Chicago’s Wellington Hotel

Hello, everyone! This post is the first in a series that I may pursue this summer about the World’s Columbian Exposition. My overall goal for this series is to explore how the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair impacted travel and tourism in Chicago, both at the time and up until today; with smaller, focused posts such as the one at hand, along with one comprised of a larger scope and timeline, I think I can succeed at this goal.

As such, this first post is about the Wellington Hotel. I first stumbled upon this hotel while reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and after doing some preliminary research on it, I realized that there was not really an authoritative history of the hotel for me to delve into. Consequently, I took it upon myself to take advantage of the resources I am lucky enough to have at my fingertips in order to create an attempt at a comprehensive overview of this hotel, its history, and a bit of its relation to my overlying focus on the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Keep in mind that I am an amateur, and completed this researched post on my own in under a week; thus, please excuse and/or kindly point out any flaws in how I created it. If any reader is interested in seeing the sources I found information from, they are indicated by number in parentheses throughout my post, with the corresponding number under “Sources” at the bottom of the post displaying the citations. Also, please enjoy, and let me know if you think I should continue this series or if you have any ideas for me.

-Stephanie


“Chicago is destined to be the greatest city in the world.”

This grand assertion was made to the Chicago Transportation Club in 1910, with the overall talk taking place at none other than the Wellington Hotel in Chicago, Illinois (1).

Within the next decade, this hotel would become nonexistent, but the significance of both the hotel and the entire city throughout this era, especially due to the World’s Columbian Exposition, necessitates attention that is not offered by many.

The Wellington Hotel’s story actually begins in 1850, in a roundabout way. Joel Aldrich Matteson, before he became Governor Matteson, ordered the construction of the Matteson House in 1850, which would become a “five-story brick structure” on Dearborn and Randolph streets, and one of the most well-regarded hotels, behind the Tremont. W.L. Pearce opened this $20,000 hotel, who was eventually joined by his brother, but then sold it in May 1858 to Charles H. Bissell and William S. Goodrich; Goodrich sold it in 1861 to Bissell (4). Within 1859, though, the Matteson House structure was raised “to grade five feet or more,” which was said to increase its value as a hotel and for the stores around it (2 & 3). The last owner was Robert Hill in 1864, but this ownership would be concluded involuntarily in 1871, due to the Great Chicago Fire. Eventually, a business building, Borden Block, was created on the former site of Matteson House (4).

The name of this hotel and victim of the Great Chicago Fire would live on, as the Matteson House II was built at the corner of Wabash avenue and Jackson street, and opened in 1873 (5 & 6). Interestingly, it has been said that this site was previously the location of the Wabash Ice Skating Rink, which opened in October 1865 and was “one of the first indoor ice skating rinks in the country” (5 & 7). Specifically, it was announced in the Chicago Daily Tribune, as the newspaper was called at the time, on February 10, 1873 that “the new Matteson House,” with Robert Hill as the proprietor, had opened within the week; February 3, 1873 was the exact date (8 & 9). Consequently, it can be inferred that Robert Hill, who was the owner of the previous Matteson House, eagerly ensured that the hotel would regain its stature. This new hotel included 160 sleeping rooms, with the first floor offering dining rooms and parlors, and this lodging addition to the hotels of Chicago was framed as a way by which the city could situate “the guest-accommodating capacity of the future Chicago on a footing with any city in the country” (10). In 1875, the duo of Woodcock & Loring became partners with Hill (which became Robert Hill & Company), but illness led Hill to withdrawing the following year; when he died in 1877, Woodcock & Loring was the name of the firm (9). Regardless of the various changes, the quality of the hotel was still vigorously portrayed, as exhibited by the following quotation from a November 5, 1879 advertisement entitled “MATTESON HOUSE–COMFORT AND ELEGANCE COMBINED” (11):

This widely-known hostelry, corner Wabash avenue and Jackson street, is, as usual, rapidly filling up for the season. No hotel in the northwest more nearly supplies all the comforts and luxuries of a perfect home than the Matteson House. It enjoys a first-class transient reputation, while permanent boarders and families find excellent accommodations and the most courteous attentions. The prices of the house are moderate. The genial and efficient proprietors, Messrs. Woodcock & Loring, announce still a few newly-furnished suites and single rooms from and after Nov. 20.

It is notable, though, that on May 22, 1879, a suit “brought to foreclose a mortgage for $250,000,” which included the old Matteson House property, along with the new site on the corner of Wabash avenue and Jackson street. This case placed the Connecticut Mutual Life-Insurance Company against the M.O. Walker estate and the then-deceased Robert Hill, among others (12). In the June 29, 1879 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, a description of this issue can be found, preceding the statement that Mr. Robert Lincoln, “representing the insurance company,” bid $150,000 for the new Matteson House property at an auction, which was then sold to him without competition (13):

In April, 1874, Robert Hill, who had just completed the Matteson House, corner of Wabash avenue and Jackson street (it having been erected on ground owned by M.O. Walker), sold the building to Mr. Walker for $160,000. Within a short time thereafter Mr. Walker mortgaged the land and hotel and several other pieces of property to the Connecticut Mutual Life for $190,000. Nineteen days subsequently he died. The interest (9 per cent per annum) was defaulted from year to year, and May 21, 1879, a decree of foreclosure was entered in the United States District Court, the debt amounting to $291,771.

In 1881, it was stated that Messrs. Woodcock & Loring would essentially trade locations with the Munger Bros. of the Clifton House. The preceding duo would take possession of the Clifton House, with the Munger Bros. leaving the Clifton in order to lease the Matteson House, which was still under the control of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, for five years. Before the Munger Bros. would be given the Matteson House (approximated for May 1), though, improvements worth $75,000 would be done by the insurance company (14). The remodeling did occur, and according to the July 29, 1882 issue of the Chicago Tribune, on August 1 of the year, the hotel’s capacity ended up exceeding 300 rooms due to an added story; now, the Matteson House would be managed by the Munger Bros., who were known as “popular hotelmen” (15). Beforehand, all of the contents of the previous 250 rooms, including furniture and linens, were auctioned off (16). Later on, in 1885, the Connecticut Mutual Life-Insurance Company sold the hotel, with its buyer not immediately being revealed (17). In the December 23, 1886 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, though, it was disclosed that the owner of the Matteson Hotel property, “Mrs. Munn,” had told the Munger Bros. that the rent for the property would be raised after May 1, 1887, to which the brothers declined (18). It can be concluded that this threat did incarnate itself in inaction, as in an article regarding Chicago’s real estate from February 5, 1888, it is stated that “The Matteson House, still unoccupied, looks forbidding” (19).

In 1890, though, remodeling of the hotel took place once again, and accordingly, was renamed the Wellington Hotel, otherwise known as the “second Wellington House” or “Wellington Hotel II” (5). In order to do so, the hotel had to be leased to A.S. Gage, who had previously been one of the owners of the Hotel Richelieu, and the likeliness of this event occurring was described in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 26, 1890 (20).

Soon enough, the hotel would receive some very important visitors, as on January 9, 1891, the Chicago Daily Tribune stated the following (21):

George B. Post, R. N. Hunt, and Robert S. Peabody of New York, members of the Board of Architects of the World’s Fair, arrived in the city last evening, and are registered at the Wellington Hotel. F. L. Olmsted and H. S. Codman, the landscape engineers, are also with the party. The visitors refused to talk on the fair.

The hotel’s involvement with the World’s Fair continued into the following year, as preliminary events took place in the city. A.S. Gage, the Wellington Hotel’s proprietor, prepared lunches with Fred Harvey for distinguished guests and “people in the Electrical Building,” which were applauded by its participants, including the directors of the exposition (22). In the October 23, 1892 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, descriptions of the departures of such distinguished guests can be found; after the dedication ceremonies for the World’s Columbian Exposition took place, hordes of civilians and soldiers remained in the hotels all day, while representatives of Maine, such as Governor Burleigh, had departed the Wellington Hotel that morning (23).

1893: The year of the World’s Columbian Exposition. This time frame did not begin very smoothly for A.S. Gage, as an argument that nearly led to bloodshed took place with Edward Corrigan, owner of the Hawthorne Race Track (24). Nevertheless, the effects of the momentous event were felt by A.S. Gage and his businesses. In the January 10, 1893 edition of the Chicago Tribune, a claim that a contract regarding concessions for the World’s Fair was ready to be signed the following day is found, which would end up serving everyone “from the man who wants a five-cent sandwich to the visitor who is desirous of paying $3 for a beefsteak” (25). One specific restaurant created by The Wellington Catering Company, owned by Gage, that eventually made its way to the World’s Fair was in Pavilion O of the Administration Building; this restaurant was highly anticipated as a first-rate option (26).

The fortune of Albert S. Gage continued, as he received the honor of giving a banquet on October 11, 1893 to the Foreign Commissioners on behalf of the Directors of the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition. This banquet received much attention, as it was stated that this event held in Music Hall was to be “the finest ever given in America” by the New York Times (27).

The Wellington Hotel itself also garnered much awareness in accordance with the high attendance for the World’s Columbian Exposition. In fact, the Wellington Hotel was one of hundreds of hotels and boarding houses that would end up serving attendees, with prices per person and per day being “$3 and up” for first-class hotels (28). As the hotel specifically ran on the European Plan, though, rates were solely for the room, as opposed to meals being included in the price (29). In addition, in the New York Times issues from throughout the exposition, locations that carried said newspaper in Chicago were stated; for the July 28, 1893 edition, sixteen locations were presented, and the Wellington Hotel happened to be one of those highlighted (30). Therefore, the hotel’s capability and worthiness of country-wide recognition, due to its ability to adapt to the necessities of current events, is now evident.

Once the World’s Columbian Exposition concluded, news regarding the Wellington Hotel slowed down, but its relevance to society in Chicago rose. Two notable fires did occur at the hotel throughout the year of 1896, though, taking place on its roof (due to soot and a spark from a chimney), and in the walls of the third floor, thus damaging thirteen rooms, as written about on January 21 and May 29, respectively (31 & 32).

As indicated, social events did dominate the Wellington’s coverage for this period of time. Within the same year as the aforementioned fires, General Edwin A. McAlpin, President of the National Republican League, was handed a newspaper clipping stating that McAlpin would be a candidate for Vice President with McKinley (33). Although such an instance may seem trivial, it demonstrates the status of the guests of this now-forgotten hotel, and thus, its relevance to culture at the time. Furthermore, on October 9, 1897, it was reported that the Chicago Commercial Association met at the hotel; the Chicago Daily Tribune article in regards to the group states the following of its purpose (34):

The object of the association, as announced in the preamble, is to promote the trade interests of the City of Chicago, and to this end they will cooperate with any association seeking the same end to secure anything that appears to be for the general good.

The year of 1899 aptly represents the extent to which the Wellington Hotel was utilized and celebrated. From start to finish, some of the groups that met at the lodging location were the Chicago Golf Club (35), the Hotel Men’s Mutual Benefit Association of the United States and Canada (which featured a visit to the World’s Fair grounds and what was then named the Field Columbian Museum; 36 & 37), the Organizational committee of the National Association of Shorthand Writers (38), and the Finance committee of the Fall Festival association (39). Even further, weddings often took place at the Wellington Hotel, such as the wedding of Holden & Noble, as described on November 1, 1899 (40), and the Thursday Club held a “bazaar and musical” for its charity fund that took place on November 23, 1899 in parlors of the hotel, among their other events (41).

The year of 1899 at the Wellington Hotel ended with an event relevant to the importance placed on cuisine offered there, as will be explored throughout the timeline of the hotel. This covered event was the resignation of Colonel Robert G. Clarke in accordance with his managerial position at Kinsley’s restaurant, who would then become a manager at the Wellington Hotel (42).

For the next few years, writing conducted about the hotel would reveal the priorities of the location. On October 12, 1900, A.S. Gage requested the ejection of “two men claiming to be police detectives,” as he thought them to be “sneak thieves.” The story in the Chicago Daily Tribune reveals that Gage happened to be walking by the rooms on the hotel’s third floor, when the sound of his wife’s dog barking alarmed him to the situation; the men had stated that they were sent by Chef Kipley, but Kipley rejected that claim (43). As such, the notability and importance of the hotel’s culinary staff can be inferred.

The significance and acclaim of the Wellington Hotel in terms of their cuisine is further shown in the April 11, 1901 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune. The newspaper had a column entitled “Cooking Recipes by Hotel and Club Chefs,” and in this specific issue, a recipe from Chef Pierrot of the Wellington Hotel for “Calf’s Tongue a La Tartare” is spotlighted. In fact, under Pierrot’s signature, the following is stated, which demonstrates the reputability of the Wellington’s cuisine in the city of Chicago (44):

The above is the first of a series to be printed daily. THE TRIBUNE has arranged with the famous cooks of the principal hotels, clubs, and restaurants of the country and Europe noted for their cooking to furnish their favorite recipes. No worn paths will be travelled. The object of the recipes is to put before the housekeeper all that is new and desirable in the culinary art. Attention will also be paid to good things to drink.

Chef Pierrot clearly became a well-respected member of the food & beverage industry in Chicago, as Volume 12 of the Hotel/Motor Hotel Monthly publication also sings of his praises. On January 16, 1904, Mr. F. Willis Rice gave a dinner at the Wellington Hotel in order to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the aforementioned Hotel Men’s Mutual Benefit Association of the United States and Canada. Within the publication, it is stated, “The dinner was one of the finest ever served in Chicago, and at its close a very high compliment was paid by all present to Chef Pierrot of the Wellington Hotel” (45).

Not only were dignified members of the hospitality industry beneficiaries of the Wellington’s offerings, but other Chicagoans were invited to enjoy the dining there. In Volume 1 of the University of Chicago Magazine, under an advertisement for the New Hotel Brevoort (which claimed to be “The Twentieth Century Hotel – Absolutely Fireproof”) is an advertisement for the Wellington Hotel. This small, but ornate advertisement indicates that the location is ideal for “Fraternity spreads, Club dinners, and after-Theatre Parties,” while also claiming to be “Designed to Please Refined and Critical Diners” as Chicago’s newest dining outlet, and “Noted at once for cuisine, service and courtesy.” When one adds the declaration that the Wellington Orchestra would play from 6 PM to 8 PM and 10:30 PM to 1 AM, the elegance and style portrayed by the hotel becomes undeniable (46).

Changes to this seemingly beloved institution began, though, as the April 28, 1907 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune announced a change in ownership of the hotel. After notice was presented to the employees of the hotel, A.S. Gage sold the Wellington Hotel to both J.K. Blatchford, who was “of the National Hotel Reporter, and secretary of the Hotel Men’s Mutual Benefit association,” and W.W. Worth, who had already owned Chicago hotels such as the Windermere; the latter would act as the manager (47).

Not much else changed for the time being, although it is notable that shopping was promoted at the hotel, as it was stated in the September 25, 1907 issue of the Chicago Tribune, “Annual Display of Men’s Fashions for Fall and Spring Begins Tomorrow at Wellington Hotel,” which was said to be “the annual exhibition under the auspices of the merchant tailors’ exchange.” Major designers were to be in attendance, and thus, the display took place at none other than the Wellington Hotel (48).

A bit of controversy occurred during the following year, thus undermining the harmony depicted by and about the Wellington Hotel. Work and improvements were being made upon the hotel at the time, and its employees attempted to help out with this work. These actions did not bring about the effects desired, though, as members of labor unions found the nonunion employees’ bold work to be “encroaching upon their territory”; thus, all 250 of the union workers quit. Cleverly, the event’s corresponding article from May 7, 1908, as published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, states “Meanwhile, the hotel is, strictly speaking, ‘up in the air’ – hoisted up on jacks, where the union men have left it” (49).

Eventually, though, work on the Wellington Hotel reached completion, which was shown in yet another feature in the Chicago Daily Tribune. This time, on August 12, 1908, the advertisement published proposes that people visit the hotel for their shopping desires; its offerings of both hot & cold water, along with its helpful urban location and its single rooms & suites, are also described. Furthermore, above an assertion to visit the “famous” Indian Cafe, it is claimed that $150,000 was “Expended in Remodeling and Refurnishing.” As such, the Wellington Hotel was still being advertised for its various offerings of seemingly high quality (50).

Throughout the year of 1909, the Wellington Hotel received much publicity, for better or for worse. First of all, Volume 8 of the New York Hotel Record states that one of the clerks at the hotel, Mr. J Horner, moved from the Wellington Hotel, where he worked for three years, to become a room clerk at the Hotel Radisson in Minneapolis, Minnesota, perhaps indicating a depletion of interest in the hotel (51). Also, despite the fact recently mentioned that A.S. Gage had sold ownership of the Wellington Hotel, in the Certified List of Illinois Corporations for the Year 1909, the Gage Hotel Co., with its $150,000 in capital stock, had its principal office (and Gage’s address) claimed as the Wellington Hotel in Chicago (52).

Next, the mystery and controversy associated with the Wellington Hotel became evident throughout 1909. For example, a plethora of articles in regards to Dr. John T. Binkley Sr. were published, who was said to have been killed at the Wellington Hotel. One example of an article about this issue that was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune is the one of June 8, 1909, entitled “POLICE SEEK TWO BINKLEY SLAYERS,” which states, “Lad Reports Listening to Confession to Murder Committed in Hotel” (53). Another major controversy was in regards to Ella Gingles. In one of the many related articles published in the Chicago Daily Tribune around this time, this one being from August 8, 1909, the following is reported (54):

Ella Gingles, the young Irish lacemaker, recently acquitted of a charge of stealing $50 worth of lace from the shop of Agnes Barrette in the Wellington hotel, will bid farewell to Chicago this afternoon at 3 o’clock when she will board a Michigan Central train downtown.

1910 brought about the Chicago Transportation Club’s aforementioned optimism to the Wellington, as the quotation “Chicago is destined to be the greatest city in the world” was the overlying concept of the club’s April meeting (1). This sort of optimism would not assimilate into the Wellington Hotel’s future, though, as the next (and final) five years of its existence were not exceptional. For starters, on August 17, 1911, reports revealed that on the day before, Building Commissioner Henry Ericsson ordered the prosecution of two hotels downtown “for failing to provide adequate fire escapes,” one of which being the Wellington Hotel. Specifically, Edward D. Cummings, proprietor of the hotel at the time, had not implemented the two stair fire escapes asked of him (55).

The growing association of the Wellington Hotel with controversy and negativity became nearly explicit when an article entitled “WELLINGTON HOTEL CENTER OF A BRAND NEW MYSTERY” was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 16, 1913. Within this article, the previously mentioned Ella Gingles case is referenced, along with the statement that on the night before, “city detectives had arrested a man charged with trying to blackmail a bartender at the hotel” (56). As displayed, the once gleaming image of the Wellington Hotel became tinted with investigations and altercations that had been building in number and intensity over time.

The fortune of the Wellington Hotel quickly reached a new low, apparently due to “poor business,” as on May 30, 1913, the Chicago Daily Tribune announced the following (57):

A petition asking that the Wellington Hotel Company, operating the hotel at Jackson boulevard and Wabash avenue, be declared bankrupt and its affairs placed in the hands of a receiver was filed yesterday in the United States District court.

Now, the removal of the Wellington Hotel was imminent. On December 31, 1913, the Chicago Daily Tribune stated that on the day prior, what was “One of the largest downtown real estate deals of the year” occurred, as the site of the hotel was leased. This infamous corner would belong to Lyon & Healy for a twenty-six year term, with its annual rent being “$60,000 for the first five years, $70,000 for the next five, and $80,000 for the rest of the term.” In addition, Mrs. Carrie L. Munn, who made the lease, would have the new building reach ten stories in height, with its plans being made by Marshall & Fox; the removal of the Wellington Hotel would begin on May 1, 1915 (58). In a later article published on September 20, 1914 entitled “New Home to Be Built by Music House,” details of the new building are revealed. For instance, the fact that “It is designed primarily for the needs of Lyon & Healy, who will occupy the lower six floors, while the three upper floors will be subdivided into offices” is declared, along with acknowledgement of the fact that it had been fifty years since Lyon & Healy “opened a music store on Washington street opposite the courthouse, where the old Chicago Opera House was situated” (59). This building was one component of the notion perceived as “the importance of the corners of Wabash avenue and Jackson boulevard as the musical center of the city,” as declared on January 29, 1915, due to the announcement of a new, sixteen-story building by W.W. Kimball (with music purposes being part of its intention) for another corner. While the Lyon & Healy building would be on the northeast corner, the one by W.W. Kimball would be on the southwest corner; the latter would also signify “the rapidly improving general business conditions” in the city as a whole (60). In short, the fate of the once wondrous Wellington Hotel was sealed, as new, fireproof buildings were on the rise.

Interestingly enough, nostalgia toward the former state of Chicago, and even the Wellington Hotel specifically, seemed to ascend just as high as the proposed skyscrapers in due time. In Volume 84 of The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal, a column entitled “TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO” that aimed to describe the “Ups and Downs of Host and Hotel in a Quarter Century,” the 1892 convention of the Hotel Men’s Mutual Mutual Benefit Association in Detroit is spotlighted; as one would expect, one of the attendees recognized is C.C. Hilton, who represented the Wellington Hotel at the time (61). One particularly fascinating event that demonstrates the legacy of the hotel is described in the “CITY NEWS IN BRIEF” section of the Chicago Daily Tribune from March 3, 1920. One of the section’s portions tells of Louis Wartman, who was told by three men from California while in Chicago of how to make money by “tapping the wires and betting on the races,” which led him to betting $15,200, but then being alarmed when it was made apparent that the police were approaching. The following quotation captures the irony of the remainder of the situation (62):

They scattered, agreeing to meet at the Wellington hotel. The Wellington hotel was torn down some years ago.

A prime example of the reminiscence of Chicagoans is demonstrated in the column of the Chicago Daily Tribune entitled “IN the WAKE of the NEWS: DO YOU REMEMBER WAY BACK WHEN:” that displayed submitted questions. In the August 8, 1921 issue, one of these questions, submitted by “Jason,” recalls of a doorman who stood at the Jackson boulevard entrance of the Wellington Hotel; the fact that the building stood on the then-present Lyon & Healy site is also recognized within the question (63). The aforementioned acclaim of the culinary department of the Wellington Hotel is further proven in the column of the same name for the newspaper’s March 30, 1929 issue. The favorable entry from Rip Van Winkle states the following (64):

Back about 1900 the Wellington hotel, like the Holland house in New York, was one of the best places in which to eat. You could eat lunch in the basement on a great big juicy filet mignon a la Stanley for 50 cents. And with the steak came a fine big baked potato and stacks of bread and butter.

Undoubtedly, regardless of the various troubles of the Wellington Hotel and its reception, the offerings of the location and its various proprietors & employees were not soon forgotten. As such, it is beneficial for people, even today, to be aware of this legendary hotel. Currently, what was the Lyon & Healy headquarters, and before then, the site of the Wellington Hotel (and the second Matteson House), is at 243 S. Wabash Ave, as DePaul University acquired the Lyon & Healy building in 1981 that is now known as the site of the university’s College of Computing and Digital Media (65).

As a whole, whether the claim declared at the Wellington Hotel in 1910 that Chicago was destined to become the greatest city in the world has been realized or not, it is clear that the hotel’s narrative intrinsically demonstrates the dichotomy between wonders and tribulations that makes this city one that, to this day, both acquires and provokes passion.


UPDATE FROM JULY 9, 2017:

While visiting Chicago today, I was able to see the aforementioned former Lyon & Healy building, upon which a ghost sign is still slightly visible. Under the name of the company, the sign states “EVERYTHING KNOWN IN MUSIC.”

afterlight 18

afterlight 19
This is my “Where is the Wellington Hotel?” pose

Images of the Wellington Hotel can be found at these locations, among others:

Sources

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  2. “CITY IMPROVEMENTS.” Chicago Press and Tribune (1858-1860): 1. Mar 22 1859. ProQuest. Web. 5 July 2017.
  3. “THE MATTERSON HOUSE, ‘GOING UP.’.” Chicago Press and Tribune (1858-1860): 1. Feb 28 1859. ProQuest. Web. 5 July 2017.
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