Dorothy Hild dancer: They had a big parade for MacArthur through Chicago and they built a large platform in front of the hotel, and at that time we were doing a floor show with a rose number at the hotel. Our costumes were made to look like roses and we did a number called “Roses of Picardy.” And we stood lined up in front of the hotel with large bouquets of roses, and as MacArthur and his wife drove past the Edgewater Beach we threw the roses and one of us gave a bouquet to Mrs. MacArthur.
I remember reading the headline in the paper which said, “Scantily Clad Chorus Girls Greet MacArthur.” He was there, driving in an open convertible. That was true. But we weren’t scantily clad.
Roth Homeuth, line captain, Dorothy Hild Dancers: I’d work and then I’d quit and then I’d come back, but I remember I was there when MacArthur drove by. How could I forget? We had to get up at six in the morning and put on false eyelashes. We were standing out there with our costumes on when General MacArthur rode by. We were in full regalia.
John Schlimmer, station manager, WEBH FM: It was a super place when I was a kid. It looked expensive. It was a place that as a kid you wouldn’t even approach. We were so in awe of this place. It was so colorful. The cupolas were lighted with floodlights that were purple and pink and amber. I remember the time when Shirley Temple stayed there. I was a little kid about ten years old and she was a little kid about ten years old and I remember thinking “Gee whiz–just a few blocks away . . .”
Betty Gray, organist: Robert Taylor once came in the dining room by himself and this waitress looked over and practically fainted. She was in a state of shock. Serving him was a big event in her life. Merv Griffin used to sing there and I talked to him a lot. I thought he was a very aggressive individual, an excellent dresser. He would wear a beautiful camel hair coat that they wore in those days. Back then, if a young man wanted to look well dressed, he’d wear a camel hair coat. And he was a trained pianist with an excellent background. He played a fine piano and was a very good singer and an excellent musician.
It’s funny the things you remember. James Petrillo, head of the musicians’ union, used to come there quite a bit. He used to come in with some lady that had a big plume in her hat and the differences in their heights made the plume waft against his nose all the time when they were dancing, which greatly amused all the musicians there.
Dixie Crosby, Bing’s wife, she used to come there quite a bit. Fran Allison, from Kukla, Fran and Ollie. I remember one funny story about a gentleman who shall remain nameless.
The hotel was built with angles that jutted out and gave you beautiful views. And there were these old people that would be there and they would look across the way, and one time, there was this man waving nude at them. That stirred more interest in the hotel, I think, than anything. These women came down to the manager in droves and complained to the manager that there was this man making obscene gestures at them. He was making gestures to the ladies in the hotel.
It was kind of funny because he happened to be in the show that night. But he wasn’t there that night. He left in a hurry. I asked, “What happened to him? Did he die?” I remember somebody said, “No, but he did worse than that.”
The Edgewater Beach Hotel had all sorts of shops and meeting rooms and ballrooms. There was a free limousine service that ran hourly from the hotel to Marshall Field’s. If you didn’t want to take a cab to the hotel from the airport, 25 bucks could get you a helicopter ride to the Edgewater Beach’s heliport at the top of the hotel. Dave Kiddy worked there as a doorman from 1948 to the day the hotel closed. He got his brother Fred a job there, too. Now, Dave and Fred Kiddy are doormen at the Park Hyatt on Chicago Avenue.
Dave Kiddy, doorman: I walked in off the street and I got a job as an elevator operator. From an elevator operator to a bellman. From a bellman to a doorman. That was a hotel that when you checked in, you did not have to leave the hotel for anything. I mean anything. You had your barbershop, your beauty parlor, your drugstore, your liquor store, your ladies’ shop, your men’s shop, your children’s shop, photographer’s studio, gift shop. Name it, you had it. There was a valet shop. Your own laundry. Your own bakery. Your own candy.
Gus Travlos, manager of the Captain’s Table dining room: That was a beautiful hotel. It wasn’t a hotel really. It was a resort within the city. That was beautiful. Every part of it. The outside and the inside, everything was beautiful. All the top people in the world came through there. The food, the service, the class that the hotel had, you couldn’t find it today.
The first time I saw the Edgewater Beach Hotel, I was driving north on Sheridan Road and I stopped on Balmoral at the stoplight. And I seen a friend of mine standing there and he said, “I’m working here. Let’s grab a cup of coffee.” I walked in and I said, “Wow! This is a hotel?” I couldn’t believe it. The lobby. The dining rooms. I was speechless.
I couldn’t believe the beauty, the structure. The things I’ve seen there, I’ve never seen in Europe, and you know in Europe we have a lot of class. I’d been at the Congress Hotel, the Blackstone, the Hilton, but there was no comparison. And when he asked me to work for him, I said, “Wow! I thought we had class in Europe.” The guy was laughing. He knew I was so impressed that I couldn’t believe it. That was quite a sight.
Marilou Hedlund, resident: It was a wonderfully unique place. It was the kind of place where my father would go down every day for a shave in the barbershop and once a week I was permitted to watch and get my shoes shined. When it was a privately owned hotel there was a special kind of caring that nobody could afford today.
It was a different era that was long gone probably at that time. It was the kind of place that on birthdays every permanent resident would receive a beautifully decorated cake with your name on it. And not just kids. My mother got one. My father got one. And on Halloween, they would send up beautifully carved pumpkins. They were sculpted. And at Christmas and at Thanksgiving, there would be fruit baskets. There were wonderful little touches like that. I imagine it was like living in a gracious manor house in England. It was phenomenal and I’m glad to have had a taste of it. I haven’t had anything like it since.
George Stanton, chief executive steward: We served 3,000 meals a day. We had a whole wing of the main building facing the lake on the main floor and we had 12 pastry cooks and a pastry chef there and we ran it around the clock. We made everything there from dinner rolls to french bread, every kind of bread. We made all our own ice cream and sherbet. We had our own ice-cream-making machine.
We had the dormitory there for all the pension girls and maids who wanted to stay there and had early hours. They wouldn’t have to worry about getting to work in the middle of the night or going home in the middle of the night. We had regular dorms on the ninth floor for the maids and pension girls.
They were a wonderful bunch of Irish girls. Kilroys and Kilpatricks. A wonderful bunch of girls. And they got lunch and dinner and all they had to do was take the elevator to the ninth floor and they were home. They didn’t have to pay rent or anything. You didn’t have to go out at night and you didn’t have problems like you do today: somebody grabbing a woman and raping her. It’s disgusting today. They were just so happy that they didn’t have to go out because the pantry had to open at six in the morning. The service started at six.
Then they lost the Beach Walk. The hotel sold off its riparian rights so that Lake Shore Drive could be extended north of Foster in the early 50s. Ownership changed from William Dewey to the Hotel Corporation of America in Boston to the H.R. Weissberg Corporation in Buffalo. The Marine Dining Room was replaced in 1954 by what one employee referred to as “that chop suey joint”–the Polynesian Village. WEBH AM was closed down and a new radio station, WEBH FM, was opened by Buddy Black, who had worked for WGN and eventually would work for Channel Seven. The FM station did not broadcast coast to coast; it was a shoestring operation in a closet.
Ken Alexander, Sunday radio personality, WEBH FM: It was a one-man operation. I did everything, but there wasn’t that much to be done. We signed on at nine on Sundays and we had some religious programs. One was called The Methodist Men’s Hour. It lasted 15 minutes. Then there was an hour of worship services from a church. Public affairs, religious broadcasts.
We had easy-listening music. No rock ‘n’ roll. It was very relaxed. Mantovani and the Living Strings and Roger Williams and Perry Como. But no rock ‘n’ roll. We had some classical music programming in the afternoon. It was my first job in radio. Buddy Black told me to “be yourself.” He said, “Don’t be anything you’re not. If you think of something clever, something original, something nobody’s ever heard before, go ahead and say it. If you can’t, put on a record.” I’ve been putting on records ever since.
John Schlimmer, station manager, WEBH FM: FM was hardly into its own then. It was really pushing for listeners. It was worth peanuts–$35,000. We were on the main floor in what used to be a broom closet. And it was part of the barbershop. They knocked out a wall and put in a window and that window just happened to face the revolving doors of the entrance. So, as you sat there and worked all day, you’d see everyone come and go that was in the building.
Buddy Black wasn’t a trained reporter. He was an emcee, a disc jockey, and a sleight-of-hand artist. He’d see Milton Berle coming through the front door and he’d run out and say, “Hey Uncle Miltie, come on in.” And we’d be right in the middle of a record and he’d stop it and say, “It’s time for an interview with Milton Berle.” You’d never know what to expect next.
The beach was lost, but the hotel spent $250,000 to build a swimming pool with cabanas. After the sale to Weissberg, there were other changes around the hotel. Teamster hard guys began to show their faces. The home of the city’s greatest entertainment now offered lower-budget fare.
John Schlimmer, station manager, WEBH FM: Jimmy Hoffa would come in there with his bunch of guys with their golf bags. I was in the drugstore there getting a sandwich, which we would do regularly between records, and a couple of Hoffa’s henchmen were in there. You’d see them around. You’d get to recognize them.
They were like little kids with their mentality, schoolyard kids. And I remember standing there watching one of them turn around and smack the other one right in the mouth. They were both about 50 years old. And the other guy didn’t say a thing. They didn’t add a lot of glamour to the place. One guy would tip the doorman 50 bucks for getting him a cab.
Dave Kiddy, doorman: The Teamsters were all real nice to me. Jimmy Hoffa had a suite of rooms that he kept there all year.
Les Waverly, bandleader: You saw the guys with the cauliflower ears and the crooked noses and the open shirts in a nice room. And you’d see Jimmy Hoffa around there several times. They’d come in. Guys come in a nice room where you’re supposed to wear a coat and tie and they’d have the open sport shirt and they’d be talking very loud with vulgar language.
Gus Travlos, manager, the Captain’s Table: The kind of food we served there, you don’t serve to people off the streets. We had presidents in there. We had vice presidents in there. Jim Hoffa was in there with a group at least twice a week for his meetings. We used to prepare dinners for them in their private suite at least twice a week.
If we prepared meat as an appetizer, we would prepare fish for an entree. If we prepared scampi as an appetizer for them, we would prepare a duck flambeau with an orange sauce, or if we gave them a fish appetizer we would cook them a steak with a burgundy wine sauce and mushrooms. Or we might just prepare them little bits for them to nibble on while they were talking and having their meetings.
We would prepare them chicken diavolo in a mustard sauce or fish and chicken. Give them the choice. Or a combination of meat and fish or a combination of Dover sole and lobster. Very seldom would we serve those people from the kitchen. Oh, maybe once in a blue moon we’d serve them from the kitchen [that is, what was on the menu]. They wanted to come in, they wanted to drink, they wanted to have their meetings, they wanted something to nibble on.
Then you’d prepare them a salad at the table side even though they were talking at the same time. Myself and two or three captains and the busboys, we’d prepare them a nice appetizer and serve it and we’d prepare them a nice salad, a dinner salad. Then we’d serve them a nice dinner, have a little broccoli or broccoli with a bordelaise or a sabayon sauce and put it over the vegetables. We’d serve them a nice double-baked potato. While they had their dinner and their wine, we would prepare them a nice dessert, either flaming pears in caramelized brown sugar or a nice peach flambeau or cherries jubilee over ice cream. Then you’d prepare them a nice Mexican coffee. And then nine times out of ten, you’d prepare them a nice flaming cognac, maybe Remy Martin. Then you’d pass the Havana cigars around. And then you wish them good-night.
This would go on every second or third day.
The Edgewater Beach Hotel flirted with theater for a few summers in the late 50s and early 60s. Rita Moreno starred at the playhouse there in I Am a Camera. Karyn Kupcinet was in a play. So was Mickey Rooney and so was Groucho Marx. Zero Mostel directed himself in Rhinoceros. But 1962 was the last season; the Weissberg Corporation wasn’t willing to pay top dollar for talent.
Among the entertainment brought into the Polynesian Village in the early 60s was Chase & Park, a comedy trampoline act led by Al Benedict. Benedict was actually a Park District supervisor; in 1959 he produced Chicago’s first air and water show–and Chase & Park was a sideline. The act kept at it from 1946 to 1988 and showed up frequently on Bozo. The Edgewater was a nice, friendly place to play. Nothing like Soldier Field, which Benedict found himself in one night in 1978. In a horrible mistake, Chase & Park had been booked to open for the Rolling Stones. They were booed off the stage.
Al Benedict, trampolinist: We loved playing the Polynesian Village because it was a relaxed show. They had a line of dancers that opened and closed the show. When we were playing there the twist was the big thing, and the whole cast came out at the end and did the twist. One night the whole audience was taken over by the Chicago Bears because George Halas was having a Chicago Bears alumni party. And we got one of the all-time great Chicago Bears, Hugh Gallarneau, out of the audience and onto the trampoline.
We’d do about five minutes of trampoline. And we had a woman, a heavyset woman, planted in the audience, and we would coax this woman, who had this very infectious laugh, out of the audience. It was all situation comedy, getting her on and off the trampoline.
I recall one incident where we got a guy up out of the audience, and every time he jumped a piece of his suit would break apart. In show business, you couldn’t find a better breakaway suit. And I said to my partner, “I bet you two to one that this guy is gonna make us buy a new suit.” And, sure enough, there was a knock on the door and he came in and he said all he wanted was an autograph. He said he’d never enjoyed himself so much in his life. He looked like a bundle of rags.
Les Waverly, bandleader: They had huts and all the motifs of a Polynesian village. There was one act called the Pearls of the Pacific and they had Tahitian drum dancers with them. The Tahitian drums were actually fuel cans and they made a high-pitched metallic sound. It was a pretty ordinary stage, but instead of a curtain, they had something like bamboo crossed. You could see through it, but it still gave you the feeling of a curtain.
Martin Denny performed there. He was a very big act and he had records with bird calls on them. The Boyd Twins performed there. They were quite well known throughout the country because they were the Doublemint twins. We had Dorothy Shay, the “Park Avenue Hillbilly.” She did a song about underage hillbilly marriages and marrying your cousin.
John Schlimmer, station manager, WEBH FM: The hotel was allowed to run down. Simply. In the tall building, pipes would break and flood the whole floor. And instead of fixing it they’d just shut off that floor. Rats would get in there because they always go for water. And the rats spread to other floors.
Dave Kiddy, doorman: The hotel started to change when it began to cater more to conventions than tourist trade. And then, when the big bands went out, that just about killed the dining room. It became the Polynesian Village, which was cheaper entertainment. When Bill Dewey sold the hotel, it started to go down some. The Polynesian Village was nothing like the Marine Dining Room, where you’d have your top-name entertainment.
Fred Kiddy, doorman: It didn’t start to go down until the early 60s. I think what happened is this guy Weissberg took over, he took everything out and didn’t put anything back in it. You bleed something for five or six years, it’s gonna fritter away to nothing. Which is what it did. In the last days, Dave worked the doors in the days and I worked the doors in the evenings. We knew it wasn’t the same. It got to the point where they said the plumbing alone would cost a million dollars to fix.
Gus Travlos, manager, the Captain’s Table: You knew something was wrong. You knew something wasn’t kosher. You’d go to the kitchen and you couldn’t get what you want. People would request the things that they were accustomed to and we couldn’t give it to them. The place started getting dirty. We couldn’t get enough help to clean it. They didn’t want to pay anybody. I got out. I couldn’t stand to work under those conditions. I gave my notice.
Charles Hoenes, choreographer for Dorothy Hild: The 1960s, that was the death of vaudeville. It was really dying. At that time, everyone was like the Rockettes and had no identity, and the young dancers, they didn’t want that anymore. They were more drawn to Broadway revues and summer stock than doing the production numbers that we did, because the production numbers were based upon look and precision and the individual was not outstanding unless he or she was a soloist.
Les Waverly, bandleader: They replaced the Polynesian Village and they tried to bring back the Marine Dining Room. There would be people who would come back to relive their honeymoon of 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, and they were looking for that nice hotel that they enjoyed so much–and they’d spend one night in the rooms up there with the peeling plaster and the crummy bathroom and all that. We saw the hotel slip little by little. The stores began to close and they stopped operating the summer theater, but still you thought it would keep going.
Stanley Paul, bandleader: I came there once and I remember it was like a beautiful old ghost. I went there to see a show, a burlesque show. It was some sort of revue. And I remember wandering through the lobby and seeing all the old photographs, and I was really impressed. I said, “My God! In the 30s and 40s, this must have been the greatest place.”
I remember going into the lobby and they had all these sepia photographs lining the corridors, and I spent two hours just looking at all the photographs. There were pictures of all the stars and they just had walls of them. I was fascinated. I remember I was with all these people and they wanted to go, and I said, “No. Leave me here.” I remember saying, “This must have been the most beautiful hotel in its day.”
Then, in 1967, it happened. The Edgewater Beach Hotel declared bankruptcy and closed its doors.
George Stanton, chief executive steward: It all happened so fast. All of a sudden, new owners. Some guy from New York. When they said that, I said, “Oh boy! What the hell goes on now?” He never showed his face. He just grabbed what he could and got out. I never saw him. If I saw him now, I’d cut his goddamn gizzard out and feed it to him like chopped liver.
I’m forgiving, but it’s sad that other people had to suffer on account of him. I don’t bear grudges, but when you’re hurt you feel it. H.R. Weissberg. How can I forget that name? He locked the door on us. I said, “Who closed it up?” They said, “Your boss.” I said, “That son of a bitch is not my boss. I can’t acknowledge him as my boss when he’s locking us out.” There was nothing wrong with us. The business was there. We had it booked for a thousand people. But he locked it up without a payday. That was the lousiest day–right before Christmas. That was the lousiest thing you could do.
Dave Kiddy, doorman: I don’t know why it closed. The first of September we were running a full house, and we were running a full hotel right before Christmas. And I remember, he said, “We’re bankrupt. We’re closing.” No money. But we had run a full house just the day before. The Beach Walk was gone, that was true, but the hotel itself was doing a very good business. It closed because somebody wanted to make a fast buck.
Melvin Dolin, drugstore owner, Edgewater Beach Hotel: We sold cosmetics. We had a self-service lunch counter. Liquor. There was a postal substation. There was general merchandise. We had a luncheonette and a soda fountain. But when I came, the hotel was already dying. It was starting to deteriorate, but they always said they were going to do a lot of work to refurbish it. That was my understanding, but it didn’t work out that way.
There would be very few people who would just check in off the street. They had a convention and it would be loaded and then it would be emptied out again until the next convention. And then it just got less and less. Ninety-five percent of our business relied on the hotel. And then our business was gone. At 8 AM, I had a drugstore. At 9, I didn’t.
Marian Haggarty, longtime Edgewater resident: The Edgewater Beach Hotel was a beautiful place, and when they tore it down it was the end of an era. We would go there for dinner in the Marine Dining Room. I met my husband there. I was at the Yacht Club with someone else when I met him. When we were young, that’s where we were allowed to go. Parents approved of their daughters going to the Edgewater Beach because it was nice and they didn’t have to worry about you.
On New Year’s they had hats and they blew horns and threw confetti. You could never get in unless you had formal clothes. That was the way most good places in the city were. Young people don’t get dressed up anymore and I think that’s kind of too bad. I think that’s an elegance that’s gone. I hope some day it comes back.
Marilou Hedlund, resident: When I went away to college and I told people that I lived in the Edgewater Beach Hotel, I apologized. I used to say, “But it was very different then. It’s nothing like it is now.” I used to run around the hotel even though there was a lot of supervision between housekeepers and bellmen and house detectives. In that era when I was there, it was a very elegant hotel and very straight and I broke a lot of rules. I got called into the manager’s office a lot of times. I would ride my bicycle down the ramp of the garage, sneak into the kitchen for cookies from the pastry chef.
I would be called in for behaving like a kid. The hotel, I remember, had its own upholstery shops, so all the rugs in the lobby were changed twice a year. There were winter rugs and winter upholstery and summer rugs and summer upholstery. I’ve always said that someday I would like to return to the standard of luxury that I had between the ages of 4 and 13.
Carmen Dello, musician: The only time you saw a place like that was in movies. We had a certain percentage of musicians in town and we used to play with each other. You had theaters, hotels, ballrooms. That was before rock. Today, it’s so colorless. It’s just rock. It’s a different caliber of musicians. There’s no comparison. I remember when everything was so beautiful and high-class and I remember going with my daughter to see Blood, Sweat & Tears. When we used to come onstage, everything was so beautiful and high-class. I saw them onstage and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like just getting a bunch of guys from an alley walking onstage dragging their guitars. No curtains. No nothing. And that was the beginning of the end.
You had Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and Presley. They were all dope addicts and that was the beginning of the end of the good music. There’s no class anymore.
Romeo Meltz, bandleader: I used to play the Buttery, the Blackstone, the Pump Room. I even worked the Town Club on 22nd and Cicero, which was a Capone joint, and Al was in jail and his brother Matty was running it.
Now there isn’t any music in the hotels in Chicago. I remember playing the Pump Room, and Bogart used to come in drunk as could be and want to start fights and Lauren Bacall used to keep him down, quiet him when he was in that kind of mood. You’d meet people at their best and you’d meet them at their worst.
The business has changed today. You get a broad like Madonna that can fill Soldier Field with 50,000 people with a $25 base on the ticket price and she takes off her clothes and walks around in underwear and does the filthiest bumps and grinds. And for who? For teenagers. I used to play the strip joints and you never had that. Even with the strippers who used to work the street, they weren’t that vulgar.
Gus Travlos, manager, the Captain’s Table: They really milked it to death. That was a place that once you started working there, you couldn’t help falling in love with it. There wasn’t anything you could dislike about the hotel. Name it. The decor. The people who worked there. The customers. The class. The food. The quality. The atmosphere. The surroundings.
Even in the Depression, you couldn’t walk into the dining room without a tuxedo. Even when people were starving for bread and butter, the hotel still stood up high. When we found out the hotel was gonna close, we cried. There were people who worked there 40 or 50 years. We had waiters and bellhops who worked there for 45 years. When we found out, we stood out in front of the hotel with tears in our eyes.
Alice Ann Knepp, Dorothy Hild dancer: It was like a castle. It was just beautiful. It was like the lobby was palatial. The grounds were beautiful. The gardens were beautiful. When you’re young, you’re just looking for adventure. You never appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
Fred Kiddy, doorman: I sure hated to see that thing being torn down. It was built like a fortress. The walls were like three feet thick. They don’t build them like that no more. I hated to see it go. Most of the people who worked there have either retired or moved out–or whatever.
George Stanton, chief executive steward: The first building was well built, but the wrecking ball knocked it down quick. The wrecker said, “Oh, here comes the big one now.” I felt sorry for the guy. He didn’t look at the plans. I said, “You poor sucker, you should’ve looked at the darned plans.” They should’ve looked to see how well it was built. He thought the ball would knock it down in a month or so. It took almost a year. That’s how well Mr. Dewey built it.
I remember my old boss, William Dewey. I remember all the executives I used to work with. God bless them, they’re all gone.
Gus Travlos, manager, the Captain’s Table
There are no words to describe the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Memories? There are nothing but memories. I’ve been a lot of beautiful places, but the memory of that sight can never be replaced. Even now that they have high rises on it and a senior citizens building and beautiful town houses, I go sit right in front and I look at the whole thing and it looks like a bunch of junk in the alley. The Edgewater Beach Hotel is still there.
It’s almost lunchtime in the Breakers on Sheridan Road. There is a woman dressed in white who sits in a chair, waiting for her daughter to come visit her. Today would have been her 73rd wedding anniversary. She shows me a picture of her at her wedding in 1916. Her husband looks like Cary Grant in a tuxedo. She looks like Gloria Swanson.
“Did you ever go to the Edgewater Beach Hotel?” I ask her as she walks over to the window.
“We had our 25th anniversary there,” she says, and smiles.
“What did you think about it?”
She’s looking out at the blue water rushing over the sand in the distance.
“It’s a beautiful place,” she says.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/courtesy Chicago Historical Society, scrapbook of Alice Knepp.