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5 Questions: Bob Remer, President, Edgewater Historical Society

The Edgewater Historical Society is a non-profit, privately funded organization dedicated to the preservation of Edgewater’s history and educating the public on that history.  The Society Museum at 5358 N. Ashland is open every Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m..  Edgewater is one of only a few Chicago neighborhoods that has such an organization, and since the society (unlike other Chicago museums) does not receive any public funds, volunteers are at the heart of keeping this neighborhood treasure alive on a budget of only $35,000/year.  You can become a member of EHS for only $25/year or donate to the organization here.  EHS is also in need of volunteers, especially those with archival and cataloging skills – EHS has over 3,600 photos in their growing database and exhibits.

EHS hosts and plans a number of events throughout the year, including Thursday night garden parties featuring local musicians every summer (July-August, cookies and lemonade provided), a tour of homes every fall (save the date for Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014), monthly book club discussions on historical topics varying from the Chicago Fire and the lakefront to politicians (no need to read the book, just join at the Edgewater Library!), and rotating exhibits at the museum. Upcoming exhibits include one on Edgewater’s “motor row” to feature car memorabilia and more, Edgewater’s Jewish history, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and another on Edgewater’s immigrant population.

Bob is holding a map from 1883, before Cochran's time, showing where the Bryn Mawr train station was going to go.

Bob is holding a map from 1883, before Cochran’s time, showing  the planned Bryn Mawr train station.

Bob Remer, President of the Edgewater Historical Society, has lived in Edgewater since 1976 (a “newbie” according to him) and has a long history of serving the Edgewater Community.  He is the past president of the Edgewater Community Council and a former 48th ward Democratic Committeeman.  His interest in Edgewater’s history comes from a passion for seeing how our community improves, especially how ideas bubble up from the grassroots initiatives at the PTA and block club level.

1)      Who are some of Edgewater’s most famous residents?

Hillary Rodham Clinton was born at Edgewater Hospital and her parents lived at 5722 N. Winthrop – her Dad ran for Alderman of the 49th ward!  The original house was torn down in 2000, but the “Rodham Manor” condominiums now stand in its place.

Two of Chicago’s mayors lived in Edgewater – Mayor Martin Kennelly lived in the Edgewater Beach Apartments from 1947-1955.  He had a local business background and was seen as a ‘clean’ candidate.  However, he got in trouble during his second  term for instituting civil service reform.  He was beaten by Richard Daley.

Mayor Dever lived at 5901 N. Kenmore and was preceded and followed by William Thompson – who happened to be Al Capone’s best friend.  A one-term mayor, Dever was a former judge who enforced Prohibition and forced Capone’s headquarters to move to Cicero.  Mayor Dever was once touted as a potential Presidential candidate, but ultimately, residents thought that while it was pretty great he got rid of Capone, they still liked their beer.

Don Haider, the Republican candidate for Mayor in 1987, still lives in Edgewater.  He’s a Professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.

2)      What is your favorite piece of historical trivia about our neighborhood?

Many people don’t know that Frank Lloyd Wright got his professional start in Edgewater – when John Lewis Cochran, the Founder of Edgewater, began developing what used to be celery farms, he hired Architect Joseph Silsbee.  Wright worked as a drafter for Silsbee.

Edgewater has a rich history in both women’s and LGBTQ rights.  We really have a unique quality of openness and welcoming all.  Edgewater was the first community in Chicago to elect a female Alderman.  The City’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame listed 40 people who had ties to, or were from, Edgewater – that may be the highest of any area.  So many politicians and activists who were instrumental in passing LGBTQ human rights legislation were our neighbors!

One of the coolest things about Edgewater is that we all fit in here.  Our neighborhood is really special.

3)      Edgewater has three Historical Districts: Lakewood-Balmoral, Bryn Mawr, and Andersonville.  What are the defining characteristics of each?

Lakewood Balmoral is residential, mostly single family homes with lots of the original buildings by Wright, Silsbee, and Cochran still intact.  There’s a great amount of variation in the architecture, which is cool.

Bryn Mawr is commercial, in the 1920s Art Deco style.  It is actually the only intact commercial street in the city of Chicago that was developed as a result of a steam railroad instead of an L station.

Andersonville is Swedish, of course, and really vibrant – also relatively intact.

4)      Of the nine individual structures in Edgewater on the National Record of Historic Places, which is your favorite and why?

The Church of Atonement, by far.  I’m biased because I am a member there, but the stained glass is some of the finest in Chicago and the panels in the sanctuary were sent from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.  We celebrated our 125th Anniversary in November of 2013.

5)      Are there any sites in Edgewater that need preserving but are in danger of being demolished?

Trumbull School is number 1, 2 and 3 on that list.  The Landmark Commission is studying it right now, and a vote will come up sometime in 2014.  I’m hoping for a lot of public meetings and that the building can be kept and repurposed.

I’ve heard a rumor that a developer is interested in tearing down the building to put up a Trader Joe’s.  (Editor’s Note: Despite continuing and persistent rumors regarding a Trader Joe’s, Edgeville Buzz has not been able to confirm this.  If you are interested in reading more about Trumbull School’s rich history, we wrote about it here and here.)


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