The Drake Hotel, named after John B. Drake and Tracey Corey Drake, the two brothers who built it on property purchased from Potter Palmer, opened its door on New Year’s Eve, 1920 to a party of some 2,000 of Chicago’s most distinguished citizens. Standing at Lake Shore Drive and the north end of the Magnificent Mile, it formed a transition from the exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood and the nascent commercial district that eventually grew up around it and for which it set the tone. It was one of the hotel bookends owned by the Drake brothers, the other being the Blackstone Hotel at the south end of the Magnificent Mile.
From the beginning it was the haunt of the powerful and famous. A list of visitors would be a who’s who of the 20thcentury, including movie stars and heads of state. Famously, the newlyweds Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio carved their initials, still preserved, on the bar of the Cape Cod Room.
It was and still is known for its Afternoon Teas in the elegant Palm Court (see pix above) and has its own special blend of tea for the occasion.
The Camellia House, where my mother served as hostess, seating the likes of Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, opened around 1940. It is a relatively small room with an even smaller private dining room to one side, and a small stage where the likes of Frank Sinatra sang. It has floor to ceiling mirrored pillars and large, crystal chandeliers. It was designed by the famous Dorothy Draper, who managed to develop a thriving business after her husband ran off with another women the week of the Wall Street Crash. Her specialty, which other interior designers had shied away from, was turning the public spaces of resort hotels from bland areas to walk through to luxurious surroundings to linger in. Her dictum, reflecting her confidence was, “If it looks right, it is right.”
The entrance to the Camellia House up two short staircases directly opposite the front door. There is a balcony area, now closed off, behind a clock where the paparazzi would congregate to take pictures of the celebrities making their way to dinner.
There is now Camellia Room where tea is served at Christmas, but that is not the real Camellia House. That room, however, still exists, now called The Drake Room but alas they no longer serve dinner there!