Edgewater Beach Memories - Part 6
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 graciously consented to let the Edgewater Scrapbook reprint the entire article in serialized form. This is the sixth and final part of the series.
Then, in 1967, it happened. The Edgewater Beach Hotel declared bankruptcy and closed its doors.
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.
Dave Kiddy, doorman:
I don’t know why it closed. The first of September we were running a full house, and we were running a full hotel right before Christmas. And I remember he said, “We’re bankrupt. We’re closing.” No money. But we had run a full house just the day before. The Beach Walk was gone, that was true, but the hotel itself was doing a very good business. It closed because somebody wanted to make a fast buck.
Melvin Dolin, drugstore owner, Edgewater Beach Hotel:
We sold cosmetics. We had a self-service lunch counter. Liquor. There was a postal substation. There was general merchandise. We had a luncheonette and a soda fountain. But when I came, the hotel was already dying. It was starting to deteriorate, but they always said they were going to do a lot of work to refurbish it. That was my understanding, but it didn’t work out that way.
There would be very few people who would just check in off the street. They had a convention and it would be loaded and then it would be emptied out again until the next convention. And then it just got less and less. Ninety-five percent of our business relied on the hotel. And then our business was gone. At 8 a.m., I had a drugstore. At 9, I didn’t.
Marian Haggarty, longtime Edgewater resident:
The Edgewater Beach Hotel was a beautiful place and, when they tore it down, it was the end of an era. We would go there for dinner in the Marine Dining Room. I met my husband there. I was at the Yacht Club with someone else when I met him. When we were young, that’s where we were allowed to go. Parents approved of their daughters going to the Edgewater Beach because it was nice and they didn’t have to worry about you.
On New Year’s they had hats and they blew horns and threw confetti. You could never get in unless you had formal clothes. That was the way most good places in the city were. Young people don’t get dressed up anymore and I think that’s kind of too bad. I think that’s an elegance that’s gone. I hope some day it comes back.
Marilou Hedlund, resident:
When I went away to college and I told people that I lived in the Edgewater Beach Hotel, I apologized. I used to say, “But it was very different then. It was nothing like it is now.”
I used to run around the hotel even though there was a lot of supervision between housekeepers and bellmen and house detectives. In that era when I was there, it was a very elegant hotel and very straight and I broke a lot of rules. I got called into the manager’s office a lot of times. I would ride my bicycle down the ramp of the garage and sneak into the kitchen for cookies from the pasty chef. I would be called in for behaving like a kid.
The hotel, I remember, had its own upholstery shops, so all the rugs in the lobby were changed twice a year. There were winter rugs and winter upholstery and summer rugs and summer upholstery. I’ve always said that someday I would like to return to the standard of luxury that I had between the ages of 4 and 13.
Carmen Dello, musician:
The only time you saw a place like that was in the movies. We had a certain percentage of musicians in town and we used to play with each other. You had theaters, hotels, ballrooms. That was before rock. Today, it’s so colorless. It’s just rock. It’s a different caliber of musicians. There’s no comparison.
I remember when everything was so beautiful and high-class and then I remember going with my daughter to see Blood Sweat & Tears. When we used to come on stage, everything was so beautiful and high-class. I saw them on stage and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like just getting a bunch of guys from an alley walking on stage dragging their guitars. No curtains. No nothing. And that was the beginning of the end.
You had Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and Presley. They were all dope addicts and that was the beginning of the end of the good music. There’s no class anymore.
Romeo Meltz, bandleader:
I used to play the Buttery, the Blackstone, the Pump Room. I even worked the Town Club on 22nd and Cicero, which was a Capone joint, but Al was in jail and his brother Matty was running it.
Now there isn’t any music in the hotels in Chicago. I remember playing the Pump Room and Bogart used to come in drunk as could be and want to start fights. Lauren Bacall used to keep him down, quiet him when he was in that kind of mood. You’d meet people at their best and you’d meet them at their worst.
The business has changed today. You get a broad like Madonna that can fill Soldier Field with 50,000 people with a $25 base on the ticket price and she takes off her clothes and walks around in underwear and does the filthiest bumps and grinds. And for who? For teenagers. I used to play the strip joints and you never had that. Even with the strippers who used to work the street, they weren’t that vulgar.
Gus Travlos, manager of the Captain’s Table:
They really milked it to death. That was a place that once you started working there, you couldn’t help falling in love with it. There wasn’t anything you could dislike about the hotel. Name it. The decor. The people who worked there. The customers. The class. The food. The quality. The atmosphere. The surroundings.
Even in the Depression, you couldn’t walk into the dining room without a tuxedo. Even when people were starving for bread and butter, the hotel still stood up high. When we found out the hotel was gonna close, we cried. There were people who worked there 40 or 50 years.
We had waiters and bellhops who worked there for 45 years. When we found out, we stood out in front of the hotel with tears in our eyes.
Alice Ann Knepp, Dorothy Hild dancer:
It was like a castle. It was just beautiful. It was like the lobby was palatial. The grounds were beautiful. The gardens were beautiful. When you’re young, you’re just looking for adventure. You never appreciate what you have until it’s gone.”
Fred Kiddy, doorman:
I sure hated to see that thing being torn down. It was built like a fortress. The walls were like three feet thick. They don’t build them like that no more. I hated to see it go. Most of the people who worked there have either retired or moved out - or whatever.
George Stanton, chief executive steward:
The first building was well built, but they thought the wrecking ball could knock it down quick. The wrecker said, “Oh. here comes the big one now!” I felt sorry for the guy. He didn’t look at the plans. I said, “You poor sucker, you should’ve looked at the darned plans.” They should’ve looked to see how well it was built. He thought the ball would knock it down in a month or so. It took almost a year. That’s how well Mr. Dewey built it.
I remember my old boss, William Dewey. I remember all the executives I used to work with. God bless them, they’re all gone.
Gus Travlos, manager of the Captains Table:
There are no words to describe the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Memories? There are nothing but memories. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places, but the memory of that sight can never be replaced. Even now that they have high-rises on it and a senior citizens building and beautiful townhouses, I go sit right in front and I look at the whole thing and it looks like a bunch of junk in the alley. The Edgewater Beach Hotel is still there.
It’s almost lunchtime in the Breakers on Sheridan Road. There is a woman dressed in white who sits in a chair, waiting for her daughter to come visit her. Today would have been her 73rd wedding anniversary. She shows me a picture of her at her wedding in 1916. Her husband looks like Cary Grant in a tuxedo. She looks like Gloria Swanson.
“Did you ever go to the Edgewater Beach Hotel?” I ask her as she walks over to the window.
“We had our 25th anniversary there,” she says, and smiles.
“What did you think about it?” She’s looking out at the blue water rushing over the sand in the distance. “It’s a beautiful place.” she says.