Warren Phelps My Semester at the Edgewater Beach Hotel

My semester at the Edgewater Beach Hotel

by Warren R. Phelps

My partner’s grandmother always said, “make good memories for your old age”. The seniors I worked with in nursing homes were living history books with stories to tell and they said,” enjoy life as it goes so fast.” Of course, when you are young these messages often don’t resonate or make sense-ah the joys of youth. However, both are very true.

I don’t recall the exact wording of the letter (no email in 1968), but I know I did receive one telling me that Mertz Hall dormitory on the Loyola Lake Shore Campus would not be completed for the fall semester in 1968 and that we would be living at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Not having lived in Chicago or knowing anyone who had stayed at the hotel it did not strike me as anything unusual. I was more anxious and eager to get out of the house and start my Junior year of college.

I was assigned to Room 401 with two roommates. We were housed in the original building (north). My room faced north towards the cabanas (the pool was closed). From hotel pictures the room looked like it originally was a lounge for the connecting room. Men and women were divided by floors and the majority of the students were freshman. According to Wikipedia there were 300 students in residence.

One of the dining rooms was converted to a student cafeteria. Not having stayed in that many hotels it felt old, but I enjoyed the many pictures in the halls and lobby showing the past glory of the building. It came as quite a shock to me to see that the lake actually was close to the building at one time. Men in hats and women in large ornate hates that reminded me of some of my grandmother’s photos. Clearly an era quite different from the 60’s.

We had access to the original building and the connecting area to the south building. Efforts were made to get into the closed south building, but I was not aware of anyone actually getting into that building.

We commuted to the Lake Shore Campus via an Edgewater Beach coach style bus. It wasn’t very big, but we would have contests to see how many we could pack in the bus. Looked like a game of Twister, but with lots of yelling. It was not always convenient commuting so I rearranged to have a few later classes.

Life seemed pretty usual but there were those unusual moments. One evening we had a fire drill and we exited the building using the external fire escape stairs that were not that steady (but heck we were young and not thinking of safety). We were accompanied down the stairs to the music of the Doors and “Light my fire”. Drew quite a laugh and cheers.

Another evening one of my roommates on dialysis shared what we would have to do should his shunt catheter became dislodged. Not quite the college experience I had planned, but nothing ever happened.

Life settled into a routine that felt quite normal, but clearly a contrast to life depicted in the pictures on the walls:dinners, entertainment, elaborate clothes and walks right along the lakefront. Friendships were made and lost as we were off campus with the same small group for meals and commuting. I met my future spouse at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

We eventually received notice that we would be moving into Mertz Hall which opened in early 1969. We had a tour prior to moving and it was rather spartan in comparison to the Edgewater Beach Hotel. We were informed that the hotel would be torn down. I recall walking around and looking at the old photos one last time. Before leaving I removed the room number, 401, from my door since I figured it probably would end up in rubble. To the best of my knowledge we were the last ones to occupy the hotel before it was torn down starting in the fall of 1969.

I visited a resident of the Breakers at Edgewater Beach, which is now sited where the former Edgewater Beach Hotel was once located. Looking out the windows I saw some of the same sights I had from my room at the hotel. Staying there was a unique experience and a “good memory” in a unique hotel that was a part of Chicago’s history. And indeed, life and time did go fast.