Kane County History: Hotel Baker, The 'Masterpiece' of The Fox Valley

Kane County History: Hotel Baker, The ‘Masterpiece’ of The Fox Valley

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Alison Costanzo, executive director of the St. Charles History Museum.

The Hotel Baker was Col. Edward J. Baker’s home, believe it or not.

Baker was a farmer. He and his niece, Dellora Norris, inherited the fortune of the founder of Texaco Oil from Baker’s brother-in-law, John Gates.

Baker and Norris invested the money in the town. When Baker decided to build the Hotel Baker in 1927, he told the architects to build their masterpiece.

Hotel Baker had the latest in modern conveniences, from kitchen appliances to building elements. The structure of the building incorporated brick, concrete, and steel-encased utilities which were intended to make the building fireproof.

Instead of relying on outside services for electricity, Hotel Baker’s generator harnessed the power of the Fox River. Thanks to the use of this method of energy production, the hotel avoided power outages, allowing guests to enjoy their stays in comfort.

The final cost of the new hotel was approximately $600,000.

Exactly 301 guests joined Baker at the Hotel Baker’s opening celebration on June 2, 1928. Not only were these early visitors treated to the splendor found throughout the public areas of the hotel, guests could spend the night in one of the 55 rooms for $2.50 apiece.

Also within the hotel were several shops: a women’s clothing store, a newspaper stand, a barber shop, and a beauty shop. Baker built a two-story parking garage and auto showroom adjacent to the hotel.

After Baker died, Dellora Norris was left with “that white elephant of a Hotel,” as she called it. She had told him not to leave it to her, but she ended up with it 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.

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 restored.

Craig Frank’s mother, Ruby, started Frank’s Employment and had an office in the upstairs of Colson’s Department Store, next to the hotel. When Colson’s caught fire and her office was destroyed, Lester J. Norris offered Ruby the Arcada Theatre.

Ruby Frank bought the Arcada, and they began restoring the building, partnering with Willis Johnson of Classic Cinemas to bring the Arcada to its grandeur and bring it back as a movie theater.

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 restored the Arcada and the Hotel Baker and was celebrated as “Mr. Landmark St. Charles” in 1997.

In 2003, the hotel was purchased by the Salas family, the new owners invited the public to a grand re-opening celebration on March 20, 2004.

In June 2005, a bronze statue of E.J. Baker, commissioned by the Downtown St. Charles Partnership and created by St. Charles artist Ray Kobald, was installed in front on the Hotel Baker to honor Col. Baker for his generous contributions to the community. Since, taking over, the Salas Family has continued to keep the 90-year tradition and elegance of the Hotel Baker alive.

Upcoming Programs at the St. Charles History Museum

St. Charles Fine Art Show Historic Trolley Tour

Don’t miss the annual St. Charles Historic Home trolley tour during the St. Charles Fine Arts Show on May 26 and May 27. Members of the St. Charles History Museum and friends will be your tour guides on this great tour of Historic Homes and sites in St. Charles on Memorial Day Weekend! Visit more than 50 locations from the comfort of an air-conditioned trolley, provided by the St Charles Fine Art Show!

Each tour lasts about one hour. First tour is at 11 a.m. and the last tour leaves at 4 p.m.

Who’s onboard for a FREE Historic Trolley Tour? Tell your friends! This is always a sellout …

Step Inside Hotel Baker Exhibit Opening with Dance Night

Join the St. Charles History Museum and Lux Dance Studio for the first look at our new temporary exhibit Step Inside Hotel Baker. This exhibit tells the known and unknown stories of Hotel Baker’s 90 year rich history.

RSVP by May 27.

Read The Kane County History Series!