Dellora Norris

Hotel Baker Historical Overview

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The Hotel Baker was Col. Baker’s home. Col. Baker was a farmer. He and his niece Dellora Norris inherited the fortune of the founder of Texaco Oil, Col. Baker’s brother-in-law John Gates. Col. Baker and his niece Dellora invested the money in the town. With every gift they gave, they gave with quiet graciousness. Col. Baker gave in abundance and ran the Hotel Baker at a yearly deficit. He was friends with people from all walks of life and wanted people to enjoy beauty and luxury no matter where they came from. When he decided to build the Hotel Baker, he told the architects to build their masterpiece. He lost his son and then his wife, and instead of living alone in the house, he moved into the Hotel, where he was always there to welcome people.

After Col. Baker was gone, his niece Dellora Norris was left with “that white elephant of a Hotel,” as she called it,  she told him not to leave to her, but she ended up with because there was no one else with the money to operate it. No one in the family showed an interest in the building, so they donated it to the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and the Hotel was made into a retirement home. When the Hotel was a retirement home, the property was subdivided and sold, and the Hotel Baker Garage was torn down and replaced by the assisted living facility Carroll Tower.

The Hotel during the years as a retirement home. The marquee over the front entrance was eventually removed as it began to deteriorate. The marquee wasn't able to be enjoyed as the architects intended it when the awning extending to the curb was added. Originally, as you walked into the Hotel, you could look up through the scalloped green glass and see the stained glass peacock and look up at the doorway.

The Hotel during the years as a retirement home. The marquee over the front entrance was eventually removed as it began to deteriorate. The marquee wasn't able to be enjoyed as the architects intended it when the awning extending to the curb was added. Originally, as you walked into the Hotel, you could look up through the scalloped green glass and see the stained glass peacock and look up at the doorway.

Over the years, the building fell into disrepair. Overwhelmed by operating costs and the deteriorated condition of the building, the retirement home began selling the furniture and artwork from the Hotel before eventually announcing a sealed bid auction for the Hotel which caused public concern about the future of the downtown. Condos were planned, or a casino. However, from his office at the Arcada Theatre, Craig Frank could look out and see the Hotel and thought how neat it would be to have the Hotel and the Arcada back how they used to be. His mother Ruby Frank started Frank’s Employment and had an office in the upstairs of Colson’s Department Store, next to the Hotel. When Colson’s caught on fire and her office was destroyed, Lester J. Norris offered Ruby the Arcada Theatre. She bought the Arcada, and they began restoring the building, partnering with Willis Johnson of Classic Cinemas to completely restore the Arcada to its grandeur and bring it back as a movie theatre. With the experience of restoring the Arcada, Craig Frank partnered with Neil Johnson and bought the Hotel Baker. The town was thrilled that the Hotel would be saved, that not another part of the town would be lost. Craig Frank completely restored the Arcada and the Hotel Baker and was celebrated as “Mr. Landmark St. Charles” in 1997.

Hotel Baker, restored in 1997.

Hotel Baker, restored in 1997.

Hotel Baker Bellboy

—Zack VerVynck

Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with the Hotel Baker. When I got my first job there in 2009, it began a lifelong passion for the Hotel as I started to learn its history and about the people and the stories from this special place.

I first saw the Hotel Baker Bellboy photo years ago and had wanted to draw it since then. When I finally got the photo, on the back of it was written that it was designed by John Davenport of Wheaton, Illinois.

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Bob Matson recalls the original sign was on Rt. 64, east of town, across the street from what is now Pheasant Run. Mr. Baker owned the farmland, and Pheasant Run was Airport Farm, named because Mr. Baker actually started the DuPage Airport because he let some fellows use his land to start up a small landing strip there, Mr. Baker would greet guests that would fly in there to stay at the Hotel.

Airport Farm, the original barn still stands as part of Pheasant Run, was a dairy farm and Melvin Peterson and his family lived there. Mr. Peterson’s father Roy Peterson not only took care of Greyhound when he stayed at Red Gate Farm, but he was the gardener at the Hotel Baker.

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The Hotel Baker Gardens originally extended all the way to where Salerno’s is today and was a landscaped riverbank park open to the public with a nine-hole miniature golf course. Canna Lilies filled the lower beds, and in the upper beds, (quoting Ron Ziegler) “giant Zinnias!  Roy Peterson planted those famous flowers.”  He recalls “the women coming thru the gardens and marveling at how big they were and wanting to take cuttings.  Roy was very proud of his flowers and gladly let them cut all they wanted..........it only made them bloom more profusely.”

When the Hotel was a retirement home, the property was subdivided and sold, and the Hotel Baker Garage was torn down and replaced by Carroll Tower. Midwest Groundcover was given some of the terra cotta garage murals (which are on display at their location on Rt. 25) as part of a deal for taking care of the Hotel Baker Gardens. The original name “Hotel Baker Gardens” was lost to history when the retirement home replaced Roy Peterson’s annuals with rose bushes, and since, the Hotel Baker Gardens have been referred to as likened to the White House Rose Garden.

When Melvin & Ruth Peterson married, Mr. Baker gave them the farm across the street from Airport Farm where Mr. Peterson grew up. Melvin said that Mr. Baker said “You’re a married man now, you need a home of your own.”

Melvin & Ruth Peterson's wedding, Mr. Baker congratulating the newlyweds. 

Melvin & Ruth Peterson's wedding, Mr. Baker congratulating the newlyweds. 

In a sad twist of irony, before he passed away Mr. Baker sold Airport Farm and it was developed into the Pheasant Run Resort, which would eventually put Hotel Baker out of business. Melvin Peterson’s mom made Mr. Baker his last birthday cake, (quoting Mr. Peterson) “Mr. Baker loved a Sunshine Cake, she put a little farm thing on top, he didn’t want a party or anything.” His last trip out was two days after Christmas 1958 when he went to take a last look at Airport Farm before selling it. On that day he had been very chipper. 

After Mr. Baker was gone, his niece Dellora Norris was left with “that white elephant of a Hotel,” as she called it,  she told him not to leave to her, but she ended up with because there was no one else with the money to operate it.

Mr. Baker and Dellora Norris, standing, at Hotel Baker.

Mr. Baker and Dellora Norris, standing, at Hotel Baker.

The Hotel remained in business throughout the 60s and continued to be run by Bud Ziegler, who also managed Pheasant Run and became the Norris’s property manager as he was to Mr. Baker. R. D. “Bud” Ziegler had become the youngest Hotel manager in the country, and was talked about in magazines, when Mr. Baker made him the manager of the Hotel in the 40s. Bud initially started as a bellboy and became one of Mr. Baker’s closest friends.

 

Zack VerVynck and his 

Hotel Baker Bellboy Signs

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