Edgewater Beach Memories - Part 5

Vol. IV No. 3 - FALL/WINTER 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

(To be continued)