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Hotel Baker is named after the great philanthropist, Colonel Edward J. Baker.  Built in St. Charles, Illinois on the banks of the Fox River, Hotel Baker is the most famous historical building in town.  Edward wanted to spare no expense in the development of St. Charles, in the 1900s.  He built several buildings in the city, many of which are still there.  However, the most important building is the Hotel Baker.

Edward inherited over twenty million dollars after his older sister passed away in the early 1900s.  This inheritance allowed Edward to pursue his dream of building what he called "The Biggest Small Hotel".

Edward purchased what was the old Haines Mill site on the banks of the Fox River in downtown St. Charles, for an undisclosed amount.  He hired a local design firm named Wolf Sexton Harper and Trueax to create what he hoped would be his masterpiece.  The design firm did not let Edward down.  The hotel was built using Spanish Romantic Revival architecture, and was filled with the latest amenities available in the early 1900s.  The hotel blended well with other buildings in downtown St. Charles such as the Arcada Theater, which was another building Edward had constructed.

This five story hotel had many notable features such as a very detailed entryway, a square bell tower, a unique mixture of detailed columns, a large stained glass window in the shape of a peacock, balconies and terraces with a view of the river and downtown, several flower gardens, and even a putting green.  The rooms were equipped with modern conveniences such as kitchen appliances, saunas, and the finest furnishings that made one feel like royalty when they stayed at the hotel.  The building was so well built that it was called fireproof.  With it's mixture of brick, concrete, and utilities that were encased in steel, Hotel Baker was impressive, to say the least.

The hotel was self-supporting in its use of electricity.  The designers harnessed the power of the Fox River to provide electricity.  Even during a storm, when all the power was out in town, guests at the hotel relaxed in comfort knowing that they would not lose electricity.

Hotel Baker officially opened on June 2, 1928.  There were 301 guests booked for the grand opening.  What they saw when they walked through the door was Edward's million dollar hotel.  The guests were treated to lavish settings all through the public areas of the hotel, including a women's clothing store, a barbershop, a beauty shop, and a newsstand.  However, a guest could also book one of the fifty-five luxurious custom designed suites for two dollars and fifty cents.

The main attraction at Hotel Baker was the famous Rainbow Room.  This was a two-story oval shaped ballroom that was surrounded with a balcony that provided a spectacular view.  The Rainbow Room received its name from the 2,500 lights of various colors that illuminated the dance floor.  The floor of the Rainbow Room had over 300 glass blocks in its design which, at this point in the 1900s, was one of only three backlit dance floors in the world, with lights that would flash in sync with the music or could make different pictures on the floor.

Hotel Baker's Rainbow Room played host to several top entertainers.  People such as Tommy Dorsey, Lawrence Welk and his Orchestra, Guy Lombardo, and Louis Armstrong to name a few.  It was always packed with huge crowds and the music became so popular that the municipal building located across the river from the hotel would have the music piped across the river so more people could enjoy the band.

Patrons of the hotel often said it felt like they were at a resort when they stayed there.  This was probably due to the hotel's location on the Fox River, nearby Pottawatomie Park with its eighteen hole golf course, and the Arcada Theater.

The hotel was originally supposed to have a large park behind it that ran along the Fox River.  When it was decided that this was not feasible, Edward created a beautiful and relaxing garden area where guests would often sit and relax under the night sky, and enjoy the many fragrances from different flowers after they would have dinner.  Electric lanterns would light the brick walkway leading to the boathouse where guests could sit in a gazebo or under large umbrella covered tables and relax while watching the river flow by.  There was a small pond that was surrounded by various statues of animals, gnomes, and a rock garden.  This is also where the putting green was located that allowed golfers to practice putting the night before a big round of golf at Pottawatomie Park.

In 1933, at the World's Fair in Chicago, Hotel Baker was advertised as one of the top ten places to stay in Illinois.  The directors of the World's Fair donated three gondolas to the hotel.  Patrons of the hotel enjoyed a Venetian style gondola ride, complete with a singing gondolier that slowly maneuvered the candlelit gondola up and down the riverside.  This was a big success with the hotel guests.  Many honeymooners enjoyed celebrating their marriage while sipping champagne to the gentle voices of the gondoliers.

Hotel Baker was the temporary home to many famous people of the time.  These included:

Edward Baker was a steadfast republican and would often invite politicians to stay at his hotel and set up the headquarters for the republican party.

Most visitors arrived to the hotel by a chauffeur driven limousine.  Several patrons flew in from around the country to Chicago, and from Chicago they would fly on the Central Airway Corporation to an airport located outside of town.  The flight cost each patron thirty dollars and included the limousine ride and often times when the guests arrived at the hotel, Edward was the one who greeted them upon their arrival.

One infamous guest that would frequently stay at the hotel was Al Capone.  He would stay at the hotel while he was in town conducting business with local shop owners and also visiting his restaurant that is now known as "Hideaway Lodge", located in a small town called Valley View, just outside St. Charles.  It is said that Capone would leave his restaurant and travel by boat down the river, back to the hotel, where he and Edward would play cards until the early morning hours.

In 1955, the hotel was flooded and suffered extensive damage, primarily to the Rainbow Room, and even though the damages were repaired, the backlit floor was damaged so severely that the lights never worked again.

Edward Baker lived on the fifth floor of the hotel until he died in 1959.  His niece, Dellora Norris received the hotel in her inheritance.  Unable to sell the hotel, Dellora donated it to the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois in late 1967.  After extensive remodeling, Hotel Baker reopened its doors in 1971.  However, it was not reopened as a hotel, but as a non-denominational residence for the elderly.  The residents lived on the upper floors of the hotel and the public areas remained open to the general public.

Two St. Charles businessmen, Neil Johnson and Craig Frank purchased the hotel in 1996.  These two spent over nine million dollars in upgrades, cleaning, and renovation for this once famous structure and reopened its doors once again, welcoming guests to what is now known locally as The Crown Jewel of St. Charles.


Sources:
http://www.st-charles.lib.il.us/history/hotelbaker.htm
http://www.visitstcharles.com
http://www.hotelbaker.com/
Travel Pamplets from the hotel

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