Monday, March 7, 2011

Down They Forgot as Up They Grew: Hotel Kaiserhof

Head south of Jackson on Clark Street and on the west side of the street you'll find Helmut Jahn's 1983 addition to the Board of Trade, the architect's second commission in Chicago.  Passing the building today, it's hard to believe that at one time it was the site of the Kaiserhof Hotel, renamed the Atlantic Hotel during the backlash against Germany during the First World War.

The original Kaiserhof at 320-328 South Clark Street was finished in 1889.  Chicago was on the move.  Buildings, most of them new-fangled "skyscrapers' were being erected one after the other, and bidding had begun for the Great Fair that would bring 27.5 million guests to Chicago within four years.  The building's architect has vanished into the past without leaving a name.

According to Host's and Portman's Early Chicago Hotels, "The 1889 building reflects the concerns of well-known Chicago architects, starting with the rusticated stone.  The sense of movement and rhythm from bottom to top indicates an awareness of the importance of creating a unified whole.  Still, the awkward stacking of the top three floors indicates the architect has not yet solved the problem of the tall building."
The original Kaiserhof bears a passing resemblance to the Manhattan, William LeBaron Jenney's effort that still stands on South Dearborn, in the way the two buildings awkwardly reach their full height.  But you have to remember that no one had ever built commercial buildings of this height, and the early designers were inventing a new way of doing things.  It's astonishing how quickly they did it.

The Kaiserhof (renamed Atlantic
with the 1915 Holabird and Roche addition
The name that seems to be most closely associated with the original Kaiserhof and with the 1915 addition just to the north designed by Marshall and Fox is Max Teich.  Teich was born in Germany in 1873 and didn't come to Chicago until 1892, where he found work as a waiter, eventually working his way up to the assistant manager of the Eitel Brothers' Bismarck Hotel up on Randolph Street.

Teich apparently made good use of the tips that he got in the early days because in 1910 he and Carli C. Roessler, another Bismarck waiter in the early 1890's, purchased a controlling interest in the Holabird and Roche's Congress Hotel and annex, the complex that still exists at Jackson and Michigan.  At that time the hotel had over a thousand guest rooms.

Ladies' Parlor at the Kaiserhof
Speaking of his rise from waiting to tables to owning one of the great hotels in the city, Teich said, "Yes, Roessler and I started in Chicago twenty-one years ago as waiters.  We owe our start to the liberality of the American people in giving tips.  We saved our money and about fifteen years ago, bought a small hotel in Chicago." [Alton Evening Telegraph, December 13, 1910]

At the time Teich and Rosseler gained controlling interest, the Congress Hotel and annex were valued at more than four million dollars.  Not bad for guys who started out waiting tables.

The hotel was demolished in 1971, but it's interesting to note the kind of city in which Old Max Teich was rising to prominence.  Just a block away from the Kaiserhof was the old Atlantic Hotel at the corner of VanBuren and what was then Sherman Street.

It seems that a Mrs. Mattie Alexander, "badly bruised about the feet and ankles" was found on the corner of Sherman and VanBuren sometime early on December 28 of 1910.  Mrs. Alexander had been married for exactly 12 hours to one Winfield B. Jefferson, a rancher from Douglas County, Oregon.  Jefferson, in an early attempt at an moment, had placed an ad for a wife in a farming magazine, and Mrs. Alexander, a wealthy widow from Kinderbrook, New York, answered.

Apparently Mrs. Alexander became aware during the evening that her new love had something other than a lifetime of wedded bliss on his mind.  According to a December 29, 1892 in The New York Times, "She declared that last night she became confident that the ranchman had married her simply on account of her money and said that she had been duped by him.  He had already borrowed $880.  She confided her fears to the night clerk and asked him to assist her in getting away from her husband." 

The clerk officiously attended to Mrs. Alexander's desperate pleas and chivalrously gave her a room in "a remote part of the house from that occupied by her husband."  Alas, during the night the clerk entered the room and attempted to assault the Oregon cattleman's new bride.  

So she jumped.  "The thinly clad woman" jumped out of the second floor window with $500 in cash and $9,700 in stocks, flagging down a copper, who took her down to the station house, where her husband declared that she must be "temporarily demented," adding the hope that her condition would be "all right" within a few days.

The article ends, "The police are after the night clerk."

Hotel Kaiserhof Lobby (agreetingfrom.blogspot)
Who knows . . . maybe the night clerk already had made enough money to purchase a hotel or two in the coming years.


Anonymous said...

My grandmother and grandfather spent the first part of their honeymoon at the Kaiserhof in 1910. She came down with the mumps and they were unable to continue on to Niagara Falls. Sixteen years and three children later, after making a fortune in real estate, all lost as a result of the first world war, they separated. Ever the romantic, he moved into the (renamed) Atlantic, where he lived alone until his death in 1962.

Jordan1023 said...

My son found a coin today on the front it reads "Hotel Kaiserhof Chicago" with a crest and on the back it reads "Yours truly, Carl C. Roessler & Max Teich 1907."

I will be happy to post a picture if you can let me know where.

Jordan1023 said...

BTW, he found it in New york city.

En said...

Hello Jim, I just posted an essay about Josiah Flynt, who died in the Kaiserhof, on my website and have added in a link to this post of yours:

Such is the randomness and delight of the WWW.

somerset said...

When I worked at CBOT 1960s, I often had lunch at Atlantic Hotel Restaurant. Delicious roast beef, corned beef and side dishes.
The fresh horseradish would take my breath away. DELICIOUS!
Down the street was Harding's Restaurant. Fantastic lunch menu and world's best bread pudding.

mteichy said...


Max Teich is my great Grandfather. May i see the coin?

mteichy said...


wegs said...

I have an old photo taken in the ballroom of the Hotel Atlantic in 1920 by Kauffman & Fabry Co. How can I share it with you?

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a picture.!!!

Anonymous said...

I just found a tooth pick holder from this hotel

Anonymous said...

My great grandfather killed himself in the Atlantic Hotel in 1923. April 30th actually. I have been trying to find out any details I possibly can.

Anonymous said...

I found a beer mug with the name of the hotel on it. I would love to post a picture if I knew how. Doug