Saturday, September 12, 2020

Grand Opening of Leland Hotel February 8, 1928 Part 2 -- Let's take a look inside!

Mr. Peabody and Sherman
by Jay Ward

Leland Hotel
1920s

 Let's go back in time...

Come with me into the wayback machine and change the dials to 

February 8, 1928!


As we finally see our way out of the atomic steam from the time and space continuum ... we'll see a fantastic 22 story brick building standing tall and proud by the Fox River in Aurora, IL! 

An old 1925 Ford Model T, oh wait... it's not that old... honks at us since we're in the middle of the intersection of Island Avenue and Main Street (now Stolp Avenue and Galena Boulevard). We slowly look up at this grand building. No other building is as tall as the Leland Hotel! Granted, a few years later the record for the tallest will beat us when the Empire State Building is completed in March 17, 1930 then by the Chrysler Building in May 27, 1930. For the first year Leland Hotel stood tall and proud. The gem of the Fox Valley!  

The following is from the Aurora Beacon News article, one of many, on the opening of such a grand hotel:
"The building, which with its site represents a $1,300,000.00 investment, is the highest int he state outside Chicago. It is of steel, and brick and stone. Its foundation piers reach far 
 Leland Hotel Postcard
Tracy Duran Collection
down in the rock. To go into it gives one a feeling of security. Naturally with its great steel frame and stone coat the building is fireproof. It is good to the eye too with its ornamental brick and stone trimmings, rich woods and furnishings and softly glowing chandeliers. The Sky Room is a kaleidoscope of colors. The site of the hotel on the rivers edge is ideal. The view up the beautiful winding Fox River is more than intriguing and the waterfall over the great concrete dam to the right adds a pretty touch. The washed air is free from dust and rooms will be so cool in summer, the electric fan and refrigeration will seldom come to mind. Owners have reason to take good pride in their house and the elaborate provisions they have made for their guests. Anyone who cannot find comfort there cannot find it anywhere. For a conscious effort to make the hotel a cozy place has been entirely successful."

At this moment we are at 7 S. Island Ave. The Leland Hotel in Aurora, IL. This building cost $1,300,000 to build! (with inflation in the year 2020, that would be $19,759,847.95!)

Let's go inside!


1st Floor entry (1928)
Photo provided by David Karademas


As we walk inside we are greeted by marble floors, intricate wrought iron banisters and a unique ceiling design painted in red, blue and brown panels. If you walk up the three steps and walk towards the left, we have the elevators and if you walk further towards the back past the elevator entryway, we have the barbershop!

Leland Hotel Barber Shop (1928)
now the laundry room area
Photo provided by David Karademas

Now, let's head back to the entry area and head towards the grand staircase. Yes, their used to be a grand staircase! In the current building, part of the staircase is still there but behind a doorway. Back in 1928 though, this area was all opened and you could see up towards the 2nd floor lobby and mezzanine area. 

Let's head upstairs to the 2nd floor lobby and mezzanine!

Leland Hotel
2nd Floor Lobby and Mezzanine (1928)
Photo provided by David Karademas

Wow! How beautiful is this? We walk up the grand staircase and arrive at the 2nd floor lobby and mezzanine. All of the lights are of wrought iron and blown glass and conform to the decorative scheme of the hotel. The furnishing of the hotel cost approximately $100,000.00.

The walls are a rough finished in a light shade of brown while the ceiling is arranged again in red, blue and brown panels. The gold beams separate the colors and give the grand lobby area that grandeur that architects Graven and Mayger are known for. 

My belief is the color of the interior paint is very similar to the interior of the Paramount Theater which is located just down the block on Galena Blvd. The Paramount Theatre was designed by the architects Rapp & Rapp. They had worked with Graven & Mayger, Anker Sverre Graven and Arthur Guy Mayger had assisted Rapp & Rapp on many theater designs. Leland Hotel was the first hotel that Graven and Mayger were designing. It is no surprise that their theater design influences were predominate in the planning of Leland Hotel. The photos below of the Paramount Theatre are a general idea of what the interior paint colors might have looked like inside of the Leland Hotel.

Paramount Theatre
Photo from Paramount Theatre


Paramount Theatre from Center Stage
Photo from Paramount Theatre

Paramount Theatre from Stage Right
Photo from Paramount Theatre


















 











Now... back to Leland...
Since we are just arriving at the 2nd floor lobby and mezzanine area from the grand staircase, we would be facing the windows towards Island Ave. (Stolp Ave.), if we turn towards our left, facing Main St. (Galena Blvd.) this is what we would see..

Leland Hotel 2nd floor lobby and mezzanine (1928)
Facing North
Photo provided by David Karademas

The upholstered furniture is varied in style and design and is so arranged as to avoid any feeling of stiffness or formality. The wrought iron chandeliers bring upon a warm and welcoming glow to the room. You have a feeling of security and familiarity as you walk about. If we turn around towards the south end we would see the check in desk here..

Leland Hotel 2nd floor lobby and mezzanine (1928)
Check in area
Photo provided by David Karademas

Here we see the rich walnut desk area along with the key slots for incoming/outgoing guests or messages for the guests, etc. It is possible you would be greeted by the hotel manager W.H. Byron while he directed you towards the desk to check in with the lovely desk clerk. 

Oh, do I smell coffee? We can walk towards the right, over past the elevators and grab some coffee at the Coffee Shoppe and maybe some apple pie with a side of vanilla ice cream that the hotel receives from the Aurora Ice Cream Company...

Signage for the Leland Hotel Coffee Shoppe (1928)
Photo provided by David Karademas



February 7th 1928 ad
The Beacon News


How about we check out the mezzanine area and see what is up there...

Mezzanine area on the 2nd floor (1928)
Leland Hotel Aurora
Photo provided by David Karademas

The mezzanine floor also has writing desks and inviting chairs to sit and to read the newspaper or to people watch. There is also a women's lounge and a writing room up here too. 

Ready to head up and look around? Unfortunately, since we're here just for a tour, and the hotel is booked solid due to the grand opening, we aren't able to see the rooms. How about we take the elevator up and see if if the elevator operator can give us some insight to what the rooms are like. Let's ring for the elevator....

As the door opens we see a young man dressed in a blue uniform with gold trimming around the collar and cuffs. "Going up?" He says with a bright smile. "Up to the top please!", I say.
As he closes the door and proceeds to turn the switch to the elevator he says, "Sure thing! I'll have you up there in a jif!"

Let's ask him if he knows about the rooms... he brightens up and tells us, "Oh gee! They are the best of the best! All of the rooms are equipped with either baths or showers. For me, after a long day I prefer a bath since I'm always on my feet.. which is fine by me! The beds have low head and foot boards so that when they're made up they look like couches. Several of the rooms are fitted with wall beds, what are they called... Murphy beds! Yeah! Naturally gives you more space to move around. They have these chests of drawers fitted into Chinese cabinets and each room has a telephone, you know like the desk type telephones. Between you and me, from what I heard, all of the linens, such as the table linens, hotel towels, the sheets and the pillowcases cost them almost $100,000.00! Wowee! The ladies who take care of the rooms take real pride, I say, some real pride in taking care of the rooms! Well, here we are! Top floor! The Sky Room! You all enjoy your visit here and let them know that Rusty here took good care of ya!"
He gives us a quick wink and a nod and proceeds to head back down for his next trip.

Here we are.. the top floor also famously known as the Sky Room (later on to be called the Sky Club). We turn towards the entry and find a beautiful rounded threshold...

The Sky Room entrance (1928)
Photo provided by David Karademas

How special is this? It is almost as if you are about to walk into another world. A world of wonder, a world of grandeur, a place above the clouds!

Let's walk in and see...

Leland Sky Room (1928)
Leland Hotel Aurora
Photo provided by David Karademas

We stand there in awe. Never before seeing anything like this before. It is a masterpiece of artistic decoration. The walls were painted in Chinese red, green and black while the ceiling was made to represent the sky. The light fixtures carried out the general scheme of the room, each light made to represent a star or planet. The room presents a fantastic appearance as one enters under the circular arch as the Blue Sky Orchestra plays in the entrance way. 

There is a party going on up here too. Here are some folks having a grand ol' time!



Sky Room Guests (1940s)
Photo provided by David Karademas






















And entertainment over this way...

Sky Room singer (1940s)
Photo provided by the Aurora Historical Society



Sky Room singers (1940s)
Photo provided by David Karademas




Adjoining the Sky Room is a completely outfitted kitchen which is an entirely separate unit from the other kitchens downstairs. 

On the floor below the Sky Room are large club rooms with tables and red leather upholstered furniture. 

Let's head back downstairs, I had heard there was a restaurant in the lower floor of the Leland Hotel, let's check it out...

It is called the Rathskeller and Cave... 

The Rathskeller and Cave
Photo provided by David Karademas


Leland Hotel Rathskeller and Caves Menu


Rathskeller and Cave matchbook (1940s)
Tracy Duran Collection


Well, that's it for our tour! As we head back into the wayback machine, we say so long to 1928. I hope you enjoyed your time here and remember that history should never be forgotten. The spirit of Leland Hotel is the spirit of Aurora. We shine even when we are at our lowest. We rise above it all even when things seem bleak. This ol' gal has lived for over 92 years and still going strong. Thanks to people that want to see Leland at her best. 

Flying above Stolp Island in our wayback machine!
Photo provided by David Karademas




I want to note a special thanks to David Karademas and the Aurora Historical Society for helping me go back in time and being able to put the history of Leland Tower together for you. 



10 comments:

  1. great job! I drank in the Sky Club and ate in the Plantation Room in the 1950s. Lived with family on a high floor in 1940s. Worked in Staudt & Neuman in 1950s and 60s. Was always a second home to me!

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    1. Thank you MJRoss :) I have a few matchbooks and swizzle sticks from the Plantation Room. I wish I had photos though. Just a matter of more digging. I'm really glad you enjoyed this.

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  2. This entire post is glorious! I'm overwhelmed. Thank you!

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    1. You're welcome Anita and THANK YOU! I'm truly glad you enjoyed this!

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  3. Thanks for sharing these photos and information Tracy,and thanks to your contributors as well. I have shared this with our Aurora Then and Now Facebook history site.

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    1. You're welcome Vicki and thank you for your support!

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  4. Excellent presentation! I thought I knew everything there was to know about Leland Tower, but this post taught me a lot of new things.

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    1. Thank you David! I truly appreciate it. I'm glad there was more information for you too! There should be more coming soon :) Thank you so much for your support!

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  5. I remember as a little girl having Sunday dinner at the Sky Club...all dressed up....looking down at the view of tiny trains! Also fond memories again when little girl other Sunday dinners in the Plantation Room. I remember the beautiful murals.... Mom and dad went to big parties at the Sky Club.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your memories of Leland and the Sky Club! I hope to find more photos, especially of the Plantation Room too. A lot of the photos are hard to find with the passing of time and all. I can imagine the sights had to have been fantastic, especially for a little one!

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