Hotel Waukegan - Chateau Waukegan, Waukegan Illinois

Date added: September 1, 2022 Categories: Illinois Hotel

Conceived in 1926 and built in 1927, Hotel Waukegan was constructed during a decade when Waukegan's population grew from 19,226 to 34,499 and Waukegan was a thriving business city, with 65 industrial establishments employing 9500 people. Built during a boom period, and supported by public subscription, the hotel was sited at the intersection of two of Waukegan's most highly traveled streets, standing high on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The twelve-story Hotel Waukegan has always been the tallest building in town and since its completion has had a distinctive presence in the city's streetscape.

The site selected for construction of the Hotel Waukegan was prominent in Waukegan, at the northwest corner of Washington Street, the city's major east-west business street, and Sheridan Road, the city's premier residential address. It was to be located high on the bluff just before Washington drops downhill to the flats.

Prior to construction of the Hotel Waukegan, the Masonic Fraternities of Waukegan had their temple building on the northwest corner of Washington Street and Sheridan Road. Although it is not known exactly when the temple was constructed, an undated clipping in the collection of the Waukegan Historical Society notes it was built in 1886. Nevertheless, the first mention of the Temple in the tract books occurs in 1905, during a time when old postcards indicate that Washington was lined with two and three-story commercial buildings. The Masonic Temple sold its building to Am Echod Congregation in 1920, and they used it as a Jewish Center until the property was sold so that a hotel could be constructed in 1926. The undated clipping pointed out, regarding the site of the Masonic Temple, it "was for many years outstanding in the city's landscape, a familiar landmark and directional point for local folk and visitors".

The location selected for the hotel was not only prominent, it was convenient, where commercial, residential and industrial Waukegan intersected. A 1917 Sanborn map showed a barber shop, two restaurants (one with hotel rooms) and a motion picture theater on the north side of Washington Street. An electric streetcar line ran down the middle. The west side of Sheridan Road contained houses and, in the middle of the block, a building housing the Elks Club. Farther north were more houses including one of Waukegan's most distinguished Queen Anne residences, located diagonally across from the Masonic Temple Building. The Classical Revival Waukegan Public Library, 1 South Sheridan Road, built in 1903, was directly across Sheridan Road; next to it, to the north, was a repair garage that accommodated 25 cars. Just down Washington from the library, on the flats, was Spring Street. On the northwest corner of Spring and where Washington Street terminated, was the passenger station for the Chicago and North Western Railway. To the north and south, along the flats were numerous industries including the Legget-Platt Spring Bed Manufacturing Company, the Nelson Machine Company and numerous warehouses.

W.L. Stoddart, a New York architect who wrote extensively during the twenties for the Architectural Forum, pointed out in "The Hotel for the Typical American City", written in 1923, that the site for any hotel is a matter of serious concern, but it is of greatest concern in the case of a small commercial hotel. He notes that important considerations are its accessibility to the railroad station, street car lines, automobile highways, the city's commercial district and the residential section. "The best location for a new hotel is one that is conveniently close or even directly in the line of growth of the city's retail business and at the same time on the main street leading out toward the residential center." The Hotel Waukegan qualified on all counts.

Plans for the construction of a hotel at Washington Street and Sheridan Road germinated in 1926. In April of that year the property where the Masonic Temple Building was located was sold to Louis Alter who, in all likelihood was the individual planning to build a hotel on the site. Construction, however, did not begin immediately. On November 30, 1926, The Waukegan Sun reported "Hotel Plan on Masonic Temple Site deferred." The article noted that plans for a proposed $1,000,000 structure with 300 rooms with baths and a roof garden were to be put on hold for at least a year. The owners, referred to as the Hotel Waukegan Company in the article, continued to contend that the site was the "best hotel site on the north shore" and they were going to improve the site with a modern hotel.

Construction on the Hotel Waukegan got underway almost exactly one year after the idea for a hotel was conceived. On April 27, 1927, Michael F. Schiavone and Theodore Williams purchased the property from Louis C. Alter and, plans were immediately made to raze the Temple Building. The June, 1927 issue of the Hotel Monthly reported that a $800,000 hotel was to built at Sheridan Road and Washington Street. 3 Construction began, and by September, although the building was only completed up to the fifth floor, there was a grand opening.

The front page headline of the Waukegan Daily News dated September 22, 1927, read, "Hotel Waukegan is Dedicated." The city's rival paper, the Waukegan Daily Sun, had a similar headline, reading "Hotel Banquet Draws Big Throng," featuring news that the impetus to make the Hotel Waukegan the outstanding hostelry along the North Shore was well underway, with over 85 Waukeganites purchasing preferred stock. Held in the lobby and mezzanine floor, the gala event was enthusiastically described as "novel" and "the most extensive and elaborate affair of its kind ever held in the city." Over 650 people attended. Vaudeville acts performed, and men of prominence such as the manager of the Chicago and North Western Railway, the Superintendent of Transportation for the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad and a visiting dignitary from Sarasota, Florida, all gave glowing speeches that pointed with pride to the progress of Waukegan and lauded the men building the new "massive and impressive structure". Tributes were paid to Schiavone, Williams, and Louis M. Polakow, who was formerly manager of another Waukegan hotel, the Clayton.

Construction of the hotel had the whole-hearted support of the community, including the Mayor, leadership of the Chamber of Commerce, and local businessmen. Stoddart, in his 1923 Architectural Forum article, notes that the majority of smaller hotels are community enterprises where the need is felt by the business interests of the city and happens with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce. The Hotel Waukegan, certainly met this formula. A Waukegan business owner and active member of the Chamber of Commerce served as toastmaster of the banquet, and the Chamber Manager was a featured speaker, likening the strength of the foundation of progress of Waukegan with that of the foundations of the building. Investors speaking that night included an editor of the Waukegan Daily Sun and the Mayor of Waukegan. Over $15,000 was raised that evening, and there was much enthusiasm generated for this new venture.

Unfortunately, despite the optimism, the hotel got off to a sluggish start. According to the November issue of Hotel Monthly, the purpose of the banquet, held when the hotel was without a kitchen and only partially complete, was to sell stock to complete the building. Tract books indicate that shortly after November of 1927, when Michael Schiavone transferred title to the Hotel Waukegan Corporation and took out two mortgages totaling $450,000, numerous liens were placed against the owners and, in 1930 the bank foreclosed. It sold the building to the highest bidder, who paid $440,000 for it and conveyed it to Albert Weisberg who, in 1932, turned it over Russell Hardesty. Hardesty took out a mortgage for $100,000 and quit claimed the hotel to the Peoples Hotel Corporation. It was then, in 1933, that the Hotel Waukegan finally began to enjoy the success envisioned at the outset.

The hotel's 1933 brochure described everything writers in the 1920's architectural journals were prescribing for a successful hotel operation, both for transients and long-term residences: reasonable costs, complete facilities, numerous services, beautiful vistas, convenience and fireproof construction. The Hotel Waukegan advertized "Thrifty rates" for hotel rooms (every one of which had a bath). They began at $1.50 a night or $25.00 a month. "Richly furnished" apartments, described as having large chambers with spacious clothes closets, a modern tile bath and shower, a kitchenette with modern iceless refrigeration, generous cupboard space of sanitary porcelain enamel, mechanical ventilation in every bath and kitchen and radios in every room, rented for $25.00 a month. "Complete" facilities were provided for the guests. Directories indicate that there was a barber shop facing Sheridan Road and a valet, coffee shop and bar facing Washington Street. On the mezzanine floor was a ballroom "Ideal for Banquets, Dances, Meetings, etc." where Sunday and holiday dinners were featured and a balcony with "convenient writing tables". Although they are no longer there, on the roof, was "the breeze swept roof garden" and a children's playroom. Services provided included 24-hour garage with direct, free phone service, daily maid service, thermostatic control in all suites, "attentive bell boys" to deliver papers and packages, 24-hour operators and commuter tickets were furnished at cost. In addition, the hotel was touted for being only a block from the business district with shops, theaters, and transportation at the resident's finger tips. Photos in the brochure provided the customer with persuasive visual evidence that "In every detail your home at HOTEL WAUKEGAN is cozy, comfortable and convenient."

Many articles in the architectural literature of the teens and twenties focused on the design of hotels and apartment hotels. Charles D. Wetmore wrote on the development of the modern hotel for The Architectural Review, in 1913. William L. Stoddart featured articles specifically on hotels for the small city in The Architectural Forum in 1923 and 1926. In addition, for the first time, analysis in a contemporary volume was given to hotel architecture when R.W. Sexton wrote "American Apartment Houses, Hotels and Apartment Hotels of Today: Exterior and Interior Photographs and Plans".

Writers acknowledge the importance of a hotel to a town. Stoddart, writing in 1926, commented that "much of life in this Country both socially and commercially, is lived in the hotel." It is a place where a city's distinguished visitors reside, where meetings important to the community's progress and welfare are held and where civic clubs regularly meet. Millions of people associate hotels with the high points in their lives: weddings, honeymoons, vacations, conventions, New Year's Eve celebrations, banquets. Stoddart comments that industrial towns tend not to be as much hotel towns as those that are trading centers, universities or resorts, and this may explain why local papers didn't tend to cover social occasions in Waukegan as much as they did in a more "social" North Shore community like Lake Forest. Still many Waukegan residents have clear memories of weddings and banquets held in the Crystal Room, and of Rotary, Exchange Club and Odd Fellow meetings at the hotel. The Hotel Waukegan was a short walk from the train station, and it was a popular place for traveling salesman. It also served as a residence for those who worked in the nearby commercial district. The best story about the hotel was told by Fred Burgess, who remembered when the Genesee Theater promoted business by holding weddings on the stage, and the Hotel Waukegan contributed the bridal suite. Everyone interviewed remember the hotel as a popular place in town. It was thought of as a "high class hotel". Fred Heilin recalled about the Hotel Waukegan, that "everything happened there".

The architecture of a hotel was recognized as important to its success in the contemporary literature. John Bowman, president of the Bowman Hotel Corporation, wrote an article for the November, 1923, Architectural Forum titled "Good Architecture, a Modern Hotel Requisite," in which he states that , assuming good service, "it is usually good architecture which primarily influences the choice of a hotel". He notes that fine motor cars stop at fine entrances and that social functions need impressive settings. Hotel architecture, noted Joseph A. Wilkes in the Encyclopedia of Architecture, Design, Engineering and Construction, at least the outer visible portions such as lobbies, are of greater concern to the average individual than perhaps that of the State Capitol, City Hall, public library, hospital, or stores. At the Hotel Waukegan, there is a handsome ornamental marquee over the Washington Street entrance and an elegant lobby befitting a premier hotel. The lobby, an impressive two-story space with a gracious formal split stairway surrounded by Classical metal balusters, features an unusual landscape painting at the stair landing. Although the upper stories have been extensively altered, the hotel main public space, its lobby, is virtually intact.

Because this hotel contained apartments, it served as home to many Waukegan residents. But, with its abundance of services and beautiful architectural detailing, many had the opportunity to regard it as a kind of home away from home, though grander. Hotels like the Waukegan could provide a luxuriousness, elaborateness, and formality few homes possessed. Perhaps this is the reason that hotel styles tended to follow historical design traditions that persisted well into the twenties after the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Whether Renaissance or Tudor, styles of the past provided a building with the legitimacy of tradition. In this case the rusticated base reminiscent of a Renaissance Palazzo, the elaborate terra cotta embellishments and pedimented windows on the exterior, and the rich Classical moldings on the interior, provided the hotel with greater richness than the family home yet a sense of the traditional which was familiar and comfortable.

Stylistically the Hotel Waukegan is a design amalgam, containing elements of the simple commercial building described by Richard Longstreth and details there are clearly quite elaborate. It is a three part vertical block, similar to an office building, subdivided like a Classical column with base, shaft and capital. What gives it stylistic reference is the elaborate terra cotta base embellished with handsome, human scale Renaissance detailing, a red brick central section with vertical terra cotta banding, and two stories with elaborate terra cotta detailing equivalent in richness to detailing at the base. Thus the architecture of the hotel was effective in attracting attention at the ground level where it was seen by passers-by and at the top, where it would stand out to travelers coming from afar.

Numerous hotels with a similar design format were designed all over the country during the twenties, yet the Hotel Waukegan with all it financial woes, did not feel the success its elegance visually expressed until the thirties.

During the 1930's Waukegan, like most cities, suffered considerable economic hardship. Two of the three banks in town closed. There were soup kitchens and flop houses. Yet like Phoenix attempting to rise from the dust, the Hotel Waukegan held parties and dances and took out full page ads in the city directory. It is likely that the repeal of prohibition in 1933 was instrumental in the success of the hotel's operation over the next many years. Favored town watering places were the night club on the hotel's top floor and the ground floor Old English Tavern. A large newspaper advertisement invited the town to an evening of dinner and dancing, a "New Deal for Waukegan". On April 6, 1933, "Father Depression" was to be buried with the birth of beer. Starting in 1935, through 1954, directory adds described the Hotel Waukegan--Every Room with Private Bath, Coffee Shops Serving Only Quality Liquors and Beverages, Crystal Room for Dances, Parties, Weddings, Dinners and Meetings-as "Waukegan's Newest and Finest." During these years the directories note that there were 12 hotels in town with 733 rooms.

The death knell for the Hotel Waukegan began tolling in the 1960's, when motels were built to the west along Green Bay Road. In 1973 it was sold, remodeled at a cost of $3 million by the firm of Jensen and Halstead in Chicago, and converted into a sheltered care residence known as the Chateau Waukegan. After defaulting on its mortgage in 1980, the hotel was, in 1984, sold at auction for conversion into plush apartments and condominiums, then sat empty.

A similar fate befell the only other 1920's hotel in Waukegan. The Hotel Karcher, completed just before the Hotel Waukegan, though smaller and less prominent in appearance, was a beautiful and popular hotel. In the early 1980's it was refurbished into a retirement hotel. Only three years later it underwent a disastrous fire. Although its exterior has fairly good integrity despite window replacement, its interior has been totally destroyed, and there is nothing left to serve as a reminder that it too was a gracious small city hotel. Today all that remains with sufficient integrity to serve as a reminder of the importance of hotels in Waukegan is the Hotel Waukegan. Sold in 1994, plans are now in place to rehabilitate the hotel, once the social hub of the community, to serve as a constant visual reminder of the important role it played in the social and commercial life of Waukegan.

Waukegan History

Waukegan can lay claim to being one of the earliest settlements on the western shore of Lake Michigan, dating back to 1795 when records show a French trading post was established there. A 1783 map of the Northwest Territory gives evidence of only two settlements on the western shore, Chicago and Little Fort, the name by which Waukegan was known for the first eight years of its corporate life. Actual title to the land known today as Waukegan did not change, however, until 1836 when the land was ceded by the Pottowatomi Indians to the United States Government. Attracted to the area because of its strategic location as a trading post, its forested expanse, and its excellent hunting and fishing, numerous families settled here and, on April 5, 1841, the town of Little Fort was incorporated, the same year it was made the county seat. Early settlers saw an important future for Waukegan as a commercial port because of its location half way between Chicago and Milwaukee. In 1847 a lighthouse was built. That same year 406 vessels were recorded as entering Waukegan. Some ninety years later the Waukegan Directory would refer to the city as "A Harbor of Industry".

It was during the 1840s that Waukegan, which was by 1845 a semi-weekly stagecoach stop between Kenosha and Chicago, began to build hotels. Although today we use the word hotel generically, these early hotels were actually very simple rest stops. One of Waukegan's earliest was the City Hotel and Farmers' Rest Tavern. Built sometime between 1844 and 1850 on County Street, just south of Washington Street, it offered a barn where farmers were able to stable their horses while staying in the hotel. In later years hotels continued to recognize the draw of a good bar. Directory ads for the Hotel Waukegan in the 1930's, 40's and 50's in bold letters describe its COCKTAIL LOUNGE, "Serving Only Quality Liquors and Beverages". There were at least three other hotels built during the 1840's and 1850's. One was the Exchange Hotel (later renamed the Vollar House), which served as the general stage office. The second was the Sherman House, at South Genesee and Water Streets, which was billed as a public resort, probably due to natural springs uncovered in Waukegan. Known as Glen Flora Springs, they were touted so strongly, the Chicago and North Western Railway (then the Illinois and Wisconsin) which first came through Waukegan in 1855, had a stop at Glen Flora, some citizens envisioned Waukegan becoming the Saratoga of the west. The third was the Waukegan House which, like the Sherman House, was surrounded by broad verandas. This hotel prided itself on its horse-drawn bus that took people back and forth to the train. Some early hotels started as private residences where the owner put a sign out front. A prominent example in Waukegan was the Fox Hotel, which was originally the Charles Fox Residence. The Fox Hotel was a stately Italianate, home that later became surrounded by porches. It was located at Washington and Utica Streets. All of the very early hotels, built in the center of Waukegan, are long gone, either succumbing to fire or the wrecker's ball.

The relationship between the railroad and city hotels was important. The two-story Washburn Hotel, built in 1892 at 121 Water Street, just east of Genesee Street, was noted for lodging traveling salesmen, who lined up their goods on tables in the lobby for customers to make purchases. This hotel was razed in 1924. The Edmund, later the Commercial Hotel, was built in 1906 at the foot of the hill at Washington Street and Spring Street and was known as a railroad hotel, built for traveling men and their families. It stood 3-1/2 stories with a lobby that was described as palatial. This supposedly fireproof hotel was destroyed by fire in 1965. All of Waukegan's hotels, including the Waukegan, were walking distance from the train station. It was not until the 1960's that hotels and motels were built too far west from the station to be easily accessible.

Waukegan's hotels built before the 1920's were small scale hotels that were two to four stories and contained a relatively small number of rooms and few additional facilities other than a bar. It was during the 1920's when Waukegan's population grew 78% from 19,226 in 1920 to 34,499 residents in 1930 that it began to look like a city with the construction of some imposing relatively tall masonry buildings, including the Hotel Waukegan.

During the 1920's, when the Hotel Waukegan was designed and built, the city enjoyed a huge growth spurt, largely due to developments that began in the late 19th century. Although Waukegan had been incorporated as a city in 1859, the city's most significant changes took place during the 1880's when its population was approaching 5000. During this decade the North Shore Improvement Association was formed to extend the drive known as Sheridan Road north to Waukegan. In 1896, the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad (originally known as the Bluff City Electric Company) ran its first cars from Waukegan to North Chicago, marking the beginning of street car transportation. The most far reaching action, however, that which was to shortly attract industry to Waukegan was the passage of an ordinance in 1889 that granted the Elgin, Joliet, Southeastern Railroad Company (EJ & E), then the Waukegan and Southeastern Railroad to extend its line from Porter, Indiana around key points in Chicago, into Waukegan. This initiated the beginning of Waukegan as the city that was described in its 1941 directory as "the industrial-commercial center of northeastern Illinois".

Waukegan's first major industrial operation, the Washburn-Moen Manufacturing Co, later absorbed by the American Steel and Wire Co, and then U.S. Steel Corporation, was established in 1891 along the flats east of Sheridan Road where the tracks of the EJ & E were located. These were immediately adjacent to the Chicago and North Western line which had its station on Spring Street and: Washington Street.

Industry continued to blossom as several manufacturing companies located in Waukegan. With a burgeoning population as well as a skilled and plentiful labor force, Waukegan was destined to become the center of industry on Chicago's North Shore. By the 1930's, there was a dense concentration of manufacturing in Waukegan with many companies located on the lakefront. In 1927, Johnson Motor Company, which became Outboard Marine Corporation, outgrew its facilities in Indiana and moved to Waukegan, an ideal location, convenient to the lake for testing, and accessible to transportation, with a freight spur running right up to their shipping docks. At its height in the 1950's, the company employed 5000 people. During the 1920's, Johns-Manville built a huge factory that produced asbestos insulation two miles north of Washington Street on the flats, and Commonwealth Edison spent 25 million on a large coal-fueled generating plant. In the late 1930's, the Midland Division of Dexter Corporation, a supplier of paints and coatings, located a plant within walking distance of the Hotel. Numerous other important manufacturing concerns, including Abbott Laboratories and Fansteel Metallurgical Corporation, located just south of Waukegan in North Chicago, began to thrive during the twenties.

There was an explosive growth in manufacturing in Waukegan from the 1920's through the 1950's, with many of the city's most important factories closely situated to the hotel. The 1935 directory notes that Waukegan and North Chicago had "65 manufacturing establishments, employing 7,500 men and 1,800 women" and that the principal manufactured products included "iron and steel products, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, battery containers, automotive machinery equipment, ice cream, calf meal, castings, ornamental and steel fence, candy, poultry supplies, outboard motors, asbestos products, roofing, flooring, envelopes, auto accessories, condensers, lacquers and paints".

Industrial expansion during the twenties was complemented by commercial growth and the construction of Waukegan's first tall buildings in the business district just up from the flats. During this big building boom, which lasted from 1924 until the stock market crash in 1929, four important structures were completed: the Waukegan National Bank Building, the Genesee-Clayton Building, the Karcher Hotel and the Hotel Waukegan. All stand empty today, in various states of disrepair.

Standing eight stories, the Waukegan National Bank Building, 4 South Genesee Street (on the southwest corner of Genesee and Washington Streets) has the distinction of being the city's first skyscraper. Designed and erected by the St Louis Bank Equipment Company for the bank, the tripartite masonry building is distinctive for its Classical Revival two story entrance, limestone frieze beneath the building's cornice and ornate cornucopia, flanked crest in polychrome pink and green terra cotta in the center of the front parapet. In the years following construction of the building, it housed offices and a posh restaurant. The second important building designed during the twenties was the Genesee-Clayton Building, 207 North Genesee Street (at the northeast corner of Genesee and Clayton Streets). This Spanish Revival five-story buff-colored brick building with low-relief terra cotta trim was designed by Chicago architect Edward Steinberg and once housed the Genesee Theater as well as stores and apartments. The third significant Waukegan commercial building, the nine-story brick and terra cotta Karcher Hotel at the southwest corner of Washington and Utica Streets, was completed in 1928, just before the Hotel Waukegan.