From the monthly archives: "July 2010"

July 26, 2010—

MADISON, Wis.—-I’ve found the perfect comfort zone at the Edgewater Hotel on Lake Mendota in Madison.
And it is about to get bigger.

The hotel’s porthole windows and flowed, curving exterior lines in original brick and steel reminds me of South Beach. But this less LeBron James and more of the smooth soul of Etta James.

In May the city council approved plans to move ahead on major redevelopment of the property, which opened in 1948. Regular readers of my stuff in the Chicago Sun-Times and my blog know of my affinity of the Edgewater and its streamlined design that replicates a cruise ship.
I love the hotel’s cute names like the Pleasure Pier, where the Gibraltar Rockets, my favorite regional reggae band performs on Thursdays through Labor Day, the Admiality Room and The Cove, a cocktail lounge which features more than 100 celebrity photographs (Sonny and Cher, John Prine, Warren Zevon and yours truly, next to Yankees second baseman Bernie Allen).

The hotel is in the Mansion Hill historic district and because of that it has not been easy to move forward on the proposed $98 million redevelopment. A private pool, spa and restaurant will be added on top of original 1948 building. A grand staircase will be built for pedestrians to move six stories from Wisconsin Avenue down to the lake.
The sticking point with a couple of neighbors is a secondary tower with 100 new hotel rooms, 12 deluxe condominimums, restaurant, sidewalk cafe and public park with new parking. The tower has been brought down to eight stories from 12, to appease the neighbors. One neighbor is continuing efforts to stop the project.
But the final city council meeting that approved the redevelopment began at 7 p.m. and ended at 7:40 a.m. the next day, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“The Edgewater is an internationally known independent property,” second generation owner Scott Faulkner said last week. “We’re going to keep it independent and take it to the next level.”
Faulkner hopes for groundbreaking in March, 2011 with the project expected to be done in the following 18 months. He does not expect the Edgewater to close down during work. The pier—where Tommy Bartlett Ski Show performed before moving to the Wisconsin Dells—is also scheduled to be expanded.

The project is being done by Bob Dunn of the Hammes Co. in Madison and I did not know his pedigree.
Dunn redeveloped Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers. Dunn also did Ford Field in Detroit, the new Meadowlands Stadium (Giants/Jets) in New Jersey and is working with the NFL to build a new stadium in Southern California. “He lives about two blocks from me,” Faulkner said. “He’s been after me for 10 years so a couple of years ago we sat down and talked.”

Dunn has called the Edgewater “Madison’s Living Room.”
And I’m the guy crashing on the sofa who never wants to leave.

The original Edgewater architect was Lawrence Monberg of Chicago, who designed a couple of other Art Moderne buildings near the Edgewater and the 1938 remodeling of the 160 W. Burton Place building in Chicago (where building tiles were replicated from Edgar Miller’s designs). The Quisling Brothers of Madison built the Edgewater. hotel. In 1948 they drafted Austin “Augie” Faulkner from the fabulous Drake Hotel in Chicago to become general manager. Faulkner became owner of the Edgewater in 1963 and received permission from the Drake to model the Edgewater logo after the Chicago property.

Scott Faulkner’s son Ross, 23 is now running the hotel’s pier operations and is in line to become the third generation manager of the hotel. Besides the Rockets, J.P. Roach the son of John Roach (former Steve Dahl television producer and co-writer of “The Straight Story” screenplay) plays acoustic guitar every other Tuesday sunset sets on the pier. Ever the intrepid music fan, I’ll return to the Edgewater this Thursday to catch the Rockets after last Thursday’s show was rained—and tornadoed out.

July 18, 2010—

I’ve spent some of the summer wandering around my father’s library in the dark basement of my parents Naperville home.
His ample bunker has always been a work in progress. There are no finished walls, old sofas where you could’ve made out as a kid and his books are propped up on rows of steel shelving like rusty rakes.

Dad used to go downstairs a lot to absorb a cool still during these hot summer months. I also think his books took him to another time.
Now he can no longer walk downstairs and has invited me and my brother to “take what we want.”
My entire apartment is like his basement, so I don’t need many more books. I have books in my kitchen cabinets. But I’ve snagged a couple of vintage Chicago titles and bequeathed them to young writers where I work. New ideas with grounded sources.

Having grown up in the three flats of Logan Square and the Chicago Stockyards, my Dad has a strong sense of roots. Hopefully these words from the mid-20th century will bring perspective in understanding the city today.

But there is one title I have kept: “CHICAGO (An extraordinary guide),” [Rand McNally, $7.95] written in 1967-68 by Jory Graham.
“CHICAGO” is a 475 -page hard cover travel and information guide. It offers fascinating insight into the way a heartland city used to be. Lots of stuff went down in the summer of 1968 (assassination of Robert Kennedy, the violent Democratic National Convention in Chicago), just after this book was published.
It is the city’s final guide to Midwestern innocence, a place comfortable in its own skin.
Chicago soon entered a complicated international stage.

Graham was a fourth-generation Chicagoan who wrote for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. She died in 1983 and spent the last three years of her life writing a coping with cancer column. She was smart. A line in her foreword still rings true today:
The Chicagoan’s confusion of bigness with greatness is wholly American, but the degree to which he equates them is un-matched anywhere north of Texas.”
As a long time contributor to “The Unofficial Guide to Chicago” series I’ve had fun wandering through the guide. For late night bars, Graham cites the Rally Alley, 1017 N. Rush and says, “In summer, when the dancing becomes horribly perspiry, the 5 AM closing is often greeted with a cheer because somebody suggests running across to the lake for a quick swim. Go—you’ll be just in time for the sunrise—and the lake is splendid at that hour.”
Today you would either be arrested or you would have to keep running back and forth to your car to feed the parking meter.

The restaurant section is full of the dearly departed like Binyon’s, Harvey House Grill, and Tiger Steak Bar & Dining Room on E. 79th St. (“The other superb Negro steak house in the city….private dining room for top echelon businessmen and celebrities, such as Dick Gregory. The main room is a hangout for Negro newsmen.”) But then there’s standbys like Bruna’s Cafe, 2424 S. Oakley, which has become one of my favorites in recent years. Graham recommends the Sunday specialty of Roast Chicken, “with oregano and other herbs tucked under its wings.”
And in the sports section Graham complains how Chicago’s facilities are spread across town and there is “considerable pressure for a glossy new catchall indoor-outdoor sports areana, one that will top Houston’s Astrodome, of course.”

Of course.
She also tells female readers to use First Aid stations at crowded stadiums. Graham says the trick is to “look distressed—the nurse won’t dare say no. Thus you get a toilet that flushes, two kinds of water in the wash basin, soap and plenty of paper towels.”

Reading Graham’s words has not been an exercise in nostalgia. I was only 13 when this book came out. But I stopped in the silence of the basement as I learned about the bocci evenings in the Siclian neighborhood, 3200 W. Chicago, not far from where I live. All that is gone. It is a not so faint memory for someone, somwhere.

A city is like a garden with deep roots shifting and new ideas in bloom with every coming season. We sustain from the warmth of close neighbors and the thrill is in the till. That is what I could tell the next generation of writers to which I am passing on these books.
That is what my Dad is telling them.