EDGEWATER — Fifty years ago, the last remnants of Edgewater’s most famous building came down, ending an era for one of the most storied hotels in Chicago history.
Now, the Edgewater Beach Hotel is being remembered in the first book on the subject, written by two neighborhood historians.
“Remembering Edgewater Beach Hotel” was published this year under Arcadia Publishing’s popular “Images of America” series. It was written by Kathryn Gemperle and John Holden, members of the Edgewater Historical Society.
The book is an extension of an exhibit Gemperle and Holden curated for the Edgewater Historical Society’s museum on the 100th anniversary of the hotel’s opening. Gemperle and Holden will host a launch party 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the historical society’s museum, 5358 N. Ashland Ave., where they will talk about the book and sign copies.
While researching for the exhibit, the historians realized no book had been written on the hotel with a private beach. Gemperle and Holden pitched the book to Arcadia and got approval the next day.
“They were as shocked as we were that there hasn’t been a book written on the subject, because the hotel has such a fascinating and important history in the city,” Holden said.
The Edgewater Beach Hotel opened in 1916 in the 5300 block of North Sheridan Road. It quickly became the crown jewel of Edgewater, which was known for its wealthy residents and leafy mansions.
With its own beach, the hotel quickly became a destination for well-heeled Chicagoans and dignitaries of the day, including Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby and Marilyn Monroe.
“The hotel was that rarest of birds, perhaps without equal anywhere in the world: a full-service beachfront resort hotel located in the heart of one of the world’s great cities,” Holden and Gemperle write in the book. “To find its rivals in the mid-20th century, one would have had to travel outside the Midwest to Atlantic City, Palm Beach, or the islands of California.”
Aside from its lavish amenities, the hotel was the first home of WGN, which placed its broadcast antennas atop the hotel. The hotel also helped popularize jazz and big band music in the 1920s, with radio broadcasts beaming live performances from the hotel.
The Edgewater Beach Hotel played a pivotal role in the founding of the Zenith Radio Company. It is also considered to have built the world’s first indoor parking garage.
In 1947, the city approved a plan to extend DuSable Lake Shore Drive from Foster Avenue to Hollywood Avenue, cutting off the hotel from its private lakefront.
To compensate, the hotel built an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Gemperle and Holden said. In the 1950s, the hotel started a summer theater program, which brought in stars like Groucho Marx and Jayne Meadows. But losing its exclusive beach doomed the business, Holden said.
“Direct access to the lake was really part of its identity,” he said. “It lost some of its cachet.”
The Edgewater Beach Hotel closed in 1967 and was demolished in 1971. All that remains is the Edgewater Beach Apartments, the historic building at 5550 N. Sheridan Road built in 1928 as a companion to the hotel.
Despite its demise, the Edgewater Beach Hotel retains a special place in the memory of longtime Edgewater residents, Gemperle said. The authors hope the new book will help preserve the hotel’s legacy for future generations of Chicagoans.
“The community of Edgewater has a nostalgia for the hotel, especially after it was torn down,” Gemperle said. “It really was a big deal.”
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