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Whiting, Robertsdale residents remember the 'sophistication' of the Illiana Hotel as it gets demolished

On March 17, 1928, The Times announced the dedication of the new Illiana Hotel in Whiting. The Illliana hotel last week, right before it's demolition. 

WHITING — Old buildings hold memories that remain long after the bricks and dust have been swept away.

So it is with the Illiana Hotel, as local residents reminisce in light of the recent announcement that the deteriorating structure is being demolished starting this week.

It was during the administration of Mayor Walter P. Schrage that the building at the corner of 119th Street and Atchison Avenue opened on March 19, 1928, at the site of the old Fischer mill to a reported crowd of more than 2,000.

A newspaper account from back in the day called the Illiana Hotel the "most modern hotel" in Northern Indiana and said it contained 66 rooms, a large lobby with leather and velour lounges and chairs, a banquet hall, a ladies' parlor and a recreation parlor in the basement.

Judge T. Joseph Sullivan was one of the leaders in the hotel movement, and reportedly purchased the site for it along with other partners.

It was reported that a hotel was needed for the city so tourists and businessmen would not pass through without stopping, or instead choose to spend the night in Hammond.

The hotel cost $260,000 to build; it will cost the city an estimated $200,000 to knock it down.

The city had acquired the property at no cost through a county tax sale process in 2013, but could find no developers willing to spend the $3 million or more it would cost to renovate it.

Al Koch, a longtime Whiting resident, recalls the hotel in its glory days, including its high ceilings and ornate woodwork.

"To me, it was a very elegant building," Koch said. "It had the aroma of sophistication."

Koch, 76, remembers the hotel fondly because his home had just one telephone that offered little privacy as he grew up in the 1950s, so he would go to the Illiana to use one of its several public pay phone booths for a nickel per call.

"And then later on it went to a dime, which was pretty expensive," Koch said.

He recalls relatives stayed at the hotel, including a cousin who told him it cost $5 a night.

"That had to be early '50s," Koch said.

Many times people who came for Standard Oil stockholder meetings would stay at the hotel, he said.

"And they had a bar attached to that place," Koch said. "It was called the Industrial Room."

An old advertisement found by Gayle Kosalko, who is on the board of directors for the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society, showed the actual name as being the Industrial Lounge. There also was a hotel barber shop at one time.

She said a cafe called the Hob-Nob operated out of the hotel as recently as the early 1980s.

Diane Kaminsky, a lifelong resident of the Robertsdale section of Hammond, has childhood memories of the Hob-Nob.

She said it was probably in the late 1960s to the 1970s that the Hob-Nob served as a halfway point for her when walking to and from Whiting's Hoosier Theater.

"Especially in the colder weather, it would be really nice," Kaminsky said. "They had great hot chocolate in there, and they had little booths in there."

She also remembers a pizza restaurant that operated out of the hotel building.

Current Mayor Joe Stahura said the actual hotel has been vacant for decades, but commercial space on the lower floor had been used on and off for years. Most of the building has been unoccupied since at least 2009.

Kosalko said she understands it is financially impossible to save the hotel, but it is sad to see the city "lose one of our kind-of skyscraper buildings."

"The quaintness of Whiting is our calling card," Kosalko said. "The old buildings, the old store fronts. It's just one more piece gone and it can never be replaced. The building can be replaced, but the feeling and the beauty of it and the historical significance of it, that'll be gone."

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