Saturday, May 30, 2020

My research history of Leland Hotel

Leland Hotel
Tracy Duran Collection
When history is being written, we have to take it into consideration of what is true and what is storytelling. An account of this or another account of that. He said and she said and so forth. History is rife with stories that we don't know that are true or not. There have been many stories and legends of the Leland Tower. All of us have that story. Either a personal story or the well known, “My dad's uncle's friend's grandmother who knew this gal who knew this fellow who used to work at the Sky Club and had served steak to Al Capone, true story I swear” type of story. Heck, even my Uncle Rusty (Howard) Gates had told us that when he worked at Leland, that he did serve steak to Al Capone. There obviously isn't any proof of that. This was the late 1930's-early 1940's, no cell phones, no video cameras. You could get away with telling tall tales like this. Does this make it untrue? Not necessarily. It is one of those things that you never know. Some folks have the craziest stories from their life. Plus, they are fun stories from folks that are no longer with us. It was very true to the little tiny redhead, with big amber eyes, mouth agape with what she was hearing. Imagining this glamorous type of restaurant on the very top of Leland Tower and a “penthouse” that Al Capone supposedly stayed in, that had tunnels going all sorts of ways in case the police came to catch him.

Jerry Fredricksen
Growing up back in the late 1970's and early 1980's, my father, Jerry Fredricksen (1941-1999) always told my sister, myself and usually any of our friends who were hanging out with us on a Saturday, stories of his childhood in Aurora, Illinois. He had some really neat stories, some though, you kind of figured were him seeing if we were paying attention.

One story in particular, when we would have Oberweis Dairy deliver milk to our home, we would always get regular milk and chocolate milk. One of my sister's friends had asked about the milk delivery since she had never seen that before (she was visiting from out of town via our church) and he told her that the truck had two cows inside and the milk man would fill up the bottles. One white cow for regular milk and one brown cow for chocolate milk. He was a witty guy and we miss him a lot even after all these years.

Little Jerry and his friends
He talked about how he and his friends would walk down the train tracks looking for an adventure of some type. He'd walk across the Fox River to one of the many islands in the middle of the river to look for arrowheads. I became fascinated about the history of our town because of dad.

One of the stories he shared that always intrigued me were the stories of the Leland Tower and the “all mysterious” Sky Club. A nightclub that was on the top floor of this 21 story building.

Sky Club Leland Hotel Coaster
Photo provided by Aurora Historical Society
As an adult I am still amazed with this building and it's history. I lived on the fifth floor in #501, then being one of the first inhabitants to the nineteenth floor in #1901, where Sky Club used to be after the owners, at that time, remodeled. So the family tradition continued. Knowing that where I was staying, sleeping and eating that there used to be people dining and dancing made the living experience that much more exciting. Knowing I was living among history of some sort. Be it my own or any of the other spirits, yes spirits, that reside on that floor and many other floors of Leland Tower.

As the saying goes, there are skeletons in closets. The Leland Tower holds more secrets than anyone will know of. We'll never know all of them yet if walls could talk, Leland willingly goes mute. The building, to me, is one of mystery. You might also believe in the mystery of Leland Tower. There is a mystery revolving around this restaurant/ballroom. There are very few photos, which will be shared here. What I do hope is to give you at least an idea of how awesome this place was.

There is history deep inside of the steel, concrete, limestone and brick. It just needed a guide to bring it out. Someone determined, someone crazy. Well, here you go! Voila, here I am.With many Saturdays of research at the Aurora Public Library, the Aurora Historical Society, along with the help of David Karademas, the current owner of Leland Tower who had guided me to where I needed to go; I was able to locate genuine newspaper articles, ads and photos.  So, grab your favorite drink (for me, if it's early in the day, my favorite, PG Tips tea. If the early evening, make it a pineapple and rum), sit back and imagine you and I talking about Leland Tower. I do hope you'll be able to go back in time with me, back to when Downtown Aurora was the place to be! This is the history of Leland Tower.

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