Bryn Mawr Remembered

Vol. IX No. 1 - SPRING 1998

By: Marge Britton

Testimony before Chicago Landmarks Commission, supporting inclusion of Bryn Mawr on the National Register of Historic Places, January, 1995

My name is Marge Britton and I am a life-long resident of Edgewater. I grew up just a block west of Broadway and about three-quarters of a block south of Bryn Mawr, and live today just a block south of my childhood home.

From the early 1900s to the 1960s, Bryn Mawr was the heart and hub of Edgewater. The Guild Hall stood at Kenmore and Bryn Mawr at the turn of the century when John Lewis Cochran subdivide the sandwept land on the shore of Lake Michigan. A railroad station brought new residents to occupy homes constructed by Cochran which still stand today.

In 1915, the magnificent Edgewater Beach Hotel and its companion Edgewater Beach Apartments were constructed. They graced the lakefront with style and elegance, attracted the notable and the affluent and made famous the community’s name all over the world.

Bryn Mawr was an important center of commerce in Edgewater. Buildings constructed along the street reflected the grandeur of the Edgewater Beach. Today they would be termed "upscale."

For me, a child in the neighborhood, Bryn Mawr opened a door to wonder and adventure. Vivid childhood memories include trips with my mother to the grocery store and meat market, the neighborhood pharmacy at the corner of Broadway and Bryn Mawr, or to get a soda at Peter Pan. She used to tell me about the 1111 Club on Bryn Mawr, a well-known jazz spot when she was a young redheaded vamp.

I remember purchasing combs and handkerchiefs at Woolworth’s to give as gifts to family members, and oh so many Saturday afternoons watching movies at the Bryn Mawr Theater. As I got older, I ventured forth alone to the movies, to purchase an onion roll and a pickle at the delicatessen for a picnic at the nearby beach, to have a cherry phosphate or a Green River at the pharmacy in the Edgewater Beach Apartments and, wonder of wonders, to travel downtown on the "L".

The world opened to me on Bryn Mawr. The Elevated took me downtown to the museums, to shop and to see stage shows such as "South Pacific" and "The King and I." It was on Bryn Mawr just west of Broadway that I entered the back room of a barbershop to vote in a national election for the first time.

When I was a child, Bryn Mawr was a glorious place. That glory remains visible today. Behind somewhat tarnished facades is a bit of Chicago history. Bryn Mawr boasts a collection of buildings designed by some of Chicago’s foremost architects between 1910 and 1930. Bryn Mawr is grander than "the Boulevard," Ashland near Belmont, that once drew neighborhood shoppers, much grander than the retail strip on Devon Avenue west of Western. A similar collection of architecturally significant buildings is a rare occurrence on any neighborhood or town’s main street.

Brawny Broadway defines the district on the west. The street then slices through east Edgewater past the magnificent Edgewater Beach Apartments to terminate at the entrance to Lake Shore Drive and the park. To the north and south of Bryn Mawr are Winthrop and Kenmore, streets reclaimed by the Edgewater Community Council and the community, with buildings refurbished and restored to furnish affordable housing.

If I stand on the "L" platform at Bryn Mawr wearing my rose-colored glasses, I can see a promise of a new Bryn Mawr, a street which preserves the architecture and history of yesterday while providing needed goods and services to neighborhood residents of today. Designation of Bryn Mawr as a National Historic District can help make that vision a reality. Its history, its architecture would be preserved while the Federal Tax Credits would provide an incentive to responsible developers to restore and revive the structures on the street.

The Edgewater Beach Apartments is still the grandest building in the community. The newly restored Manor House is a jewel. Edgewater Presbyterian Church is handsome and well-preserved. The Belle Shore with its Egyptian-style, green terra cotta trim can still delight the eye and the spirit. The Aikido Club, once a recreational mecca housing a billiard and bowling hall, has been restored in recent years for other commercial uses. Its unusual mansard roof lends strength to the streetscape.

West of the "L" is the Bryn Mawr Theater, the first theater built by Rapp & Rapp. Although it has been sadly neglected, its ample interior still has dressing rooms and a stage where scenery can be flown. Behind the Bryn Mawr is a large vacant lot which could provide parking for many cars. And I dream that one of Chicago’s theatrical groups will someday find a home at the Bryn Mawr.

This is the second attempt to have Bryn Mawr declared a Historic District. The first was nearly ten years ago. At that time, the community was not quite as ready, not quite as far along as it is today.

The tremendously successful Operation Winthrop Kenmore, which teamed the Edgewater Community Council, the city and responsible developers, sparked the renewal and restoration of buildings on Kenmore and Winthrop Avenues. Vintage homes in Lakewood Balmoral to the west command some of the highest sale prices in all of Chicagoland. Operation Ridge promises to restore buildings along the Ridge corridor that brings so many commuters through our community.

Today we are ready to "Bring Back Bryn Mawr" as a vital commercial and residential district and to preserve the street as a cameo of Chicago architecture and history. Bryn Mawr should be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Editor’s Note/Correction: The magnificent Edgewater Beach Hotel and its companion Edgewater Beach Apartments were constructed in separate years. The hotel opened in 1916 and the apartments in 1928.