Thursday 10 July 2014

The Edgewater Beach Hotel: Magic by the Lake

A Chicago landmark for decades, the Edgewater Beach Hotel was a happening place:  weddings, proms and dances were held there weekly.  Anybody who was anybody met at the Edgewater.  With the decline of the big band, and the advent of television, the hotel succumbed to the wrecking ball in 1967.  The memories, however, live on.

In the 1910s, two Chicago businessmen tried to purchase the Chicago Cubs, but failed.  Instead, they decided to build a hotel.  John T. Connery bought a piece of property across the street from his residence on Sheridan Ave.  He hired Ben Marshall, an architect with flamboyant taste, to design a hotel for him.  The result was a multi-level Spanish stucco design.  Most of its 400 rooms faced Lake Michigan.  The hotel opened in 1916.  Connery was disappointed at the lack of guests.  He would walk from room to room turning on the lights so that passersby on Sheridan Ave would think the rooms were occupied.  

However, word of mouth spread that it was a luxurious place, complete with not only a gorgeous view, but also a pool, and an elegant restaurant The Marine Dining Room.  Soon the pink hotel expanded to include a 600 room unit just to the south of the original building.

The Edgewater hosted weddings proms and dances.  Hollywood star like Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Nat King Cole and Marilyn Monroe flocked there.  Sports celebrities Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig dined there.  And big band leaders like Tommy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat and Wayne King performed there. Kings singer, Gloria Vyn, would belt out tunes, her voice carrying across Lake Michigan.  The guests would dance to the strains of the music, the womens skirts twirling as their debonair partners guided them across the boardwalk.  With its unparalleled glamour, Ms. Vyn stated:  I knew I had reached my goal when I worked at the Edgewater.

The hotel was not just in the business of hosting guests.  It was also home to a radio station, print shop, heliport, film studio and chocolate factory.  For guests who needed to be transported to the airport at Marshalls Field, a green motor coach was waiting for them -- or for the wealthy clients, a seaplane.

But all good things must come to an end.  The age of big band music declined.  The number of households with a television increased.  And the airport moved.  No longer located downtown, it was moved to the outskirts of the city in 1955.  A plethora of hotels sprouted up around the new airport, named O Hare. While the Edgewater is gone, its memories linger in the letters, photographs and keepsakes of Chicagoans.  It was Magic by the Lake.

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