Uptown Chicago Resources

“Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel” by Adam Langer

Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel

Part 8

Edgewater Beach Hotel as seen from Sheridan Road.

Edgewater Beach Hotel as seen from Sheridan Road. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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 heavy-set 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. But 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.

Edgewater Beach Hotel as seen from above.

Edgewater Beach Hotel as seen from above. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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 of the Captains 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.

A goldtoned ladies’ powder compact from the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

A goldtoned ladies’ powder compact from the Edgewater Beach Hotel. CRCC collection.

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 those 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.

The Yacht Club at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

The Yacht Club at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

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 g----mn 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 b--ch 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.

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