Edgewater Beach Hotel Chicago: A Magnet for Hollywood Celebrities

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I have a fascination with hotels that started at a very young age. Growing up, we didn’t have the money to take expensive trips to places like Disneyland, but my sisters and I were perfectly happy going on smaller trips to places nearby. Often times we would just stay at a hotel to enjoy all its amenities, which for us kids meant mostly the swimming pool!

I grew to love staying in hotels during our trips, and my favorite hotel which we stayed at several times was the Leilani Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Sadly it is no longer there and it’s hard to find information about it, but I did find an article that shows an illustrated picture of the hotel’s layout, which was quite unique. The article mentions that Frank Sinatra may have even entertained there at one time, which would have been cool to see.

Anyway, to this day I love staying in hotels, looking at pictures of hotels, and reading about hotels old and new. So when I read an article about the former Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago and found out it had strong ties to the classic film community, I was intrigued!

I immediately headed to eBay to see if I could find a postcard of the hotel, which I love to do on occasion when the inspiration strikes. I purchased the following postcard, which shows an actual picture of the hotel, but there were many illustrated postcards that I thought were really cool and would like to buy someday.

Edgewater Beach Hotel Chicago

In researching the history of the hotel, I discovered that it was once an extremely popular destination for classic movie stars, which I never would have guessed about a hotel in Chicago, far from the bright lights of Hollywood. The more I read about it, the more I wish I were alive when it was in its heydey, just like I do when I hear about the Copa Room in the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Well, it did still exist for a few decades after I was born, but the exciting days of the Rat Pack performing there were over.

Here are few facts about the history of The Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago:

  • Built in 1916 and designed by famed architects Benjamin H. Marshall and Charles E. Fox, the hotel was built in the form of a Maltese Cross so that as many rooms as possible would have a view of Lake Michigan.
  • The hotel boasted a 1,200 foot private beach where guests could sunbathe during the day and dance at night. It also had its own barbershop, beauty parlor, drugstore, liquor store, photographer’s studio, and gift shop along with many other amenities.

Artie Shaw and his band

  • It was at the height of its popularity in the 1920′s thru the 1940′s, and some the of the celebrities you could see there on any given night included Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Nat King Cole, and Perry Como.
  • The hotel’s elegant Marine Dining Room was known for hosting big bands such as those of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Xavier Cugat. Some of the performances were broadcast nationwide over NBC and over the local station WEBH.
  • Major League baseball teams stayed at the hotel due to its convenience to Wrigley Field, which meant that famous players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig could often be seen at the hotel.
  • The hotel’s Gray Goose Airlines offered a flight service for its guests that took them to the Gulf Coast on a seven hour flight. You can see a picture of an old brochure and advertisement for the flight service in a post I found on the Uptown Chicago History blog.
  • In a Season 4 episode of Bewitched titled, “That Was No Chick, That Was My Wife,” Samantha and Darrin Stevens attended a convention in Chicago and stayed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. I watched the episode, and although they only showed a quick two second shot of the exterior and a short scene of them eating lunch inside the dining room, it was still cool to watch in light of my new interest in the hotel.
  • When Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive was extended in the mid-1950s, it blocked much of the hotel’s access to the lake, one of its most treasured features, causing business to fall off and the hotel to ultimately close in the 1960s.
  • The only part of the hotel that still stands today is the pink stucco Edgewater Beach Co-op Apartments, located in the Bryn Mawr Historic District and containing a legendary Art Deco lobby, a 60-foot heated indoor pool, and two acres of award-winning gardens.
  • Today, the site of the hotel is occupied by a senior citizens high rise called The Breakers, which contains a glass case displaying old menus, silverware, and decorations from the Edgewater Beach Hotel. 

In 1989, Chicago born author Adam Langer wrote a wonderful article about the Edgewater Beach Hotel for The Chicago Reader, which was reprinted along with a number of cool and colorful vintage postcard images on the Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads website. It’s a fairly lengthy article, but it contains fascinating memories of the hotel by both Adam and many of the hotel’s former employees and guests. If you’re anything like me and wish you could transport yourself back in time and spend a few nights hobnobbing with the stars, you will most likely find this article as interesting as I did.

There were a couple of quotes from the article that to me summarize what it must have been like to be a privileged guest at the hotel:

“When I first saw the Edgewater Beach Hotel,” said another woman in the lobby, “it was a beautiful enchanted island in the middle of the city. You could go there and feel you were in another world.”

“That was a beautiful hotel. It wasn’t a hotel really. It was a resort within the city that was beautiful. Every part of it. The outside and the inside, everything was beautiful. All the top people in the world came through there. The food, the service, the class that the hotel had, you couldn’t find it today.”

Reading about what sound like very entertaining and glamorous times at the Edgewater Beach Hotel and given that Chicago is my favorite city, all I can think is, “what I wouldn’t give for a time machine right now!” Of course I think that just about every time I watch an old movie or read about the golden age of Hollywood. :-)

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P.S. Speaking of hotels with ties to classic film, Page from the blog My Love of Old Hollywood recently wrote a post about her visit to the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, which also has ties to old Hollywood. It is a very interesting and informative post filled with lots of cool and beautiful pictures. Check it out, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

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2 Responses
  1. Karen says:

    I absolutely loved this post, Ginny — I love reading about the Edgewater Beach Hotel, too, and share your wish to have been able to stay there. Also, when I first found out about the hotel, the firs thing I did was head to eBay to look at some of the items there. I look forward to checking out your links. Really good stuff!

    • Ginny says:

      Thanks Karen! It can be so fun to look for related memorabilia on eBay, and it’s a wonder I don’t spend a fortune on all the cool things I find there.

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