Welcome! When we left you last time, the Tremont House had just succumbed to the Great Chicago Fire. John B. Drake, founder of the Drake hotel dynasty, was associated with the Tremont House hotel until 1873, when he bought the lease and furnishings of the rebuilt Grand Pacific Hotel and was once again able to offer his guests a high standard of luxury and service. Thus, Drake was able to conduct his annual great game dinners every Thanksgiving in three successive locations: the two Tremont Houses and the Grand Pacific on Jackson Boulevard, which became an unofficial salon for wealthy Republicans, just as the Palmer House was a hangout for the city’s affluent and powerful Democrats.
Those great game dinners might have lasted years longer had Drake not unexpectedly butted heads with another famous Chicagoan, one who had a mercenary attitude on real estate: Levi Z. Leiter, a former partner of Marshall Field. Field and Leiter had a troubled professional relationship. In 1881, they disagreed one time too many over business strategy: Leiter thought the wholesale business was more important than retail, which he dismissed out of hand, whereas Field knew that high-level urban retail directed primarily at women would make a lot more money. Field decided he’d had enough of his disputatious partner and bought out Leiter, then set about refashioning the company’s strategy and renaming the firm after himself. Leiter retired from the merchandising business and from then on focused on his real estate holdings and service organizations.
Hail, route 66 roadies! Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner? Tired of the leftovers yet? Perhaps you’re ready for some partridge or venison, for a change. Well, in honor of the holiday last week, we have a little Thanksgiving story to tell you – and it involves not a single Pilgrim or Indian, but it does cross paths with a few other prominent figures from Chicago’s early history. So gather around the fireplace now, folks, and get cozy – for here begins the tale of Mr. John B. Drake and his famous autumn game dinners.
A few weeks ago, we told you about the 1883 creation of North America’s official Standard Time system. That happened at a Chicago conference held in a hotel on Jackson Boulevard, long before that street became the original main path of Route 66. The hotel was the second Grand Pacific, gone for 31 years by the time Route 66 made its appearance, but it had a storied history. Its manager was John Burroughs Drake, founder of Chicago’s Drake hotel dynasty, and he became one of the city’s greatest hoteliers ever, setting a standard of style and luxury that many coveted but few could equal while he lived. Indeed, when Potter Palmer rebuilt the Palmer House after the Great Chicago Fire, he was competing against none other than John B. Drake for primacy in the hospitality trade. And nobody could beat Drake’s sumptuous game dinners.
Greetings, fellow roadies! If you, like we, got an extra hour of sleep in the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning when the clock was officially turned back, then you might want to celebrate the creation of the U.S. Standard Time System. It happened right on Route 66, though it wasn’t going to be Route 66 yet for another 43 years. There’s even a marker at Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street to commemorate this.
In the aftermath of the destruction of downtown Chicago by the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871, all of the central city was rebuilt, and pretty quickly, too. One of the architects in the city who got nearly more work than he could handle was W.W. Boyington, whose Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station at Chicago Avenue and Michigan Avenue (then Pine Street) were among the very few structures that survived the fire. Among Boyington’s commissions after the fire were two on Jackson Boulevard at LaSalle Street – a prestigious address as the financial district was being rebuilt in that area, and being on a boulevard assured that no commercial traffic or trolley cars would clog the artery. On the northeast corner of the intersection was the Grand Pacific Hotel, a very swanky hostelry that stood across the street from the newly rebuilt Chicago Board of Trade Building, also designed by Boyington (it was a replacement for an earlier hotel that had burned during the fire). Then as now, the CBOT Building had a large town clock by which many in the financial district set their pocket watches. But how was the rest of the city – or, for that matter, the rest of the state or the region – to agree upon the time?
The Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, 1887, four years after the General Time Convention met