The Story of Edgewater
It was part of Lakeview and lumped into Uptown before becoming the last of the official 77 community areas in Chicago, but Edgewater has always had its own identity. When John Lewis Cochran purchased land in the town of Lake View in 1885 a few years before it was annexed by Chicago, he began developing an upscale subdivision that he promoted with the promise of electric streetlights, paved streets, and functioning sewers. He built mansions on the lakefront and smaller houses farther from the shore, and convinced the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railroad to add a stop at Bryn Mawr Avenue. But Cochran’s push for the creation of an ‘L’ line from Wilson Avenue to Howard Street in 1908 had unintended consequences: it drove the construction of apartment complexes and ended his focus on single-family homes.
The wealth of Edgewater remained, however, with the luxurious Edgewater Beach Hotel opening in 1916, and the population continued to grow. The Great Depression and World War II slowed the neighborhood’s growth, while the northward extension of Lake Shore Drive cut off easy access to the lake, leading to a decline in prestige. High-rises replaced mansions, and diverse immigrant groups began moving in as former residents left for the suburbs. By the end of the twentieth century, more than 40 percent of the neighborhood was foreign-born.
When Chicago instituted its community areas in the 1930s, Edgewater was part of Uptown, but it became its own official area in 1980 after a decades-long push by residents. Four Red Line stops are in Edgewater: Berwyn, Bryn Mawr, Thorndale, and Granville.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Edgewater Beach Hotel
The Edgewater Beach Hotel by architect Benjamin Marshall was once a swanky resort that captured the romance of the lakefront. Opened in 1916, the luxurious, pink building on the lake by Foster Avenue hosted weddings, proms, big bands, and celebrities such as Nat King Cole, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, and Babe Ruth.
Its 1,000-foot beach-walk and dazzling Marine Dining Room provided a glamorous setting for local dates and visitors alike. It included its own radio station, a chocolate factory, print shop, and heliport, and was the setting of a scandalous shooting that nearly killed famed Cubs baseball player Ed Waitkus. But when the city extended Lake Shore Drive north in 1953, the hotel was cut off from the lake. Eventually, its popularity declined, until it was suddenly closed in 1967 and torn down. The adjoining Edgewater Beach Apartments still stand.
Relive the glamor of the Edgewater Beach Hotel in an archival WTTW episode of Chicago Stories.
Things to Do
Dip some spongy injera into warmly spiced dishes at one of the neighborhood’s several Ethiopian restaurants, such as Ethiopian Diamond. End your night with a show at one of the exciting, small theaters in Edgewater, such as Jackalope Theatre or Raven Theatre Company.