Ever since I set foot in this building, on March 6th of 2014, I fell in love with this gorgeous building. I can only imagine what happened inside these walls (If these walls could talk...).
Hotel Aurora was the first large hotel, that was constructed from 1916 to 1917. It was opened on July 14th of 1917. Unfortunately, nobody celebrated it's centennial anniversary in 2017. Hotel Aurora (or Aurora Hotel as many call it), is a 8 story building, with a basement. The building is about 70 by 100 feet and was built by George W. Caldwell and designed by architect H. Ziegler Dietz.
The hotel was fireproof and counted 135 rooms (100 rooms with bath), and there was ice water in every room, which seemed to be something special back then. They used 5,000 barrels of cement and 150,000 bricks. The floors were reinforced with concrete slabs, all electrical tubes were cast into the concrete slabs.
H. Ziegler Dietz designed a quality construction, using river washed sand and gravel, building materials that had never been used in Aurora previously. The 112 feet river wall supported on 48 principal piers, that were each sunk 2 feet into the bedrock.
If you look at the outside of the building, you'll see a beautiful entry with a marquee. The building is made out of brick and Indiana limestone. In the back, facing the Fox River, there's a two story porch.
George W. Caldwell is known for building a lot of hotels. He has built The Fowler, Henry Watterson, The Tulsa, The Colonial, The Marion and the Hotel Windsor. They all kind of look alike, in my opinion. H. Ziegler Dietz is known for The Hotel Prichard and The McCurdy Hotel.
When the hotel was opened on July 14th of 1917, it wasn't totally ready yet. The 8th floor and the kitchens weren't operational yet, that took another few weeks. The hotel was described as having an 'impressive vestibule of 14 feet wide, and behind it was a 40 by 40 feet main lobby'. The floor was made out of Tennessee pink marble and the woodwork was American black walnut. On the North side of the basement was a 70 by 45 feet kitchen.
I've heard that there were once super cool venues in the basement. Well, if you go down there right now, all you'll find is a laundry. There are more doors in the basement, but those are closed. I am not sure where the clubs used to be, but I can't imagine them inside the laundry room, which makes me think that they once were behind one of the other doors. I wish that I could see photos inside the building from those days.
I found out that in the original basement, the 'Peacock Room' was located (this might explain the name 'Cock of the Wall' later on). This room could be divided in six private dining rooms (my fantasy takes a run here: who would have dined in there?), and a smoking room. The smoking room was for gentlemen's only (this might be where later on the Gentlemen's club 'The Chessman's Club' and after that the 'The Commanders Club' were situated?).
In the beginning the hotel was managed by Mr. C.J. Kriel, who was working for the Aurora Hotel Company. In 1919 Harry H. Dunbar became the owner. In 1928 he sold it to William O. Gosselin. Someone mentioned that Mr. Gosselin's mother lived in Hotel Aurora, on the 2nd floor. I am not sure if this is accurate. When William O. Gosselin passed away, his wife became the owner. Their three sons, John, William and Ward were actively connected to the management of both Hotel Aurora as the Leland Tower. In 1944 it was under ownership of the Gosselin Family.
Hotel Aurora was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. In 1986 it was listed as a contributing property to the Stolp Island Historic District. The building was vacant for almost fifteen years, and was threatened by demolition until it was restored in 1998 by developers Harold D. Rider and Brad Mathes. Someone wrote, but of course I am not sure about this, that Harold R. Rider donated a replica of the original overhang entrance to the building (worth $ 30,000.00). If he did donate it or not, it looks gorgeous in my opinion.
Nowadays the building is called The North Island Apartments and it houses low-income senior citizens. I still see the name of Harold Rider mentioned on their website.
From what I could find on the internet, people mentioned several clubs being in the basement:
- The Opposition
- The Lottery
- The Carousel
Unfortunately, there is not much information to be found about those music venues. So please, if you know something, let me know by commenting below.
I did find some people that used to go to the club, talk about those days:
I am old. I used to go to the Carousel in the basement. You haven't lived until you dance in a smoke filled room, the dance floor so crowded and someone steps on your foot with the spike heels we wore. Good bands there, mostly Rock & Roll bands. Fun times.
Yeah they had several offenses for underage patrons. And then one night the cops raided the place and half the people down there were underage. Guess what, no more Lottery!
Loved going there, even though I was underage, they never cared about that. The fire dept. used to chain the place shut due to no back exit. They would cut the chain and open the business. Thank God nothing happened. Great memories!
People mention bands that performed in Hotel Aurora:
- Ask Rufus, with Chaka Kahn.
- Pete Hix's band (Unfortunately, I couldn't find any videos of that time).
- Conway Twitty.
Several people mention the restaurant / lounge called 'Cock Of the Walk'. Unfortunately, I can't find anything about that.
Vicki Moore also shared a very interesting picture of World War I cryptologists in front of Hotel Aurora. I think those people were there, because of George Fabyan, who was a famous millionaire businessman who founded a private research laboratory. In the book ' Haunted Aurora' they mention the following:
The Aurora Hotel has the distinction of having housed the scientists who broke the German spy code in World War I.
In the book they also mention there's paranormal activity in the building. I've been there often, and I do feel that a lot has happened in that building (as in probably every older building). The feeling I had got very strong in certain areas of the building.
The people that live in the building are very kind and considerate. I always love visiting them. Most of them know me, since I have organized a great day out for them around Christmas in 2016.
The downside of this building is, that it only has one elevator, which causes problems every now and then, especially for seniors. The tenants aren't supposed to use the gorgeous porch in the back, which is dirty. That's a bummer, because it could be made into a great area for them. The back windows (looking out on the Fox River) were very dirty for years. If you look up in the lobby, you'll see a lot of cracks. The carpet downstairs has been renewed a while ago, unfortunately nothing happened on the other floors.
There has been water damage (hopefully no mold), the air conditioning doesn't always work (it got really hot inside last summer) and it seems hard to find a good building manager, since there must have been at least six different ones ever since I started coming there in 2014. I am really hoping that they'll find a good one very soon. A person that knows how to manage a building, but also knows how to communicate with the seniors.
The owner of the building does take care of it, but it seems to me as if they only take care of what's really necessary. I took some pictures on which you can see it's starting to become faded glory.
I am really hoping that the security system that this building desperately needs, will be installed soon. It's very scary when you come downstairs and there are people sleeping there, people that you don't know and that aren't supposed to be there. Most tenants are vulnerable people, that surely don't need that.
It would be great too if more people would get to know each other. If there would be a newsletter and for example a board with pictures of new people, so they can be welcomed by the others. And it would show a lot of respect if there would be a message on the board if someone passes away too.
The tenants could do a bit more too, like forming their own welcome committee, set up a Facebook group with all the tenants (I am not sure how many people are using Facebook though), showing up when the owners organize another get together.
For more articles about Aurora, Illinois, click here.
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