50 years of Shoreland memories: George Weir recalls elegant days of former hotel
Few people have worked at the Shoreland residence hall long enough to know that Elvis once stayed in Room 1207, or that former Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa was a "nice, quiet kind of guy" who held loud meetings on the second floor. And only one of those people has served residents at the Shoreland for so long and with such dedication that he has a room named in his honor -- George Weir.
Weir, part of the security team at Shoreland Hall, began working at the Shoreland at age 21, when it was one of Chicago's grandest hotels. He graduated from Tilden Technical High School on the city's Southwest Side in 1942 and, following a stint in the U.S. Army, found work as a package clerk at the Shoreland in 1944. Weir is the Shoreland's oldest staff member and the only current employee who worked at the residence hall during its days as a hotel.
"The Shoreland was a wonderful place to live and work. It was a very elegant hotel where every organization in Chicago -- from social clubs to high schools to corporations -- wanted to have its parties, proms and meetings," Weir said.
After a year of handling packages, Weir was promoted to bellhop, greeting guests and helping check visitors into their rooms. From the early 1960s through the mid-1970s, Weir was bell captain, supervising bellhops and working the front desk until the University bought the hotel in 1974 and converted it into a residence hall.
Throughout his 50-plus years at the Shoreland, Weir said, his motto for dealing with people -- famous or not-so-famous -- has remained consistent.
"If you treat people with respect, no matter who they are, you'll find that most of them are very kind," Weir said.
"I've always gotten along well with everyone," he added. "That's what made 5454 [as the Shoreland was once known] such a great place to work -- everyone treated you like family. I enjoyed coming to work every day then, and I still do now."
Weir said that besides being asked about Elvis eating in the coffee shop, or about his own acquaintance with Hoffa, he gets the most questions about Al Capone. Weir said he never met Chicago's most famous gangster and can neither confirm nor deny that Capone once stayed in the Shoreland -- if he had, Weir added, it would have been well before Weir's time.
Weir is as much a part of the history and flavor of the Shoreland as the former kitchens that are now weight rooms or the section of the second-floor ballroom that has been converted into a computer lab. His dedicated service to the building and its residents was recognized in 1993 when a second-floor conference room was officially named the George Weir Meeting Room.
"It was a great surprise having the room named after me. I was totally surprised, and it really made me feel good," Weir said.
The Weir Meeting Room sits directly across from Weir's favorite spot in the Shoreland, the main ballroom. It was here that, as a young man, Weir was entranced by the glamour of the elaborate weddings, full orchestras and all-night parties that took place.
"They used to call this place 'The Wedding Hotel of the South Side,' and with good reason," Weir said. "Sometimes in the summer months there would be weddings in the morning, afternoon and evening on the same day."
Weir said that while he misses the friends he made during his time as a hotel employee, he enjoys the new friends he is always making among the students and present staff members. Weir, who has never married, said he considers the Shoreland his second home and the residents his family.
Weir has no immediate plans for retiring. His workdays still start around 8 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. He takes off Mondays and Tuesdays, but works every weekend. Weir said he still loves giving tours of the building. He knows the original use of every room in the Shoreland and events that took place there. He can tell you where the dumbwaiters were located, what was served in the hotel's bar, and even how the fountain outside the building worked. One of his favorite stories involves ghosts on the 13th floor.
"Years ago, when people traveled to Europe by boat, they'd carry their belongings in large storage trunks, called steamer trunks. We'd keep the trunks on the 13th floor while the people were staying here, and I was the only bellhop brave enough to go up there regularly. Everyone said there were ghosts up there, but to me it was part of the job. It kind of made it more fun," Weir said.
Weir won't say whether or not any ghosts were ever spotted, but he said he is still having fun at the Shoreland. He still has his old bell captain's uniform, and he is still greeting people and collecting memories.
-- Charles Whitt