The Man Who Put the Hollywood in Hollywood Park–Part One

His name was Oscar A. Brotman (1916-1994), and not just once but twice he brought his vision of glitz and glamour to the Hollywood Park neighborhood. Nothing remains of the Tower Cabana Club and Lincoln Village Theatre, but in their glory days Brotman’s venues were the swankiest spots around.

Setting the stage for fun in the sun

tower_Cabana_hi_dive

Steve Citrin on the Tower Cabana hi-dive

In 1955, on a narrow two-block strip of land overlooking the North Shore Sanitary Canal, a total of 6.75 acres east of Jersey and Peterson, Oscar Brotman built the Tower Cabana Club. It was a pool with pizazz, a pool surrounded by bright umbrellas, tents, cabanas … and palm trees.

They warned Brotman about the palm trees, but he ignored the naysayers. He imported eight 35-foot-high coconut palms from Florida and had them planted in cement blocks and chemically treated to withstand Chicago’s winter temperatures.

When the fronds turned brown and fell to the ground, Brotman had them spray painted green and nailed back up where they belonged. Sometimes the leaves turned brown but didn’t fall off.

“If they don’t fall off,” Brotman complained to a Chicago Tribune reporter, “how do they expect to get painted?”

Brotman’s ingenuity as a set designer was once again evident in December 1956 with the transformation of the palm trees into 45-foot Christmas trees.

“No one would ever guess,” Brotman told the Trib, “that I had those eight evergreens hauled down from Michigan by special truck, lashed them as close as possible to the palm trunks and steadied them with guy wires.”

Jack_Citrin

Jack Citrin standing in front of the cabanas

With 150 cabanas available for rent, Brotman offered families a plan for “poolside living” at a private club. Besides the full-size pool, there was a wading pool, a day camp, and a playground “far enough away from the cabanas to ensure a little peace and quiet for the parents.” Betty Draper of Mad Men couldn’t have said it any better.

Tower_cabana

According to the original caption, this is Dede Sherwin and Dave Garfield on the water slide


The Chicago Tribune loved Tower Cabana; the neighbors, not so much

In August 1955, a two-page spread in the Tribune, “The Florida Idea of Fun Catching On in Chicago,” showcased the delights of the Tower Cabana Club with photos of teens playing table tennis and shuffleboard, frolicking in the pool, and dancing to a live orchestra.

But it wasn’t all sun and fun and beauty contests. The club fought city and neighborhood opposition throughout its existence. The first case, a battle with City Hall over whether Brotman could build a commercial project on land leased from the Sanitary District, went to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The city of Chicago argued they had zoned the land for single-family dwellings, but the judge ruled the city didn’t have the right to zone Sanitary District property. Not to mention the land was 50 feet west of a waterway used to drain sewage from North Shore suburbs into the city. Brotman won round one.

On April 21, 1955, the day after his inauguration as 40th Ward alderman, Seymour Simon demonstrated a seasoned pro’s grasp of Chicago neighborhood politics. He asked the Department of Streets and Sanitation to barricade the Peterson Avenue driveways leading into the Tower Cabana Club’s newly paved parking lot.

“I’m not trying to stop the project,” Alderman Simon explained to the Tribune. “I just don’t want to help.”

During the zoning battle, Hollywood North Park Civic Association (HPNCA) came into existence. Founded by Gerald Specter, my friend Susan Specter’s father, and other local residents for the purpose of blocking construction of the club, HNPCA fought Brotman on several issues to preserve the neighborhood’s quiet character and its property values.

Cold weather brought more controversy

In November 1955, Brotman came up with idea of offering club members ice skating during the off-season. His was no ordinary flood the backyard plan; Brotman enlisted the engineers of the Burge Ice Machine Company to build an icy surface over the pool that would stay frozen even in 60 degree weather. The ice froze but outdoor lighting and piped music heated up the neighbors.

Tower_Cabana_skating

Merle Citrin Monroe skating at Tower Cabana

Alderman Simon introduced a proposal calling for a 9 p.m. curfew for public ice rinks within 150 feet of residential homes. It would apply not only to Tower Cabana, but to 122 outdoor rinks in the city.

Brotman won that round but lost the next one. His scheme to boost revenues by adding a golf driving range met with neighborhood disapproval:

“A pool is one thing, but a golf range in a quiet area is ridiculous,” said Specter. “I don’t want to see neighbors kids dodging golf balls.”

Specter and the HNPCA won this round. The experience of challenging Brotman’s Tower Cabana Club served Specter well for a history-making battle nearly twenty years later. In 1974, the city closed the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, also located in Hollywood Park. The first Mayor Daley wanted to give the land to developer Harry Chaddick, who had plans for a shopping mall and high-rise apartment buildings. Specter and others fought to preserve the land for public use.

“My father was a huge player in keeping the TB site out of the hands of commercial developers. He fought the Daley machine and won,” Susan Specter said. As a result of the efforts of her father and the North River Coalition, the land occupied by the TB Sanitarium became Peterson Park and North Park Village.

Rose Citrin playing mah jongg at Tower Cabana

The end of an era

In 1966 Tower Cabana Club went out of business and its facilities quickly deteriorated, helped along by nature and vandals. HNPCA begged for its demolition and in 1968 the Sanitary District finally obliged. They then leased the site for a dollar a year to the Chicago Park District and to this day it remains a free and open space.

Cabana_site

The former Tower Cabana site is highlighted in red on this Google map.

 

Update: Decoma Day Camp had its swimming pool activities at Tower Cabana starting in 1956. Thanks to Bonnie McGrath for providing the photograph of her camp group, probably in 1956.

Decoma__Camp

Uncle Miltie is on the far right and Uncle Deutsch in on the left (co-directors). Gary Deutsch was Uncle Deutsch's son and lived in Peterson Park.

Next Monday, I’ll write about Brotman’s Hollywood Park comeback, Lincoln Village Theatre, the last movie palace built in Chicago. In the meantime, I never set foot inside Tower Cabana so I’d love to hear from anyone who remembers it.

Sources: Billboard, Chicago Park District and Susan Specter. Thanks also to Illinois State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, who grew up in Hollywood Park,  for suggesting I research the history of Tower Cabana. Map of the former site of the Tower Cabana courtesy of Google Maps. Thanks to Merle Citrin Monroe for photographs of the Tower Cabana Club. Here’s some more photos from the Tower Cabana.

LUCY KEY MILLER.  (1955, May 6). Front Views & Profiles :Miami in Chicago. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),p. a4.  Retrieved October 7, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1987). (Document ID: 508257392).

Tribune photo,  ANGELA.  (1955, August 6). The Florida Idea of Fun Catching On in Chicago. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963),p. 15.  Retrieved October 6, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1987). (Document ID: 508877962).

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43 Responses to The Man Who Put the Hollywood in Hollywood Park–Part One

  1. Merle Citrin Monroe October 11, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Thanks for a terrific article. I spent LOTS of time at Tower Cabana….both summer and winter….and I have pictures to share! As an alternative to a cabana, families also could “buy” a private or shared tent for the summer or a locker in the locker room. Teenagers could come back on some summer evenings for dancing to music from a juke box. During the day, there was a 10 minute swim break for an “adults only” swim. We hated that! I learned to mix iodine with baby oil for that “perfect tan,” then graduated to Bain de Soleil Orange Gelee (SPF 4)….which I still use today. Mah jongg was a big activity for the moms. The pool was beautiful and the ice skating was wonderful. I was not aware of the controversy surrounding its development….but I do remember hearing people say, “How could they build that THERE!”

  2. Frances Archer October 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Thanks, Merle. Of course, I’d love to add any photos you’d like to share of Tower Cabana. I remember hearing about it, but never knew anyone who was a member. We did go to Acres swimming pool on day passes.

  3. Merle Citrin Monroe October 11, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    That 10-minute adult swim break was every hour, so it really cut into our good times in the pool.

  4. Frances Archer October 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Your photos really made the piece. Thanks so much. We’ll have to collaborate on a story.

  5. Bonnie McGrath October 11, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    oh, frances, you brought back memories in this one i didn’t even remember i had. if i’m not mistaken, i think my day camp (in 1955)–decoma day camp–used tower cabana as its base. i haven’t heard the words tower cabana for at least 50 years. wow! so interesting to see this.. i also used to go to kiddieland around there, miniature golf, bounceland, etc etc. although we lived in uptown. next time we get together i will bring a picture of us campers and you can see if it’s really at tower cabana..

  6. Frances Archer October 11, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    You know Decoma is in the burbs now. I didn’t realize it started in the city. Hollywood Kiddieland will definitely be a subject one of these days.

  7. Marshall Rosenthal October 12, 2010 at 5:13 am #

    Very interesting and well done, Frances!
    These we my high school years at Roosevelt. I’m surprised I have no recollection about Tower Cabana
    . Did the softball field go up about this time? Was Brotman involved with the Esquire Theater?
    Thanks again for putting this together!

  8. Frances Archer October 12, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    Marshall, he owned the Carnegie, not the Esquire, plus others. details next week. The fields were put about this time, 1955-56. The story of the real park is for another post as well.

  9. Chris Hancock October 12, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    This was a great article, I never heard of the Tower Cabana but I am going to ask my parents if they remember??

  10. Frances Archer October 12, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Chris, if they do, let me know what they remember.

  11. Ferne Slotky Berman October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    I spent many a summer there. We had a cement cabana there on the second floor with a frig and a toilet[that was impressive]. Our parents hosted parties every weekend. I could not wait for summer every year. I was in water ballet shows, arranged by the managers wife, his name was Frank Currier., her name escapes me. Also the adults put on mini stage shows and sold tickets to it. My father used to sing, so he was always involved.. I met a lot of kids from Mather there over the summer. I also learned how to play Mahj jongg there by watching all the ladies. I have pictures but there are not as readily available as Merles. I would have to dig in the basement in a large plastic bin. I was so very sad when the cabana closed. I understand that when it was bulldozed no one who had property in the cement cabanas was allowed in to take anything out. They knocked down the cabanas and thru everything in the pool for fill. We had a lot of things we left in our cabana from year to year, and we were not allows to get anything out. I spent every summer there morning noon and night from the time I was 10 until it closed

  12. Frances Archer October 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    Hi, Ferne. that’s weird about the demolition. I found Tribune articles saying it was closed in 1966, then two years later demolitioned. But I believed the business went into bankruptcy so that might explain why no one could enter the property. It must have been great to have a pool so close to home.

  13. Shelly Cohen April 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    I was a Lifeguard at Tower Cabana, the last year it was open. I was a Junior in High School at Niles West and was working after school and weekends at the Ascot Motel on Michigan. My parents joined and my Dad called and said they were looking for a Lifeguard, at the end of May. I jumped at the opportunity and worked with Jim Zitnick, Elliot Greenberg, and Irwin Rosemarin…hoping it would stay open, the next year before I left for college. It was the best summer of my young life. A certain Karen Burnstein’s sweet sixteen was there and I hadn’t noticed her until they gave her a bikini as a present, so I introduced myself. Then, I had to take off the zinc oxide, pith helmet and jacket, so I could jump in from the perch to save one of the guests, Marsha Gibrick Hochman, from drowning!!!
    BTW, I married Karen, 40 years ago this coming August, we have two beautiful daughters and Marsha was our neighbor in Glenview for almost 30 years!!!!

  14. Frances Archer April 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Shelley, great story and thanks for sharing. I didn’t realize there was a suburban contingent at Tower as well as the Hollywood/Peterson Park crowd. Tell your wife if she has any photos from her Sweet 16 we can include them on the Tower Cabana story.

  15. Karen Burnstein Cohen April 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    I also remember the pool, and the skating rink. I think I still have my certificates signed by Melanie, the skating teacher. The pool was our “country club” for many years, and when we became “tweens”, we were able to sneak out to McDonald’s for a 15 cent hamburger and fries!!!

  16. Shari Cohen Forsythe April 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    Frances:

    What lovely memories that came flooding back as I read this article. I too spent quite a lot of time at Tower Cabana as a young girl. I can still remember some of the songs that were popular at the time–I swam so much that I had swimmer’s ear by the end of the summer. Shelly, the lifeguard, is my older brother, and it is indeed where he first met my sister-in-law, Karen. When I read the article and it mentioned the location of the pool, I thought of you and how we had just gotten reacquainted last weekend after so many decades. I was about to e-mail the article to you when I saw that it was YOU who wrote it. Kindred souls, I think!

  17. Frances Archer April 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Hi, Karen, thanks for visiting. Any Kiddieland memories? Lincoln Village?

  18. Frances Archer April 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Shari! That is too funny. We must make plans soon.

  19. Eva Field Schweig May 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    What about those 12 cent fries at McDonald’s after Sunday afternoon ice skating?

  20. Frances Archer May 19, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Jay Lerner mentioned somewhere that he used to help freeze that ice.

  21. Steve White May 21, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Don’t tell anyone, but there were spots in the chain-link fence along the river where it was easy to sneak in.

  22. Mindy White June 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    I just had a flashback when I looked at the above picture of the high dive. I was about 7 or 8 years old (1960-61) and I thought I’d give it a try–big mistake! I absolutely froze when I got out on the diving board. Shelly, I think it was you who gently talked me down and convinced me that if I jumped, you’d be right there to get me. You were, but I’ve never gone up on a high dive again!! Anyway–thanks, Shelly, for being so kind to a little girl who was scared and humiliated as the line behind me kept getting longer and longer with kids wanting to jump.

  23. Frances Archer June 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Mindy, to show you what a small world we lived in: I recently reconnected with Shelly’s sister, Shari, who I met at Harand Camp. We hadn’t seen each other since that one summer, and a mutual friend brought us together somehow!

  24. Mindy White June 9, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    That’s funny, Frances. The more I think about the time frame of my non-diving event, the more I realize it must have been closer to 1965-66. I was scared enough of the high dive at 12. I never would have attempted it at 7 or 8! Anyway, if Shelly was the lifeguard on duty that day, he was very patient; and he didn’t let me sink.

  25. Mark Swerdlik September 4, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I remember Tower Cabana from my days ( ages 6-8-1956-58) attending camp at Decoma Day Camp. The camp used Tower Cabana as its swimming venue. I recall we would typically swim in the morning hours (before noon) likely prior to the time Tower Cabana opened to members. Anyone remember Decoma Day Camp (it’s still in business) when we used to swim at Tower Cabana and eat at Vic’s restaurant. I still remember the taste of the fried chicken and other meals served family style)? Anyone lucky enough to be called up to the front at the end of the lunch meal and be a prop for some song sung by a larger than life camp counselor? Remember Uncle Miltie and Uncle Deutshe the co-owener and directors of Decoma Day Camp? I still remember my first counselor-Norville. Thanks for generating some fond memories of my days as a camper at Decoma Day Camp and swimming at Tower Cabana.

  26. Frances Archer September 4, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Mark, my friend Bonnie McGrath (not her maiden name) attended Decoma Camp and gave me a photo of her camp group. It was the first year, so perhaps the same year you were there. I’m going to send her a note to check out your comment, so you can both figure out if you were there at the same time. Where was Vic’s restaurant? Was that part of the Tower Cabana?

  27. Bonnie McGrath September 4, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    i vaguely remember most of the things mark mentions.. i think the picture i gave frances to post is from the summer of 1956…. i am the little girl in the middle of the TOP row. third from the left; third from the right.

  28. Mark Swerdlik September 4, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Frances and Bonnie-I would like to see the picture. I didn’t see it posted above. I am sure I was there is the summer of 1956. I think they had separate boys and girls groups. Vics was on Montrose. They had a large group all of the campers used to eat in. Each group ate at it’s own table with their counselor. Vics was separate from Tower Cabana but we used to go there (by school bus) to eat after swimming at Tower Cabana. Bonnie-Remember the Decoma Day camp song-D E C O M A Day Camp oh that’s the camp for me!

  29. Bonnie McGrath September 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Mark–the vic’s eating scenario is coming back to me! i do remember that.. i think you will really get a kick out of the picture when frances puts it up! the song i don’t remember–but i never was much of a singer!

  30. Bonnie McGrath September 8, 2011 at 2:41 am #

    the picture looks GREAT! i would love to hear if anyone recognizes anyone in the decoma day camp group picture!!

  31. Bonnie Grosse Zimmer September 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    Great memories. The year I graduated from Grade school for girls got a tent at the
    Tower Cabana Club. It was 1958 and McDonalds open up next door. We road
    our bikes every day to two years It was terrific.

    And in the winter we all learned to ice skate. Just a great time for all

    Thanks

    for reminding of such good times.

    Bonnie

  32. Frances Archer September 25, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Bonnie, thanks for visiting, and for confirming the year McDonald’s opened. Wasn’t sure if it was ’57 or ’58.

  33. Everett Melnick March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    I ice-skated nearly every weekend at Tower Cabana. We used to skate until we were near frozen, then walk to McDonalds for hot chocolate with those tiny little marshmallows. I think that was the first McDonalds I ever ate at. We never thought to eat the 10 cent burgers. No Jewish mom would ever let her kids eat a burger unless she saw the butcher grind the meat. God knows what they put in them. I still feel the guilt.

  34. Sharon Ruble Kvistad March 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    I also remember Tower Cabana! swam with friends in the summer-TRIED to skate in the winter-I didn’t own my own ice skates so I had to rent–and I never got a pair that fit properly-I was a “roller skater”–needed 8 wheels-not 2 blades–and swimming there was a luxury because my parents didn’t belong–had to go as a guest–swam mostly at Whelan pool at Devon & Milwaukee or River Park pool on Foster–thanks for the memories!

  35. Mike Kitay May 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    My first job was at the McDonalds next door. Hamburgers, fries Cokes. All 15 cents!

  36. Richard Cohen January 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    In 1959 I was a Junior at Von Steuben and about to have my first prom. I took my prospective date to Tower (then in ice skating mode), after which I planned to ask her as my date for the prom. I was very shy around girls, so this was heavy stuff for me. To complicate matters, some guy kept trying to pick up my date every time I was away from her. But I believe she knew why I asked her there, so all finished well. My best to Jackie Share wherever she may be now.

    I often skated at Tower Cabana, and, in fact, that’s where I learned to ice skate. I can still remember the Zamboni machine resurfacing the ice from time-to-time.

  37. Frances Archer January 22, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    That is a very sweet memory. We’ll have to see if anyone is in touch with Jackie. Thanks for stopping by.

  38. Terry Lato November 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Great memories borh swim and ice skatingul9

  39. Eric November 16, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Wondering if the location of Tower Cabina had an influence on Ray Kroc for that location? Either way, great decision..

  40. Frances Archer November 16, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    We have never established the exact year McDonslds opened, but it would have been after Tower was already in business. There was still a lot of open space in the area from what I understand. It would be interesting to know why Ray Kroc chose that location.

  41. Stew Bernstein November 17, 2014 at 12:01 am #

    I was from the “poor” area of Albany Park and my dad “Murphy” ….yes Murphy the Jewish Cop served at the in Shakespear Station in Logan Square and the Albany Park Station.

    My mother had a stand on Maxwell Street, and my brother worked for Vienna when they were still located on Halstead near Roosevelt Rd.

    Was the Brotman family part of the Brotman Hospital family in L.A.?

    Marshal Rosenthal, weren’t you friends with my brother Al Bernstein and sister Lois at Roosevelt. I was at Von in 1962 when my family relocated to Studio City Califfornia.
    Still see my Von friends, Alan and Mary Horn Israel.

    Love this site.

    Stew Bernstein
    Thousand Oaks, CA

  42. Frances Archer November 17, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    Stew, you come from a classic Albany Park lineage. Don’t know about the Brotmsn’s in L.A. It is a relatively common name. Sadly, Marshall passed away a couple years ago– if you search his name on my blog, you’ll find what I wrote about him. He was class of ’42 I believe. Thanks for your comment and I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed discovering my blog.

  43. Sharon Ruble Vista's December 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    Richard Cohen. Just read your post from Jan 22 2013 I believe the Jackie Share you are talking about was a classmate of mine-We graduated Von. Jan 1964. And had our 50 year reunion this past June. 2014. She lives in Algonquin Illinois about 1 mile from me. I’ll let her know about your post!

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