Saturday, January 19, 2013

201 North Neil Street - Walker Opera House/Hamilton Hotel

Walker Opera House
Constructed: abt. 1887
Razed: abt 1917 (Razed)


The Walker Opera House was Champaign's first grand theaters constructed solely for stage performances.  Until this time, performances would often take place in the upper floors of buildings.  Most notable at this time were Barrett Hall at 1 Main Street and the Eichburg Opera House at 22 East Main Street.  The Walker, when constructed, would have been one of the most impressive buildings in the entire city.  However, records recount a less than comfortable interior.  As you see by the maps below, it appears that the building was initially the Armory and horse stables.  That use was short lived as the 1897 Sandborn Maps clearly mark the building as an opera house, complete with balconies.  Stories tell of the oppressive heat inside the building over the summer months and more than a few rodents gracing the premise.  However, I am sure this was overlooked considering what a treat it must have been to have a performance center of this size in the community.

This 1887 Sandborn map is the first time the building shows up.  It is marked
here as an Armory/Opera House.  It notes "carriage repository and stable 1st" 

by 1897, the building is clearly marked as the Walker Opera House.  You can
note the curvature of the balcony in the dashed line. 

The seating plan for the Walker Opera House.

The balcony seating chart as scanned from an early Champaign Directory


The Walker sitting on the northwest corner of Neil and Park Streets during
a Fourth of July parade.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives


View of Neil Street looking south from Main Street showing the Walker and Lewis
and Company department store in context.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This photo of the devestating Lewis and Company Department Store fire on
St. Patricks Day (March 15, 1917) shows how the Walker lot had been razed
just prior to this fire.  Remains of the Neil Street facade still cling to the
Woolworth Building (left)
Photo courtesy of the Champaign Fire Department

Hamilton Hotel

Constructed: 1917
Razed: Partially (top 2 floors) 1977


The Hamilton Hotel situated next door to the Glick Building (or Woolworth Store).
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This fire is one of three know fires that occured at the Hamtilton.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign Fire Department

This photo is one of the best that exists of the original Hamilton Hotel structure.
You can compare this photo to the later photo in this series showing the recently
removed facade panels.  These ground floor bays still exist in 2013.

Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This photos shows working being done on the first facade alteration of the
Hamilton Hotel.  Note the Kroger Grocery Store and Woolworth shores in the
adjacent storefronts.
Photo courtesy of the Scholem Family

This photo places the Hamilton Hotel in context with Neil Street.  This shot
is looking south from Main Street. The Hamilton is just left of center.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives


This photo shows the Hamilton Hotel (left) looking east down Park Street
toward Neil Street.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives


This photo shows the eastern facade of the Hamilton Hotel.  The photo is taken
on Taylor Street looking west toward the intersection of Neil and Taylor Streets.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Haist

This photo from the 1950/60s shows the closed Woolworth store.
Walgreen;s would expand through the northern wall of the Hamilton
Hotel and enlarge their store.
Photo courtesy of Jim Greenfield

A late 60s/early 70s view of Park Street looking west from Neil Street. The
Hamilton Hotel is to the right pf the photo.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

A view of the ground floor Walgreen's as seen from the Neil Street Pedestrian
Mall.  The Mall was completed in 1976 and removed 10 years later.  This
Walgreen's was the largest in Champaign until the 1977 fire forced its relocation.
Photo courtesy of the City of Champaign

This view shows the Hamilton Hotel peaking above the large shelter
constructed in the center of the Neil Street Pedestrian Mall.  This shot was
taken from the City Building looking north from Chester Street.
Photo courtesy of the City of Champaign


Fire at the Hamilton Hotel on July 22, 1977.  The fire was determined to be
an arson fire.  At the time of this fire the Hamilton was operating as an extended
stay senior living facility/Hotel.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

The building as it appeared following the 1977 fire.  The building was home
to Chicago Title Company until their relocation in the Fall 2012.
Photo courtesy of  Terry J. Blakeman
The false facade installed in the 1970s was removed in the winter of 2012
to reveal the original ground floor masonry of the Hamilton Hotel.  The
building is slated for renovation in the near future.
Photo courtesy of Terry J. Blakeman



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

401 North Neil Street - Beardsley Hotel

The Neil House/Olive House
Constructed 1850s
Owner: Samuel Dean
Razed: 1887 (Fire)


The following excerpt is taken from the historical marker, erected by the Sesquicentennial Neighborhood Association, on the site of the former hotel.

"In 1850 Samuel Dean ran a ferry at the crossing of the Sangamon River.  In 1854, when West Urbana looked like a more promising investment, Dean bought several lots near the depot.  In 1855, Dean opened his hotel, the Neil House, at this corner of Neil and Hill.  The Neil House was later renamed the Olive House."
"On April 20, 1860, at this site [Neil House] the President and the Trustees of the town of West Urbana determined by legal vote to incorporate the depot town as a city and give it the name, "The City of Champaign"." 
Download the City of Champaign Incorporation Documents including the vote tally

The 1858 map by Alexander Bowman show she Neil (Neal) House.  The original
spelling of Neil Street was Neal but later changed to its current spelling Neil.
*Sidenote - There are conflicting early spellings of Neil Street in some documents.  The Bowman map shows the Neal House which would lend itself to the correct spelling of Captain David Augustus Neal (1793-1861), First Vice President of the Illinois Central Railroad (1851-1856) and head of the land development office.  It is unclear when this change happens but the name appears as Neil House in the 1860 incorporation documents.


The two story Neil Street Hotel is seen in this 1869 birds eye photo.  This
building was the site of the incorporation vote for the City of Champaign.

This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1887 shows the "ruins of the Olive Hotel"

Beardsley Hotel/Hotel Tilden-Hall Hotel
Constructed 1896
Owner: George Beardsley & John W. Stipes
Razed: 1967

[From Michael Markstahler]

"The Champaign Daily Gazette - Feb. 6, 1890 "Messars. George Beardsley and Jonh W. Stipes have purchased from the heirs of the Samuel Dean the lots on the northwest conrer of North Neil and West Hill streets, which wre occupied for many years by the Neil House, estroyed by fire a few years ago . . .It is certain that (the hotel) will cover all of the ground which was a frontage of 148 feet by 136 feet. The site is an excellent one for the purpose, being midawy between several reailroad depots, and convient to all parts of the business portion of the city"

 "Excavation began March 18, 1895 and the first foundation bricks were laid June 3, 1895. Form Champaign Daily Gazette Feb 17, 1896 "the ground floor is given up entirely to lobby, dingin room, samply rooms, toulets and reading rooms . . . One of the cozy corners is supplied with a gas grae, with massive oak mantel. The broad staircase, which leads up from the lobby, and the office desk, are of solid oak, as is the rest of the furnishing . . . the decorators did their best work on the dingin room . . . the second and third floors are quite as colpete as the office floor, being models of coziness and taste. On the parlor floor there is an amply public parlor, and adjioning rooms which can be used in connection therewith . . . the sleeping rooms are all of good sixe . . .supplied with electric lgiht, ga, electri buttons and steam heat . . . Eahc floor i well supllied with bath and toiet . . . there are in all, 83 guest rooms"


The following excerpt is taken from the historical marker, erected by the Sesquicentennial Neighborhood Association, on the site of the former hotel.

"When it opened its doors on February 29, 1896, the Beardsley Hotel buzzed with activity.  Centrally located at Hill and Neil Street, it was between three train station.  The Illinois Central was 3 blocks to the east.  Both the Wabash and Big Four Stations were located 3 blocks north.  Any traveler could easily reach the Beardsley on foot or by the city's main trolley line."
"By the 1920s, the Beardlsey Hotel needed renovation and was aptly named "The New Hotel Beardsley".  Joe Meaney and his wife Marie came to manage the hotel in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression.  During those tough times, Joe would turn lights on and off in the unoccupied rooms to give the illusion of a fully-occupied hotel.  By 1939, the hotel acquired a new name, the Tilden-Hall.  Joe Meaney continued to manage the hotel successful [sic] despite changing times.  With little parking and communal bathrooms facilities, rooms were harder to rent.  Meaney was a master at engaging parties and community events at the hotel.  The News-Gazette prophetically wrote in Meaney's obituary, "The keeper of the Inn is dead. And the inn will never be the same without him."  It wasn't.  The Tilden-Hall Hotel was razed in 1967.
Perhaps the earliest known photo of the Beardsley Hotel
shortly after it opened in 1896.
Photos provided by Michael Markstahler


This colored postcard shows the Beardsley in its original state,
seen here looking from the intersection of Hill and Neil Streets.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman

This Hill Street view shows how the Beardsley Hotel
fit with its annex to the west.  This building later
became the Women's Town Club and is currently the
Buzard Organ Factory and Loft Apartments.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman

Interior view of the impressive Beardsley Hotel.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This is a portion of a souvenir book, including the menu, from a private
 formal dinner held at the Beardsley Hotel June 26, 1911. It was given by
Charles Hatch and Charles Baddeley for Levi Dodson.
Photo Courtesy of Michael Markstahler


The 1920s addition of the fourth floor changed the overall
appearance of the Beardsley.  To see the detailed brick work
of this addition, you need only look at the Buzard Organ
Factory next door.  That building was also increased in height
and still features the same detailed brick work.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

Another view of the fourth floor addition. This image
shows the main entrance and porches.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This view looking north on Neil Street from Main Street shows the Beardsley
to the left with American flag.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This hard to find view of the east and northern facades
shows the Neil Street entrance and the U shape of the building.
Photo courtesy of the City of Champaign
This excellent perspective shows the full view of the hotel as seen from
the corner of Neil and Hill Street.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives


A view of the projecting sign of the Hotel Tilden-Hall shortly before it was razed
for additional parking.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives


Today the site of the hotel is a municipal parking lot.  The hotels annex remains
and is now home to the Buzard Organ Factory and Lofts.  You will notice the
bricked up passages along the eastern facade of the building where the hotel
joined the annex.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman

The site as it stands today in context with Neil Street.  The former Carmon's
Restaurant is the green building in the distance.  The City of Champaign
is exploring options for once again turning this lot over for redevelopment.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman