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The Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library, Part I

The Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library (CPL), located at 1210 West Elmdale Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660, closed at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2011. A prototype branch library is being built to replace it. The intention is that this building will receive a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver-level certification under the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The new Edgewater Branch Library will be located at 6000 North Broadway Street. This site is bounded by West Norwood Avenue to the north, West Elmdale Avenue to the south, North Broadway Street to the east, and a public alley to the west.

In the meantime, a Chicago Public Library Bookmobile began to stop at the Broadway Armory parking lot at 5917 N. Broadway Streeton June 24, 2011. It has items scheduled to be picked up at the Edgewater Branch Library.

The CPL Bookmobile is supposed to be there on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Otherwise, patrons are advised to visit the Bezazian Branch, the Northtown Branch, the Budlong Woods Branch, the Rogers Park Branch, or the Sulzer Regional Library.

Edgewater is Ward 48. It is seven miles north of the Loop, on the Far North Side of Chicago. The boundaries are Devon Avenue to the north, Ravenswood Avenue to the west, Foster Avenue to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east. The history of Edgewater is recounted by Amanda Seligman in The Encyclopedia of Chicago and Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs.

When the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago’s Department of Public Health developed the first map that depicted community areas in the 1920s, it had seventy-five community areas and Edgewater was part of Uptown. In the 1970s, local property owners who felt Uptown was pulling Edgewater down prevailed upon the City of Chicago to separate Edgewater, and it became Community Area #77 in 1980. It is south of Rogers Park (Community Area #1), north of Uptown (Community Area #3), and east of West Ridge (Community Area #2) and Lincoln Square (Community Area #4). The neighborhoods of the Edgewater Community Area are Andersonville, Edgewater Glen, and Edgewater Beach.

Edgewater was originally part of the northern suburb of Lake View. It was swallowed by Chicago in the 1889 annexations.

Before there was any attempt to build a suburb, the area was inhabited by a mix of Irish and German celery farmers. Swedes who settled along Clark Street founded the Andersonville neighborhood.

Real estate developer J. Lewis Cochran (1857-1923), a native of Philadelphia, began to advertise his Edgewater subdivision in the mid-1880s. He sold both unimproved lots and homes he built on speculation, often five to ten at a time. According to the AIA Guide to Chicago, between 1865 and 1896, he commissioned designs by Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1848-1913), L. Gustav Hallberg, Henry H. Sprague, George W. Maher (1864-1926), J. N. Tilton, Joseph C. Brompton, Julius H. Huber, Church & Jobson, and Handy & Cady.

Most of the mansions he built on speculation for the wealthy or that were built by wealthy customers who bought lots from him along the lakeshore have been demolished to make way for high-rise apartment and condominium buildings. However, many of the smaller (though still large) residences he built for upper middle class or solidly middle class families west of the tracks remain standing, and a number of them have been restored to their original appearance.

As explained in Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names by Don Hayner and Tom McNamee, Cochran named Ardmore Avenue, Berwyn Avenue, Bryn Mawr Avenue, Devon Avenue, Rosemont Avenue, and Wayne Avenue in honor of train stations of the Philadelphia Main Line. Cochran constructed sewers, macadamized streets, and stone sidewalks and curbs, as well as installed streetlights.

He founded the Edgewater Light Company to assure the flow of electricity to the streetlights and homes in Edgewater before residents moved in. In 1888, he was able to boast he had spent over $375,000 on improvements to Edgewater.

To assure mass transportation was available in the area, he also persuaded the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad to build a stop at Bryn Mawr Avenue. Brynmawr (or Bryn-mawr) is Welsh for "big hill," and is the name of a market town in the county of Blaenau Gwent in southern Wales, “at the extreme northern edge of the South Wales Coalfield,” as Hilda Jennings put it in Brynmawr: A Study of a Distressed Area, published in 1934.

According to Ms. Seligman, “He was instrumental in the creation of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad, which in 1908 opened up a connection through to Howard. The availability of transportation encouraged the erection of apartment buildings, a development Cochran had not intended. This strip of ‘common corridor’ buildings and residential hotels, concentrated between Winthrop and Kenmore, increased Edgewater’s population density.”

The Saddle & Cycle Club at 900 Foster Avenue in Edgewater began as an ancillary facility. The club’s main facility, in the 1890s, was downtown. This ancillary facility was built for the benefit of club members who wanted to ride bicycles and horses along the lakeshore.

Club member Jarvis Hunt designed the original Shingle-style clubhouse (1898) and additions (1904 and 1909). C. F. Murphy Associates designed the 1968 addition. Originally, the private beach included a boathouse and pier.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel was a luxury resort hotel, built on the 5300 block of Sheridan Avenue, at Sheridan and Foster. Like the Saddle & Cycle Club, it had a private beach.

One of the two partners who owned the hotel, John T. Connery, had purchased the vacant site on which it was constructed. He knew it well as it was across from his residence on Sheridan Road.

The hotel’s other accoutrements included garden, a golf course, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, indoor and outdoor dance floors, and a special green motor coach that took guests to Marshall Field’s downtown. WEBH had a radio studio in the building.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel consisted of two buildings, both designed by Benjamin H. Marshall of Marshall & Fox. The x-shaped, eight-floor Main Building opened in 1916 with 400 rooms. The rectangular, eighteen-floor Addition (an annex building) opened a few years later with 600 rooms.

The Ballroom in the Annex could accommodate 1,000 people (800 if tables and chairs were put out). The two buildings were connected by the 240-foot-long Passaggio, which was built above the garage that could accommodate 200 cars.

The Marine Dining Room could accommodate 1,200 guests. The West Lounge featured a fireplace said to be a duplicate of one in the Palazzo Davanzati (now a museum) in Florence. Most of this information comes from a 1920s brochure Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads has made available on the Web.

Many weddings and dances were held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Celebrities who stayed or performed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel included Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Johnny Weissmuller, Cary Grant, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Tommy Dorsey.

In 1929, Edgewater Beach Apartments, also designed by Marshall, was added north of the hotel, on the far side of the tennis courts, at 5555 North Sheridan Avenue. The Edgewater Beach Apartments building has a rectangular base, an octagonal central tower, and four Y-shaped wings. It has a distinctive sunrise pink finish. In 1949, it became a co-op.

Until the early 1950s, the Outer Drive of Lake Shore Drive ended with Lincoln Park at Foster Avenue. A large-scale lakefill project allowed the Outer Drive to extend to Hollywood Avenue.

The highway extension cut off the Edgewater Beach Hotel and Apartments from the beach. The Edgewater Beach Hotel added an Olympic-size swimming pool and cabanas.

According to Ms. Seligman, “Residential Edgewater’s wealth reinforced the glamour of recreational Uptown.” Things began to change during the 1940s, when Chicago experienced a citywide housing crisis.

Apartment building owners subdivided large apartments. Large apartment buildings replaced small ones, as well as single-family residences. Landlords kept raising rents without maintaining the buildings.

The resort hotel began to lose its appeal as the area attracted more residents and central air-conditioning became prevalent, making lake breezes less of a selling point. As ownership changed hands over the years, owners allowed it to go to seed, closing wings as they developed problems rather than making costly repairs.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel closed in 1967. Both the Main Building and Addition of the Edgewater Beach Hotel were demolished in the 1970s.

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