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Devereux Bowly, owner of the Lakeside Inn. (Charles Osgood/Chicago Tribune)
Devereux Bowly Jr.: Fondly remembering a preserver of Chicago history.
When the news of death arrives, it does so in the icy ways. A phone call. An e-mail.
If the deceased person was famous (Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall only moments ago), perhaps there come interruptions of regularly scheduled radio or television broadcasts, Internet alerts. But most people are not famous, and so we got the news cold: "Dev has died."
The initial reaction, usually and to this death in particular, is like taking a punch in the gut. But the brain, that remarkably sensitive instrument, has a way of making some things easier to handle, flashing back in memory and producing images that soften the blow.
And so it was in the moments after hearing that Devereux Bowly Jr. had died at 71 on Aug. 6 in Michigan City, Ind., due to complications from injuries sustained in a fall. In an instant, there he was in my mind, alive and inside his Lakeside Inn.
That's him in the photo, there and then, which was more than a decade ago. And I hear his voice, too, one of youthful enthusiasm, saying, "I remember coming up here from the city many years ago as a teenager. How could you not be impressed? I loved it here."
The Lakeside Inn sits atop a sand dune across the water from Chicago in Lakeside, Mich. On the porch, when the weather is fair, you'll find rocking chairs and a couple of swinging couches. It is a spot that compels contemplation and relaxation. This is where Dev liked to sit and stare out into the trees across the road and to the lake beyond. He lived most of the time in Hyde Park, but he owned the Lakeside Inn and the nearby Gordon Beach Inn, and, being the ardent lover of buildings and history that he was, he cared for each of them as if they were his homes.
"Dev conveyed a quiet reserve, but when something needed to be done, nothing could stop him," says Tim Samuelson, the cultural historian for the city of Chicago, who married visual artist Barbara Koenen at the Lakeside Inn in fall 2002 and was a longtime admirer and friend of Bowly's. "The character of his hotels came from his personal attention to details. He was always scouting the antique shops and estate sales to find just the right furnishings and decorative objects.
"At the Lakeside, the savvy Chicago guest could find Dev's hometown references with an inscription from the Fine Arts Building over the lobby fireplace and one from the Fountain of Time in the ballroom."
Bowly was born in 1942 and raised in Hyde Park. His father was an insurance broker. His mother was involved in real estate sales and investments. His maternal grandfather was George Fuller, a noted University of Chicago biology professor whose work included important early studies on the ecology of the Lake Michigan dunes, and he would often take young Dev along on research trips.
He went to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, earned a B.S. from the Illinois Institute of Technology and his law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Returning here, he would spend his entire legal career working for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, the federally funded agency that provides free legal services to the poor.
He was part of the original group that established 57th Street Books, which was in a building originally purchased by his mother. He was also one of the original team of docents who volunteered in 1971 to lead architectural tours for the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, the beginning of the famous program of tours offered today by what is known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation. He was one of the founders of the Hyde Park Historical Society and was actively involved in the purchase and restoration of a former cable car station on Lake Park Avenue as its headquarters.
He was a frequent contributor to the bygone Midwest magazine, a Sunday supplement of the Sun-Times, writing primarily about architecture. In 1978 he wrote a landmark book, "The Poorhouse: Subsidized Housing in Chicago, 1895-1976," which was reissued in a new edition in 2012. He said that "initially some people resented the title because they thought it denigrated the system," but the book has become a classic, regarded as the best thing ever written on the often-sorry subject.
But back to the Lakeside Inn, which sits on a dune. There is a private beach 90 stairs down (and up!) the dune and 32 rooms inside the inn, which has a lobby filled with wicker and a stone fireplace that is a sight to behold. It is, in short, a place of great comfort.
Zack East came to work at the Lakeside and the Gordon Beach inns in 2000 when he was a junior in high school. Now program director at WCXT-FM 98.3 The Coast for Mid-West Family Broadcasting in Benton Harbor, Mich., he remembers, "When I first met Dev, he defined his goals with me: Preserve the heritage of the hotels and share it with others.
"Over the years, I received mounds of advice from him on everything from navigating financial aid struggles in college to starting a student radio station. Full-time radio took hold in late summer 2009 when I made the decision to leave the hotels, but Dev and I still met up once every few months to check in.
"He was everything you would ever want in a friend, a mentor and, especially, as an employer. He always put everyone before himself, especially if they needed help. He cleaned the beaches when no one asked him to do so. He stopped to help everyone in the neighborhood. He found value in everything that the buildings had to offer. Dev simply wanted to share the joy that the inns brought to him every time he stepped foot on the grounds."
And so, sitting on Lakeside's 100-foot front porch, Dev was saying that he bought his first home in the area actually a two-horse stable on the lake that he turned into a home in the mid-1980s. In 1991, he bought the Gordon Beach Inn in Union Pier at a foreclosure sale and, after having some success with that property, purchased the Lakeside Inn in 1994. He lovingly restored both hotels to their early-20th-century charm and furnishings. He also continued to make the hotels destinations and gathering places for artists and arts programs.
He had been in declining health for the last few years but had been working on a biography of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. The hotels and the rest of his estate are now in the hands of his sole heir, older sister Judy Zitske, who has long lived in Madison, Wis. "For now, nothing will change with either inn," she says, and many people will be happy about that.
There has already been a private interment at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park, and memorial services for Bowly are being planned later this year in Hyde Park and at the Lakeside. Yes, even in the face of death, the world goes on.
"After Hours With Rick Kogan" airs 9-11 p.m. Sundays on WGN-AM 720.
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune
DEVEREUX BOWLY JR. (photo credit: K. Huff)
Lifelong Hyde Park resident Devereux Bowly, Jr. was a man of many professions, passions and talents. For most of his professional life, he was an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, providing help to people living in poverty. Mr. Bowly was also a respected historian, author, preservationist, community leader, and owner of two historic Michigan resort hotels. Bowly, 71, passed away on Wednesday, August 6th in Michigan City, Indiana due to complications from injuries sustained in a fall. A prolific writer on Chicago history and architecture, his works include "The Poorhouse", a pioneering 1978 book on the history of subsidized housing in the city, and reissued in an updated and expanded version in 2012. A biography of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald was in preparation at the time of his death. Community activities include being one of the founders of the Hyde Park Historical Society and overseeing the conversion of a historic cable car station on Lake Park Avenue as its headquarters. He was also one of the founders of the 57th Street Bookstore, and part of the original docent group organized in 1971 to lead architectural tours for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. A second professional career was as owner of the Gordon Beach Inn and the Lakeside Inn, historic hotels in Union Pier and Lakeside, Michigan. Both were carefully restored and furnished to reflect their early twentieth century charm, and have become popular destinations for vacationers and the Chicago art community. A sister, Judy Zitske of Madison, Wisconsin, survives him. Private interment at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park. Memorial services in Hyde Park and Lakeside will be announced in the future.
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