Historic Zion Home
by William Schwager (article published in 1971)

The vacant Zion Hotel was first named Elijah Hospice. It is better known as the Zion Home for the generation living after 1912. This was the year Rev. Wilbur Glenn Voliva, the second leader of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, purchased the Zion Estate for a reported one million dollars from the Chicago Title & Trust Company. The sale included many existing buildings at the time such as the Zion Home, Administration Building, Zion Department Store, police and fire stations, city hall, the Tabernacle, College Building, printing and publishing, dairy, laundry, building, industry, handkerchief factory, feed store, meat market, a bakery and candy plant. All have long since gone except for the Zion Home and the bakery. For 20 years the church celebrated March 1 as a day of prayer and thanksgiving, when the interest and principal was paid on the big mortgage. Beautiful Structure - A Zion Home was built in record time in 1902 by Dr. John Alexander Dowie, the founder of the City of Zion and the first apostle of the original church, who was also known as the General Overseer. The well built and ornate wooden structure was designed as a hotel to house visitors to the church’s headquarters and also for those new converts to the church, whose homes were still under construction in the new City of God, planned as a delightful place in which to live, free from the vices of the world. The magnificent building offered 326 sleeping rooms. Two well appointed parlors graced the second and third floors on the southwest corners. Smaller sitting rooms were interspersed throughout the hospice with a reading room off the spacious lobby. A terrace on the roof served as a retreat in the evening from the hot days of July and August. Above the terrace was the tower which held the nine o’clock prayer bell. The tower was 60 feet high. After the near disastrous fire of 1926 the tower was condemned and the heavy bell removed. The golden dome was used for band concerts. A huge dining room and coffee shop served the guests and visitors. For several years the hotel offered American plan to its many friends enjoying the Zion Home. The porch and balconies ran the full length of the building. These served as reviewing stands for the parades observed by the church and its industries, upon the dusty and sometimes muddy Elijah Avenue (now Sheridan Road). In the center court of the building were beautifully landscaped gardens with benches for meditation and relaxation. Name Changed - For a few years after Dr. Dowie died in 1907 the Zion Hospice was taken over by outside interests who changed the name to the North Shore Inn. When my folks first came to Zion in the summer of 1905 we lived in one of the fourth floor “penthouses” located at each corner of the hotel. My dad was a waiter in the hotel’s restaurants which gave us free board and lodging. His salary of $10 per month and a few tips enabled sufficient money for clothing and donations to the church. We were very happy and content without radio, television, automobiles, coke or McDonald’s. It was the simple life — no hurry excepting to dress up and walk to church in sunshine, rain, sleet, snow or whatever. Weather No Barrier - During the heavy snows of January this year, many basketball games were postponed “because of snow.” This seems incredible that the American people have become so soft that several inches of snow can have such an adverse effect. The game is played in heated gymnasiums not on the outdoor courts. I cannot ever recall that the weather, be it the heat of the summer sun cooking the huge old wooden Tabernacle, or zero blasts with a 12 inch snow and a 30 mile an hour gale, ever stopped people in Zion from going to church in those early days. As to the cold, the building was neither insulated nor did it enjoy central heating. Well placed base burners (stoves) in the cavernous Tabernacle radiated whatever heat the 5000 parishioners failed to generate through their heavy winter clothing. There was no fear of water pipes bursting because all of the plumbing was outdoors next to the horse sheds. While dwelling on the genesis of Zion, it was in 1903 when my wife’s family arrived in Zion from Cincinnati. Josephine’s dad, Carlton Adolphus Martin, worked at the front desk in the Zion Hospice. Her brother Marshall was a bellhop. Jo, as her friends know her, does not remember this part of the Zion Hospice story because she was yet to be born a few years later on Ezra Avenue. Family Moves - When work ran out in the hotel my folks moved to Chicago to earn a modest living. The faith had a big following in Chicago at the Central Zion Church on Michigan Avenue and 16th Street. Every summer we returned to Zion in July for the Feast of Tabernacles — a 10 day marathon of almost continuos church services. We always stayed in the Zion Home. It was a real vacation which was only interrupted by trekking to the Temple Site to attend the “House of the Lord.” I became acquainted with the Taylors, Moots and Sweeneys who had residency in the Zion Home, so I was never without friends with whom to play. After returning to Zion in 1919 and graduating from the Zion Parochial Schools my father and mother returned to the Zion Home to live and to run the dining room — mother doing the cooking and dad up front where the action was, serving well cooked meals. The Curfew - Living in the Zion Home was fine except they observed an 11 pm curfew. The doors were locked for none to enter or leave. This created a hardship on a 20 year-old courting his girl. Attending choir practice, which never ended until 10 pm, and then walking your girl home to Ezra and 29th Street and then going into her house for a homemade cookie and then walking to the Zion Home, no one, but no one, could do this in an hour, even without the cookies. Anyway, I devised various ways of entering the behemoth of a building by unlatching certain windows and back doors. This worked fine until one real cold night when the watchman, Josh McIntosh, caught me.
He made me walk around to the front door and wait 30 minutes until he completed his clock punching tour. I was mad. He and I engaged in a pushing match which I have to admit he won with his 225 pounds versus my 135. I was reported to the church office for breaking curfew and attempting illegal entrance into the quiet sanctum of the hotel, reserved for the elect of God. Voliva Agrees - My trial was in the parlor of the General Overseer who lived in the third floor suite of the Zion Home facing south. I was my own defense attorney, Josh the prosecutor and Voliva the judge sitting at his desk in his bedroom slippers facing us. As young as I was in the Christian faith, I knew that I had certain inalienable rights according to the Bible. After all I had attended Sunday School all my life and took the required Bible courses in the Zion Preparatory College. I said that Jacob worked 14 years for Rachael and at no time could I recall that he was denied entrance to his tent by some curfew after visiting his lover. I further explained that if Wednesday night prayer meeting, choir practice, weekday concerts and Sunday evening services all ended by 9 pm I might have a better chance to be in by 11 o’clock. Josh sputtered in his rebuttal and Voliva smiled. Voliva then turned to Josh and said, “William does have a point, under the circumstance. Give him until 11:30 pm and do not keep him waiting outside if he should be later.”
I never had trouble again, even though many times it was later. My memories are most pleasant during my early days involving the Zion Hotel. Let’s hope the Park District can preserve this grand old building

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