Uptown Chicago Resources

“Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel” by Adam Langer

Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel

Part 7

Buildings on the former site of the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Site of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. At the far left is the 33-floor The Breakers of Edgewater Beach, a retirement home built in 1987, which stands where the tower of the hotel once stood. Next to it the 54-floor 5415 North Sheridan tower stands where the original 1916 X-shaped hotel building stood. On the far right, the pink Edgewater Beach Apartments, which were added to the hotel complex in 1927, still stand. In between, the two 38-floor towers of Edgewater Plaza North and Edgewater Plaza South stand on what were the grounds of the resort. © Jeremy Atherton, 2006. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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 sherbert. 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.

Edgewater Beach Hotel EKKO Stamp.

WEBH EKKO Stamp. Collecting such stamps was a popular fad in the 1920s, during the early days of radio. You were eligible for a stamp if you could pick up a station’s frequency on your wireless.

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 and say. “It’s time for an interview with Milton Berle.” You’d never know what to expect next.

The beach was lost [in the early ’50s when Lake Shore Drive was extended north of Foster] but the [Edgewater Beach] Hotel spent $250,000 to build a swimming pool with cabanas. After the [hotel’s] sale to [the HR.] Weissberg [Corporation] 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.

Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Vertical view of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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 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.

Edgewater Beach Hotel Entrance.

Entrance to the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

Gus Travlos, manager of 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. 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 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 and a little broccoli with a bordelaise or a sabayon sauce 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 carmelized 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. You’d pass the Havana cigars around. And then you’d wish them good-night. This went 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.

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