Edgewater Beach Memories - Part 4

Vol. IV No. 2 - SPRING/SUMMER 1992

By: Adam Langer

The following memories of the Edgewater Beach Hotel appeared as part of a lengthy article by Adam Langer in the November 10, 1989 issue of the Chicago Reader. The author has graciously consented to let the Edgewater Scrapbook reprint the entire article in serialized form.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel had all sorts of shops and meetings 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.

David 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. I saw 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 his 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 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.

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.

(To be continued)