Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ladies Cafe, Hotel Kaiserhof

Front section, Ladies' Cafe, Hotel Kaiserhof

Ladies Cafe, Hotel Kaiserhof

Location: Hotel originally located at 320-328 South Clark Street (1889-1915), later at 314-318 Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA (1915-1971)

Opened/Closed: Ladies Cafe was open by 1906 at the latest, and probably closed by 1915. 

According to the book Early Chicago Hotels (2006), the original Hotel Kaiserhof was by an unknown architect, and was built of "rusticated stone." Architecturally speaking, authors William R. Host and Brooke Ahne Portmann found the building something of a mixed success:

The sense of movement and rhythm from bottom to top indicates an awareness of the importance of creating a unified whole. Still, the awkward stacking of the top three floors indicates this architect had not yet solved the problem of the tall building. 

Like many of the finer hotels of this era, the wealthy men and women who patronized this establishment were formally segregated within many of the public areas of the hotel. The gentlemen attended to "business"--whatever that might encompass--while the ladies tended to the children and kept to their own company.

Regarding the design of the Ladies Dining Room (or Ladies Cafe), Host and Portmann observe the following:

Rear section, Ladies Cafe, Hotel Kaiserhof
The imposing, soft-rose columns in this alluring room are striking on their own, but spectacular, Sullivanesque embellishments explode at their capitals. Golden chandeliers with small beguiling lights are among the most engaging in all hotel interiors and again have a Sullivanesque touch.

In the 1911 postcard below, we can see the contrast between the men's space ("the handcarved settee in the gentlemen's cafe") and the women's space ("the ladies dining room"). Certainly the "gentlemen's cafe" boasts more heft compared to its "feminine" counterpart.  No doubt many "weighty" decision were made here (or intended to be made here) regarding economics and politics--not to mention the other less weighty topics at a gentleman's disposal.

Hotel Kaiserhof - Ladies Dining Room and Gentlemen's Cafe

As for what the ladies discussed when amongst themselves? You'll have to fill that in with your own imagination. But somehow, at least the ladies parlor (another women's space within the hotel) looks distinctly uncomfortable for protracted conversation. Despite the rather feeble gestures towards a neoclassical design, this space doesn't really pull together. With its bland walls and scanty furnishings, the ladies parlour seems to discourage prolonged or intimate exchanges. In a sense, its real purpose seems more decorative than functional.

Ladies Parlor, Hotel Kaiserhof

Of course, an analysis of this type completely omits the army of workers that were required to run such an establishment. I suspect that the "invisible" women who toiled within the Hotel Kaiserhof were largely limited to more-or-less menial positions within the "hidden" kitchen or laundry facilities. Or they were employed as isolated scullery or chamber maids traversing the hotel's many hallways and rooms, where they were no doubt vulnerable to male sexual harrassment and assault (rape).

Such opulence as there was at a grand palace like this were not for the likes of them....

Postcards: Hotel Kaiserhof ladies cafe front, rear, gentlemen's cafe/ladies dining room, ladies parlor

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