Editor’s Note: Editor, author, playwright, and occasional film producer Adam Langer grew up on Mozart Street in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood. His books include The Washington Story and Crossing California, set in West Rogers Park, and he has contributed stories to Chicago Noir and The Encyclopedia of Exes. He has granted us permission to reprint his article on the Edgewater Beach Hotel originally published in the November 10, 1989 edition of The Chicago Reader. Be sure to visit Adam’s Web site at www.adamlanger.com
We have used a number of vintage postcard images from our collection to illustrate Adam’s article, and are interested in finding additional historic images of Uptown and Edgewater. If you have any old photographs, memorabilia, or postcards of the area you’d like to share, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to include a copy on the Web site. Thanks for helping us chronicle Uptown’s history. We hope you enjoy these memories of the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
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 [yellow] 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, from 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 tiny 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.”Next>>>Part Two