Uptown Chicago Resources

“Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel” by Adam Langer

Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel

Part 2

Edgewater Coach

A custom coach delivered people to the Edgewater Beach Hotel in style. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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 hard-working 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 criss-crossed the steel beams so well. An earthquake might have cracked the walls or the plaster, but we thought it would never fall down.

Edgewater Beach Hotel Yacht Club

Edgewater Beach Hotel Yacht Club. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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, when 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. 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.

Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room

Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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 ’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 10 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 dance 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.

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