The historic Hotel Baker, located in downtown St. Charles, IL
|Address||100 W. Main St. St. Charles, IL 60174|
|Opened||June 2, 1928|
|Funded by||Edward J. Baker|
|Architects||Wolf, Sexton, Harper & Trueax, Inc.|
|General Contractor||Max A. Lehmann and Sons|
|Location||St. Charles, Illinois|
|Area||less than one acre|
|Architectural style||Spanish Romantic Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||78001157|
|Added to NRHP||December 8, 1978|
It was 1926 when the groundbreaking began at a site of a garbage dump at the Main Street bridge. Col. Edward J. Baker envisioned a luxury hotel, a resort and escape for the community of St. Charles, and an icon to the world for the big things that were happening there.
The Hotel Baker was built on the site of the old Haines Mill, which had been destroyed by fire in 1919 and was then used as a dumping grounds for seven years. Col. Baker believed that a garbage dump should not be the focal point of his hometown, so he bought the land and construction commenced on what was to be "the World's finest small hotel." The Hotel Baker was built with its own operating hydroelectric facility, the third-ever lighted dance floor to be built on Earth; it boasted "the most modern 'phone system in the country"; there was a radio station established from the Hotel's tower (which now exists as the "Penthouse Suite"); the Hotel had its own parking garage, and the rose garden originally extended further, featuring a putting green and fishing pond. The parking garage was demolished in the 1970s, and replaced by Carroll Tower (an assisted living facility).
The Hotel opened to the public on June 2, 1928, hosting a dinner for 301. Col. Baker provided tours, and rooms cost $2.50 a night. Each room had its own bathroom and the fifth floor was entirely reserved for private apartments, the most luxurious of which featured open patios.
Col. Baker considered himself "first and foremost a farmer" and purchased four farms surrounding St. Charles—though he did not actually work the land—he rented the farms out and collected a profit on the goods sold, primarily dairy, eggs, cattle, and pork—of which was provided to the Hotel Baker for guaranteed freshness in its kitchens.
The Rainbow Room, iconically the most famous feature of the Hotel, was originally the Hotel's Restaurant and ball room. Such performers as Louis Armstrong, Lawrence Welk, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, and Eddie Duchin performed at the Hotel Baker atop its 63,000 wattage dance floor of patterned red, green, blue, and amber lights numbering 2,620.
As Col. Baker came to find hobbies to occupy his interest and newfound wealth, he began to harbor a great interest in horse racing, establishing three horse farms after buying his prized trotter Greyhound as a yearling in 1933. Greyhound went on to win seventeen international records during his racing career. Col. Baker received his title as a Kentucky Colonel in 1935, honored as part of the Commonwealth of Kentucky by Governor Ruby Laffoon—in recognition of his successes with Greyhound and newfound pursuit in raising horses.
The Hotel's lounge became known as the Trophy Room for Baker put his vast number of racing trophies on display here as his trotters brought him more acclaim. Paintings of Greyhound were commissioned - and hung on the walls of the Hotel alongside the portraits painted by Paul Trebilcock of Baker and his family.
For its first 31 years in business, the Hotel Baker never had to turn a profit. As long as Col. Baker was alive and his interest remained, he continued to devote his life to operating the Hotel and providing the funding for all its luxuries at the inexpensive price he sold.
Baker died in 1959, of natural causes, at the age of 90. In his will, he left the Hotel to the ownership of then-manager Bud Ziegler. Ziegler couldn't afford to operate the Hotel and sought to retire, and so he sold the Hotel to Baker's niece, St. Charles socialite Dellora Norris.
Norris operated the Hotel until 1968 when she donated the building to the ownership of the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. By that time the Hotel had lost its appeal, and Norris wasn't anymore interested in operating her uncle's old Hotel. The Hotel was closed for two years, its furnishings and fixtures were either scrapped or sold, and it was re-fitted to be an assisted living facility "for the well-heeled elderly." Its storefronts, restaurant, cocktail lounge, and coffee shop remained open, and the Hotel began to adopt its status as a banquet space rather than the "weekend getaway" it was.
In 1996 two local St. Charles businessmen, Craig Frank and Neil Johnson, purchased the Hotel and began a renovation costing $9,000,000. Hoping to re-establish the tired and worn retirement home back as Hotel Baker, Frank and Johnson spent two years cleaning, furnishing, and upgrading the plumbing, heating and cooling, and electricity of the long-neglected property. The Hotel proved to be unprofitable, Frank and Johnson filing for bankruptcy in 2001. The Hotel again closed, and was won in auction in 2003 by Joe Salas.
Under ownership of Salas the Hotel was drastically reconfigured for modern business usage. The raceway that caught water to power the hydroelectric generators was covered by a patio extension for outdoor dining. The two 16-kilowatt generators themselves were removed and sold, the Hotel's hydroelectric plant was eliminated and reconfigured to be merged into the new banquet room, the "St. Charles Room" which additionally occupied the spaces that were Turner's Barbershop and the Marinello Beauty Shop.
The El Coronado Lounge, the Hotel's cocktail lounge, previously renamed the "Charlemange Lounge" by Frank and Johnson, was demolished along with the Hotel's Horseshoe Coffee Shop, and the combined space was converted into the ROX City Grill—a contemporary Asian inspired restaurant.
The Trophy Room, which originally functioned as the Hotel's lounge and reception room, was renamed and reconfigured as the "Waterfront Restaurant" for a brief stint as a functioning restaurant. A small kitchen was constructed on the west wall of the room, and the pipe organ that previously occupied the space was removed and put into storage. The light fixtures were replaced, and the ceiling mural (previously a simulated sky of clouds) was painted over. The "Waterfront Restaurant" closed, and the space has since been used solely as a banquet space in the same regard as the Rainbow Room. Salas began an extensive renovation remodeling the Hotel. The new choice of artworks and furniture being very contemporary, in contrast to the Hotel's traditional Spanish design.
The Hotel Baker is listed on the National Record of Historic Places. It also helped earn St. Charles the title of "1 Great Place in Illinois" and the Great American Main Street Award in 2000.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- http://www.hotelbaker.com/history.html 9/28/08
- http://www.st-charles.lib.il.us/history/hotelbaker.htm 9/28/08
- http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=122252 1/27/08
- http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=182383 5/1/2008