Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Road Trip: Indiana


This past Saturday we took a road trip to Michigan City, Indiana. We visited an interesting development called Tryon Farm, which is on the outskirts of Michigan City. Tryon Farm is a semi-rural community development that emphasizes community and conservation of land and resources. There are several small “communities” (i.e. clusters of housing) in the 170 acre development, separated by lots of space. We were impressed by the concept and the architecture. Afterwards we embarked on a short ride along the lakefront of Long Beach, a short tour Michigan City, and lunch. Then we searched for a diner that I had vaguely recalled from my youth. I was surprized to find, after forty years, that it was still there (Westy's M&M Restaurant). Finally, we headed to the nearby resort community of Beverly Shores.

When I was young, before they invented Zip Codes, there was a hotel in Beverly Shores, right on Lake Michigan, named (inexplicably) Lenard’s Casino. It was a small family-owned hotel with a restaurant and spectacular botanic gardens. The sand beach stretched for miles in either direction and at night you could look across Lake Michigan and see the lights of the tops of a handful of the tallest buildings in Chicago. The cost, in the early 60’s, was less than $100 for my mother and I for a week. And that included meals! We vacationed there many summers, for a week or ten days, sometimes with my cousin MaryAnn and Aunt Jean. My father would work during the week and come on the weekends.

South Shore Line

We arrived in Beverly Shores via the South Shore Line from downtown Chicago. The station, which still stands and remains in service, has been thoroughly renovated to its’ original splendor. Although the hotel provided a courtesy car, my frugal mother, who did not want to give the driver a tip, insisted that we walk from the train station to the hotel. This, in the day when suitcases did not come equipped with wheels, and at high noon on a cloudless, sunny day. The still heat and humidity were oppressive. The distance, a half mile or so, seemed remarkable for a kid my age, but fortunately, there was a paved sidewalk the entire distance along the swamp, forest and dunes. Yet, today I am thankful we didn’t call for that car.

Lenard’s Casino

The hotel was not particularly large. My memory is three stories, with the lobby at the mid level (i.e. street level), which was reach through a spectacular botanic garden. The building, my recollection is, was stone. The train depot, which I recently learned is in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, a style that railroad magnat Samuel Insul favored. I also recently learned that the Beverly Shores depot has a twin called Briergate, in Highland Park, IL which is still in use.

Although we stayed at Lenard’s Casino many summers, a week or ten days at a time, I only remember staying in a room on the second floor. Knowing my mother, she probably asked for the same room each time. The rooms were tiny, which didn't matter because we spent our entire days on the beach, and there was no air conditioning, except in the restaurant. Ceiling fans cooled groups of guests who played cards in the lobby. There was a large patio in the garden, reached by a stone path, surrounded by towering sunflowers and other flowering plants, where my mother would broil in the sun while I played on the beach with a kid named Butch Lenard, one of sons of the owners, who happened to be around my age. On the weekends, which brought throngs of people from Chicago, I helped him sell sodas at a small stand outside the restaurant. The last time we stayed, when I was fourteen, Butch and I parked cars on a Saturday night for restaurant guests. It was different time. Nobody asked how old we were. And the keys were simply left in the ignition in every car.

Because our meals were included in the weekly rate, we dined like royalty. I favored deep-fried jumbo shrimp, followed by orange sherbet for desert. I recall one particular evening, when a couple of dozen guests assembled on the patio to watch another glorious sunset. A man and women, approximately my mother’s age, struck up a conversation. I recall feeling incredibly awkward with these strangers, until the man turned to me and asked what I planned to do when I grew up. Thankfully, here was a topic on which I could speak with confidence. I replied, without hesitation and with a seriousness that only Sean Connery can muster up, “I’m going to join the CIA and be spy.”

The Solar Eclipse

July 20, 1963 brought a total solar eclipse. I was twelve and my recollection of that day remains vivid. There was a record crowd at Lenard’s Casino that weekend and it was furnace-hot. Everyone was slathered in baby oil, their skin bronze-turning-black. I recall the bikini-clad women, arranged like so many sardines on the beach, with foil covered cardboard reflectors strategically positioned around their faces. In fear of missing any rays, they would only occasionally move, re-aiming the reflectors to improve their toasting effect. Of course, Butch and I, even darker from spending endless days in the sun, would wander around the nearly naked guests, blatantly staring; not understanding our sudden carnal attraction to all this near-nakedness. The women’s cleavage was deep, dark and oily and the glistening men wore tiny Speedos which provided obscene emphasis to their manhood. That afternoon, however, nearly all of these people were on their feet, hoping gingerly from towel to towel to avoid the scorching sand, sharing glimpses into small boxes that allowed a silhouette view of a small image of the sun (a pinhole image, actually) inside. To our delight, as the eclipse approached, one of the beautiful creatures called to us and allowed us to peer into her box. We glanced inside while she took advantage of the moment to pour another helping of baby oil over her. We watched, like desperate wolves, as she vigorously massaged the stuff over her body. We feigned fascination with the box. Once she had reached all the parts she could reach, she enlisted us to smear it on her back. We hesitated, but agreed. First Butch, than me. “Lower,” she commanded. I smeared dangerously close to the line of her bikini bottom. Of course, distracted in this way, we missed the eclipse altogether.

The Red Lantern

Years later, I took my mother and my Aunt back to Beverly Shores on a short road trip. The times had changed. The hotel was closed and the restaurant had been bought “by Italians,” according to my Aunt, and renamed “The Red Lantern.” There was talk that the place had connections with the mafia. We climbed out of the car, unto the familiar sandy blacktop, for a closer look. My Aunt gave my mother a significant glance in front of the new facade, “You know what they mean by that red lantern . . . “

The Architecture

The development of Beverly Shores by Frederick H. Bartlett Company, the large real estate developer, began in 1927 on the heels of the development of an interurban rail line. The railroad commissioned a series of posters, now collectibles, to lure travelers. Meanwhile, Bartlett purchased thousands of acres and miles of lake shore, envisioning a massive resort community. As luck would have it, they were thwarted by the depression of 1929 and World War II.

The son of the developer of Beverly Shores, Robert Bartlett, eventually purchased the development from his father. To drum up sales, he imported sixteen houses from the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair, including The House of Tomorrow, designed by Chicago architects George and William Keck. Today there are only five of these left; all in neglected, but there are plans to rehabilitate them.

In my internet research yesterday, I learned that the hotel, Lenard’s Casino, was in fact built by Bartlett. Unfortunately, I could not find any photos of the hotel, nor any brochures about the Beverly Shores development.

Even as a kid, I recognized that there was something special about the houses along Lake Front Drive. Clearly, these were homes of wealthy people, but more importantly, many of the homes were moderne or international style; sleek and modern. Even to young me, the clean lines and simple details resonated. During the mid-1980’s, high water levels undermined and destroyed many of the homes that stood along the lakefront. Subsequently, the National Park Service bought up the others and demolished them in it’s quest to establish the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The park is the offspring of generations of preservationists intent on saving the dunes from further industrial sprawl (picture the steel mills). Yet, it’s eerie and somewhat sad to return after many years and to see a landscape that doesn’t match one’s memory. I imagine how many families enjoyed those homes and the spectacular setting. Today, all gone. It’s astounding how the grasses, bushes and trees have taken over, completely eradicating all evidence of the homes that once enjoyed a Lake Michigan view. It is striking how time neatly and efficiently erases nearly everything. Houses, footpaths, roads. Only memories remain. For a while . . .

Below are links to photos of the trip:

Michigan City, IN

Tryon Farm

Beverly Shores

Lenard's Casino flyer page 1

Lenard's Casino flyer page 2

11 Comments:

Blogger 20-20 said...

Update: Butch Lendard's cousin somehow came across my blog and forwarded it to Butch (a nickname he no longer uses). He wrote to me (the internet is amazing!) and filled in a gap: "The original casino was a soda fountain which my grandfather, Ignatz, purchased in the early 40’s. My dad and family built the 3 story hotel subsequently." -John

4:59 PM  
Blogger BabyBear1952 said...

Thanks for sharing the early days of the area with me! I think that we have a lot to talk about. I've just returned from a wonderful vacation there. I miss that beautiful house, too. I knew that it would probably be gone by 2010 (that was what was told to me when it came to its demise), so I was going to enjoy it while I could. It was a shock to find it already gone. I'd thought of it as the last leaf on the tree. The first time I enjoyed Beverly Shores, those beautiful homes were part of the view--and there was still plenty of space between them to view the lake. And there was access to go down and walk along the beach as there is now. When I looked up at the homes, I didn't see a cluttered environment that needed to be swept clean but, instead, a beautiful co-existence. Of course, I enjoy the clean, natural view I experience these days while driving along the lake shore--yet, I really have been totally-against the eminent domain that took place to establish it. There will actually be two homes (from the World's Fair) left standing along the lake, as the Rostone home as well as the Florida home are currently being preserved. As for Westy's M&M--I'm crazy about it!

11:11 AM  
Anonymous cor said...

Such an interesting blog deserves to be as accurate as possible.
The M & M restaurant closed several weeks ago.
Lenard's Casino resort, with 37 rooms, is over a mile walk from the train station. It was built by the Roabert Bartlett Realty Company as the Beverly Shores Casino in 1935. Ingnatz Lenard, a noted Chicago restauranteur, purchased the Casino in 1938, and subsequently added the hotel portion.
The Beverly Shores Depot, designed by Atrhur U. Gerber, is the last remaining pure station of eleven he designed and were built by Insull owned electric interurban railroads. Nine on the Skokie Valley Line of the CNS&M and two on the CSS&SB.
The Highland Park, Illinois Briergate station currently houses a cooling and heating company, which has added a two story annex attached to the station.
Butch Lenard is the grandson of Ignatz Lenard, who purched the Beverly Shores Casino and expanded the facility.
In 1968 four men (only had partial Italian heritage) purchased the Casino and after extensive renaovation, The Red Lantern Inn opened in April, l968. The original Red Lantern Inn Supper Club was located, since the early 1950's, near 63rd & Damen in Chicago.
The original developer of Beverly
Shores was the Frederick H. Bartlett Realty Company, one of Chicago's legacy realty firms.
His brother Robert A. Bartlett purchsed the Indiana holdings from his brother's firm, firm in 1933.
At the close of the 1933/1934 Chicago's Worlds Fair - A Century of Progress, Robert Bartlett Realty Company purchased five structures from the Homes and Industrial Arts Group, only the four largest were transported across Lake Michigan by barge and tug boat, the rest by truck. One structure from the Agricultural Group and ten structures from The American Colonial Village. The House of Tomorrow was designed exclusively by George Ferd Keck.
Six of these structures remain today, five in the Beverly Shores Historic Architectural District, all have been leased through the Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation to individuals who are restoring the structures to their original appearances, one is a 90% complete, two others should be completed during 2008. The sixth remaining structure, The Old North Church, is a private residence.
The Indiana Dune National Lakeshore was created by act of the U.S. Congress in 1966.
The Real Estate Division of the National Park Service did not use the powers of eminent domain to acquire structures within the boundries of the IDNL. Each home owner was offered the fair market value for their house. They had three options, decline and wait it out, take their equity and leave or lease their former home for a portion of the sales price as an annual rental for a negotiated lease term. Lease backs could be sold with the understanding that the the original expiration date of the lease was not extended. The final leases expire on 9/30/2010.

11:30 AM  
Blogger 20-20 said...

Thanks, cor. Your information fills in some gaps. You don't happen to have a photo (jpg) of Lenard's Casino do you? I would love to get my hands on an photo. -John

11:52 AM  
Anonymous cor said...

I have photos of Lenards Casino.
Contact me thru my website.

12:53 PM  
Blogger 20-20 said...

cor,

I'm afraid I don't know your website URL. Can you email it to me at: info at killasonna.com

Thanks, John

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Carl O. Reed said...

John:
Can't get thru with e-mail you sent.
For Lenard's Pix contact me at BevShesHist@comcast.net.

cor

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Edward Minieka said...

My grandmother and mother were on one of the Col. Bartlett trains in the late 1920's that took people from the south side of Chicago to Beverly Shores for a day trip with the intention of selling them property. Some of their friends bought property along Lake County Road and established "guest houses" there. This was, I believe, the start of the Lithuanian community in Beverly Shore.

Between 1950 and 1980, I went to Beverly Shores almost every summer for a week usually with my family staying either at one of these guest houses or at Lenard's Casino (I remember Butch Lenard.)

I was googling to find details about the Barlett Restaurant on Route 12, and that's how I came across your blog, John.

I love going back to Beverly Shores for day trips - memory trips. Yes, John, it is different, but I don't think it has changed as much as most other places. Of course, Lenard's Casino is gone. In fact, I was there on a day trip around 1986 when I saw them taking it down. Oh, that was painful.

Edward Minieka
minieka@uic.edu

12:57 PM  
Blogger 20-20 said...

Thanks for your post Edward. It's nice to know that someone out there has some similar memories of Beverly Shores and Lenard's Casino. Time is persistently erasing the concrete evidence that supports our memories. Such is life. Your email has given me the idea to put up a website, with some photos, that memorializes Lenard's Casino. If you want, send me an email and I will update you once it's on the internet. Send email to me at: info - killasonna.com (substituting the dash with @) -John

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the Red Lantern. What a wonderful place, we spent many summers there during the 70's into the early 80's. Although I was young then in my teens I appreicated the location, history and just tranquil setting. I wish it was still there, some place off the beaten path.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous fagans said...

I have a photo of Butch with my sister and brother and some other kids on the beach; my family spent a week there for several summers until the Casino closed. I have such fond memories of that place; the garden, the sound of the blinds hitting the windows in the morning, the kiddie cocktails with the animals on the glasses and my favorite-The California Fruit Plate! I still remember the smells and the sounds of the doors slamming shut in the ping pong room. I would LOVE to see any pictures anyone has of the place and I can share mine.

12:10 AM  

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