“Best of Home, Hotel,” Evanston Review, October 13, 1927. Credit: Evanston Review

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of the history of the Margarita Club. Part 1 is here.

The opening of the new Margarita Club, 1927

Construction of the new clubhouse was completed in the fall of 1927. Before the club officially opened, the public was invited to a reception at the new building.[49] “Scores” of visitors turned out to tour the new facility. Remarking on what awaited residents of the new club, an Evanston Review reporter wrote, “the freshness of color and the cleanliness which gratify them and the opportunities for their good living and their entertainment were all inspected and approved.”

The new Margarita Club was fitted out with an elevator, telephone booths and two roof gardens with “canopy deck chairs.” The roof gardens were described as “informal lounging” spots “where exercising may be done, wet heads dried and feminine comfort and laziness administered to.”[50]

The interior of the Margarita Club is seen c. 1928. Credit: Evanston History Center

Numerous shared spaces were found within the interior of the club: there was a sun parlor, a writing room, a library (the “silent room” of the house, with “deep window seats with gorgeous crimson velvet cushions”) and a living room whose walls and woodwork were painted “a luscious soft pistachio green.”[51]

Residents’ rooms (most housed two people) were furnished with “single beds of steel, walnut dressers with large mirrors, generous drawer space” and “dainty writing tables.”[52] Bathrooms, located on each floor, were shared by residents.

Downstairs, on the basement level, was a large recreation room (with a stage), a dining room, a kitchen, a vegetable room and a “domestic science room,” along with rooms for trunk storage, sewing and “washing and ironing” (complete with “electrical washing and drying equipment”). Living quarters for the cook and “her helpers” were also located downstairs. It was noted that all “men helpers” at the club would be housed outside the clubhouse.[53]

After the fanfare of the public reception, the new clubhouse opened and residents settled in. According to U.S. census records, all residents were white women. Most were single and the majority were in their 20s and 30s. They hailed from states all over the country, including South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Louisiana and Texas.[54]

Yearbook photo of a young woman.
Margarita Club resident Gertrude Luer worked as a stenographer after graduating from Alton High School in Alton, Illinois, where she was captain of the basketball team and class vice president. Once in Evanston, she attended Northwestern University and worked as a secretary for the First Methodist Episcopal Church.[55] Credit: Alton High School yearbook, 1918

All club residents were employed and their occupations reflected the limited list of professions open to women at the time: secretary, receptionist, domestic worker, typist, sales and office clerk, dressmaker, beauty shop worker, stenographer, cook, nurse, telegraph and telephone operator, accountant, librarian and teacher.

Detail, 1920 U.S. census, occupations of Margarita Club residents. Records from the U.S. Census Bureau that list Margarita Club residents in 1920, 1930, 1940, and 1950 – the most recent census year available to researchers – provide a snapshot of women’s lives in Evanston and the U.S. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau
“Help Wanted – Female,” Evanston Review, Dec. 3, 1925. Women looking for employment were restricted by gender-specific job offerings. In 1968 such ads were ruled in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Credit: Evanston Review

The Margarita Club was not just a residence. It was a community center of sorts. Residents themselves had ample opportunity to socialize with each other and Evanston residents also frequently stopped by the clubhouse for various activities and events.

Over the years, the Margarita Club served as one of Evanston’s local polling places. Numerous organizations and groups hosted parties, lectures, dances, “mixers,” concerts and “smokers” in the club’s downstairs recreation rooms. Sewing groups met there. Bridge and bunco card parties took place there. Birthday parties, memorial services and weddings were held there. Musical performances and play readings were frequently staged at the club.

Organizations held meetings there, including the American Association of University Women, the Northwestern Sheil Club (the university’s Catholic student organization, founded in 1939), the Evanston Woman’s Regular Democratic Organization and the Catholic Daughters of America.

Food and nourishment became a central theme of the club. Residents were provided meals in the downstairs dining room and the public was invited to dine for Sunday dinner. Residents were also offered the use of a small second downstairs kitchen to come together to prepare their own Sunday dinners. Credit: Evanston History Center
Ad for Playmor Golf Machine
Advertisement, Evanston Review, Oct. 3, 1929. Recreation was a central component of the club. “Indoor golf,” it was announced in the spring of 1929, had been “made a new diversion for the girls at the Margarita Club,”[56] and soon the public was invited to “drop into the Club and look the game over.” Credit: Evanston History Center

By the 1930s, the club now referred to its residents as women instead of girls. Times were changing, indeed. In the face of rough economic times, the club reduced its rates. And some residents launched ventures to help themselves financially.

Black and White Ad for Margarita Club
Depression-era “rates drastically reduced,” Advertisement, Evanston Review, Oct. 20, 1932. Credit: Evanston Review

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Ellen Peterson came to Evanston to attend Northwestern University where she would earn a bachelor’s degree in speech. In the 1930s, Peterson offered “dramatic art classes for children” at the Margarita Club.

Evanston Review, Oct. 10, 1935. Credit: Evanston Review
Ellen Peterson, Northwestern University yearbook, 1931. Credit: Northwestern University

As the Margarita Club weathered the financial storms of the Great Depression, Peterson’s brand of entrepreneurship was reflected in the experiences and life stories of many club residents who represented the gains women were making in the world. In the 1930s, there were many residents who worked as clerks and secretaries, but increasingly residents held positions that signaled the beginning of a shift in women’s roles in the workforce.

Perhaps this shift was most notable in the biography of Margarita Club resident and employee Marzita Savord Haffner, who worked as club manager for several years.

Originally from Sandusky, Ohio, Haffner worked as a stenographer before volunteering with the American Red Cross during World War I. In 1918 she sailed for France. She lived in Paris and worked as a private secretary for the Red Cross commissioner of supplies.[57] Haffner traveled extensively throughout Europe during and after the war. She was present at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles – the treaty that officially ended the war on June 28, 1919. She returned home in March 1920 and launched a new career.

Sepia photo of a woman in a uniform.
Marzita Savord Haffner (1891-1969), onetime manager of the Margarita Club, photographed in Paris, 1919. After the war, Haffner was in demand as a manager, particularly for operations catering to women. She was hired to manage the Hotel Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, and then worked as business secretary of the Women’s City Club in Cleveland. In 1927, she was appointed manager (with a “staff entirely of women”) of the newly opened Devon Hall, a hotel for “professional women” in Cleveland. After working at the Margarita Club, she served as vice president of the National Executive Housekeepers’ Association, now known as the International Executive Housekeepers Association.[58] Credit: portraitofwar.com

Another Margarita Club resident, Pearl Urban (1898-1994) arrived in Evanston seeking employment in 1925. Born on a farm near Dallas City, Illinois, Urban attended Knox College in Galesburg, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She taught for several years before moving to Evanston. She was hired by a textbook publisher and eventually became director of professional services for the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corp., retiring in 1971. Urban lived at the Margarita Club from the early 1930s until at least the late 1940s. For a time, she served as chair of Evanston’s “Business and Professional Women’s Club.” Urban later lived at the Mather Home in Evanston.[59]

Many of the club’s residents who came to Evanston in the 1920s enjoyed long careers as teachers, librarians and school administrators in Evanston.

Born in Sillé-le-Guillaume, France, 25-year-old Reine Marguerite Cazes arrived in Evanston in 1928 and moved into the Margarita Club. She had been hired to teach French at the Roycemore School.[60]

Margarita Club resident Reine Marguerite Cazes (Grundler) (1903-1942) remained on the faculty of the Roycemore School until 1940. Credit: Roycemore School yearbook

After earning a degree in library science from the University of Illinois in 1917, Wintress Brennan (1888-1967) worked as a librarian for several local libraries in the Midwest. In 1930, she moved into the Margarita Club after securing a position at Northwestern University’s Deering Library. Brennan worked at Deering Library for nearly two decades.[62]  

Katherine Block (1901-1969) came to Evanston in 1928 and moved into the Margarita Club. She was hired by the Evanston school district and worked for 40 years as a librarian at Oakton School.[63] 

Mable Orr, who also moved into the Margarita Club in 1928, was hired as a science teacher at Evanston Township High School. She later attended night school, studying for her college degree. It took her 12 years, but she finally earned her bachelor’s degree in 1942. [64]   

Ruth E. Dasher (1895-1992) lived at the Margarita Club for nearly three decades. Born in Ohio, Dasher graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago. She moved to Evanston c. 1928. She worked as a teacher at Foster School for several years. In 1941 she was appointed principal of Foster School, a position she held for 15 years before retiring in 1955; at the time, she still resided at the Margarita Club.[65]

Black and white photo of 8 women posing for camera.
Ruth E. Dasher, second from left, pictured with newly elected officers of the Evanston chapter of the Zonta Club. The club, established in 1919, was a professional women’s service club. (Evanston Review, June 3, 1954.) Credit: Evanston Review

In the 1920s, Della F. Thompson (b. 1887) moved with her mother from Iowa to Evanston. They first lived in rented rooms at 1000 Crain St. Thompson, who was employed as a Spanish teacher at ETHS, lived at the Margarita Club from the 1930s well into the 1950s.[66]

ETHS foreign language teachers (ETHS yearbook, 1932). Della F. Thompson is pictured second from left. Thompson was one of many ETHS teachers who lived at the Margarita Club over the years.

As these women ventured from their hometowns to seek employment or take on new positions, they arrived in Evanston largely on their own. The Margarita Club served as more than a residence for them. It was a place where they could be surrounded and supported by other women with similar professional goals. It also served as a location from which they could advance their careers and develop their professional skills.

Margarita Club resident Wintress Brennan hosted her Deering Library colleagues at the club. The activities of club residents were frequently featured in local newspapers. (“Summer Northwestern,” Daily Northwestern, July 28, 1931.) Credit: Daily Northwestern

By the 1950s, many residents had lived in the Margarita Club for a decade or more. Some were widowed or divorced and they moved into the club after raising their families.

Esther Fox Bradford (1875-1959) lived in Chicago with her husband, Donald R. Bradford (1861-1935), before moving to Montana, where he served as the mayor of Helena. They returned to the Chicago area and after their divorce, Esther Bradford worked as manager of Northwestern University’s University Club. She moved into the Margarita Club sometime around 1930. She listed her profession as “artist.” Bradford lived at the club for roughly 20 years.

The women who settled at the Margarita Club were active contributors to the life and livelihood of the city; whether they were librarians, nurses, teachers or clerks, they were part of Evanston’s development. Many took part in professional organizations and clubs, civic programs and volunteer work. During World War II, for example, it was Margarita Club resident Esther Bradford, a volunteer for the Evanston Red Cross, who opened the doors of the Evanston Committee for Russian War Relief shop at 1022 Church St. every morning.[67]

Detail, 1950 U.S. census, Margarita Club residents. In 1920, the average age of a resident was 29. By 1950, many residents were in their 50s, 60s and 70s. (Note that while unmarried women listed in earlier census records were marked by an “s” for single, by 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau began using “nev” for “never been married.”) Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

Well into the late 1960s, the Margarita Club was marketed as a “residence for the full time business woman.”[68]

By the early 1970s, facing the challenges of an economic recession, the club struggled. The building reportedly had a “leaky roof, peeling paint, falling plaster and burned out lights.” Its days as a working women’s residence were over. In 1972, the club opened to male residents for the first time and soon, most of its residents came “via various social service agencies.”[69]

Citing “declining revenue and dwindling use,” the leaders of St. Mary Catholic Church put the building on the market in 1973. The price: $290,000. According to a real estate agent at the time, the building, with “some updating and redecorating” would be “best suited for a convalescent home.”[70]

For sale, the Margarita Club, c. 1973. Credit: Evanston History Center

A new chapter for the Margarita Club

In the summer of 1973, a “for sale” sign appeared in front of the building. Then it was gone. It reappeared and then, once again, it was taken down. Clearly selling the club was something church leaders struggled with, anticipating perhaps that the building would likely be razed by new owners.

Evanston resident Patricia Nichol Barnes frequently walked past 1566 Oak Ave., musing “on the life of this building with the ghosts of elegance still flitting about the French windows.” Barnes knew firsthand something about living in a community of women. She was a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, a private women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, founded in 1885.

Black and white photo of a young woman.
Co-owner of the Margarita Inn, Patricia Nichol Barnes (1928-2019), pictured at the time she was a student at Bryn Mawr College, Miami News Sun, Dec. 8, 1946. Barnes’ mother was also a graduate of Bryn Mawr College. Credit: Miami News Sun

Barnes had raised a family and then returned to school to earn a master’s in English from Northwestern University. Confronted by “the male-dominated world of academia,” she was looking to establish herself in a new career, “determined to become financially independent while being her own boss.”[71]

When the “for sale” sign appeared for a third time, Barnes called a real estate agent. The sign seemed to be both literal and symbolic, pointing her toward a new career.

“It seemed morally wrong not to do something about this beautiful building, to allow it to deteriorate in this age of plastic,” Barnes later said. “It seemed criminal to destroy it simply because it had outlived its use. The answer I thought was to be really creative and to find a new use for it. Perhaps that would mean renovating people’s needs as well as the building itself.” [72]

Barnes and her husband, Richard Storrs Barnes, a well-known Chicago bookdealer, bought the building in 1974.

“In an age when high-rise buildings are springing up from the graves of familiar landmarks,” said one of the real estate agents who brokered the sale, “it is encouraging to traditionalists to see that the same fate has not befallen the old Margarita Club.”[73]

The Barneses took time to “live with the building” and “feel the spirit of the Margarita, to sense how she could come alive again and serve today’s world.”[74] After they completed a variety of repairs, including work on the wiring and plumbing systems, they applied for a special use permit to allow the building to be used as a rooming house.[75]

Thus was born the Margarita Inn. The Barneses advertised the inn as hosting “men and women who plan to live in Evanston for less than a year, and therefore do not want to rent an apartment for the normal year or two-year lease period.”[76] Northwestern University took advantage of the short-term stays, referring students to the Margarita Inn for vacation boarding in the mid-1970s.[77]

Advertisement, Evanston Review, Aug. 22, 1974. The inn ran as a “European-Style” hotel, meaning meals were not included. By 1977, rooms were rented on a weekly as well as monthly basis. By 1978, the inn advertised “interim housing” with monthly, weekly and nightly ($15-20 per night) rates available. [78] Credit: Evanston Review

In refurbishing the building in 1974, the Barneses installed a restaurant space and opened the Margarita Club Restaurant.

Black and white ad for Margarita Club restaurant
“Margarita Club Restaurant,” Evanston Review, Nov. 27, 1975. Over time, several restaurants would be housed in the space. In 1979, The Orangery, a New Orleans-style restaurant opened.[79] In the spring of 1981, chef Ben Moy (1923- 2016) opened The Bird.[80] (Moy later opened another restaurant called The Bird in Melrose Park.) In 1988, Va Pensiero restaurant opened, closing in 2010.[81] Credit: Evanston Review

Patricia Nichol Barnes actively managed the inn, hiring employees and keeping close tabs on the restaurant. And, for more than a decade, the Margarita Inn flourished.

Black and white ad for the sale of the Margarita Club.
For sale, Evanston Review, Dec. 11, 1986. After the sale of the Margarita Inn, Patricia Nichol Barnes moved to London where she lived part time and “became a noted collector of contemporary British ceramics.” [82] Some of her collection is now housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Credit: Evanston Review

When the Barneses put the building on the market in 1986, the price was a bit higher than it had been 12 years earlier. 

With an intention that the inn should “reflect the history of Evanston,” the new owners, Barbara and Tim Gorham, renovated and redecorated it and opened the Margarita European Inn, which they operated for many years.[83]

In 2008, the inn was purchased by Michael Pure.[84] At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inn and other Evanston hotels were used as temporary housing, with Connections for the Homeless, an Evanston nonprofit, running the Margarita Inn as a shelter.[85] As Evanston RoundTable readers know, the history of the Margarita Club/Inn/shelter continues to unfold.

Layers of History: Signs reading “Margarita Club” and the “The Margarita European Inn” at 1566 Oak Ave., February 2023. Credit: Jenny Thompson

A Final Note

When Ellen McNamara Reardon, a Margarita Club manager in the 1920s, passed away in 1942, her death certificate listed her occupation as “housework.”[86] The story of the Margarita Club and its evolution reveals the ways in which women who might have been confined and limited by gendered rules and attitudes, who might have been restricted and controlled as they ventured into the public sphere to work, to support their families or to earn degrees – came together in residences such as the Margarita Club to live, but also to protect and support each other. These women were indeed engaged in a kind of “housework,” but, as the history of the Margarita Club and the other women’s housing cooperatives show, they were also pushing the boundaries of just what that kind of work meant.

Call for questions

Do you have a question related to Evanston history? Curious about a person, place or thing? The Evanston Dimensions column in the Evanston Roundtable has tackled ghost signs, department stores, beaches, double houses, hotels and more. What would you like to know? Ask away by emailing us at: jthompson@evanstonhistorycenter.org. We’d love to tackle your questions and dig into the vast collections at the Evanston History Center to provide some answers!

The Evanston History Center is located in the National Historic Landmark Charles Gates Dawes House at 225 Greenwood St. For more information, visit the center’s website.

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Biss, homeless group leader sign Margarita Inn agreement

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[49] “Public is Invited to Visit Margarita Home This Weekend,” Evanston Review, October 6, 1927.

[50] “Comfort, Pleasure of Girls are Assured in New Margarita Club, Evanston Review, August 11, 1927.

[51] “Comfort, Pleasure of Girls are Assured in New Margarita Club, Evanston Review, August 11, 1927.

[52] “Best of Home, Hotel Features Combined in New Margarita Club,” Evanston Review, October 13, 1927.

[53] “Comfort, Pleasure of Girls are Assured in New Margarita Club, Evanston Review, August 11, 1927.

[54] U.S. Census records, Evanston, Illinois, 1930.

[55] “First Methodist,” Evanston Review, September 15, 1927.

[56] “Margarita Club Girls Take Up Indoor Golf,” Evanston Review, April 18, 1929.

[57] “Miss Savord to Reach Home Soon,” Sandusky Star Journal, March 17, 1920.

[58] “Devon Hall and Miss Marzita Savord,” The Alarm Clock, February 1, 1927, 1; “Housekeepers’ Unit to Receive Charter,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 23, 1937.

[59] Obituary, Pearl Urban, Evanston Review, January 13, 1994.

[60] “Pick Class Officers,” Evanston Review, September 13, 1928; “Mrs. M. Grundler is Interred in Dwight Cemetery,” The Streator Times, October 16, 1942.

[61] “Pick Class Officers,” Evanston Review, September 13, 1928; “Mrs. M. Grundler is Interred in Dwight Cemetery,” The Streator Times, October 16, 1942.

[62] Obituary, Wintress Brennan, Evanston Review, September 21, 1967.

[63] Obituary, Katherine Block, Evanston Review, October 9, 1969.

[64] “Attends Night School for 12 Years; Now She’ll Receive Degree,” Chicago Tribune, May 30, 1942. 

[65] “Ruth Dasher, Foster School Principal for 14 years, to Retire,” Evanston Review, June 16, 1955.

[66] “Garden Fiesta Today to Raise Funds for Woman’s U. Club,” Evanston Review, June 28, 1928.

[67] “Seek Volunteers to Prepare Clothes for Russian Relief,” Evanston Review, July 13, 1944.

[68] Advertisement, Evanston Review, December 8, 1969. At this point, no records have been found that identify precisely when the Margarita Club became integrated. But the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made discriminatory practices in hotels illegal. 

[69] Candace Sullivan, “Margarita Discovers New Direction in Today’s World,” Evanston Review, March 1, 1977.

[70] “Margarita Club to be Sold,” Evanston Review, April 12, 1973.

[71] “Patricia Nichol Barnes,” Obituary, Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2020.

[72] Candace Sullivan, “Margarita Discovers New Direction in Today’s World,” Evanston Review, March 1, 1977.

[73] “Margarita Club Revamped, Ready,” Evanston Review, September 12, 1974.

[74] Candace Sullivan, “Margarita Discovers New Direction in Today’s World,” Evanston Review, March 1, 1977.

[75] “1566 Oak Avenue,” Evanston Review, March 28, 1974.

[76] “Margarita Club Revamped, Ready,” Evanston Review, September 12, 1974.

[77] Sara Dillery, “No New Plans for Summer Housing at NU,” Daily Northwestern, April 21, 1975.

[78] Advertisement, Evanston Review, February 9, 1978.

[79] Lorraine Bannon, “New Dining Spots Emerge in Evanston,” Evanston Review, April 26, 1979.

[80] Virginia Gerst, “Moy’s Creative Cuisine Tries Wings at The Bird,” Evanston Review, September 17, 1981.

[81] “Molto Bene!” Evanston Review, December 1, 1988. 

[82] “Patricia Nichol Barnes,” Obituary, Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2020.

[83] Marilyn Claessens, “Margarita Club Redone as Inn, Restaurant,” Evanston Review, April 13, 1989.

[84] Tom Benz, “Rooms With a Window on the Past, Evanston Roundtable, January 13, 2016.

[85] Joseph Ruzich, “Evanston Seeking Feedback on Hotel-Turned-Homeless Shelter,” Evanston Review, August 4, 2022.

[86] “Ellen Reardon,” Illinois, U.S., Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947, Ancestry.com.

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  1. Interesting series,

    As noted in the captions, the Margarita Inn restaurant space was occupied by at least two brilliant restaurants: Chinese restaurant Ben Moy’s The Bird, and then the Italian Va Pensiero. I think another Italian restaurant followed but by then there were a large number of alternatives. But Ben’s restaurant in its many incarnations was one of the most unique and memorable experiences ever for many of those who ate there.

    I also had a friend who stayed at the Margarita, I think in the late ‘80s, while at a conference at NU, and he said that the furniture in the room was identical to that in one of our college dorms a decade earlier. Needless to say, that was not a great recommendation.

  2. What a fascinating story, and so well researched. Thank you. My husband and I were frequent diners at Va Pensiero when it was housed in the Inn. After dinner we liked to poke around the common areas, which were nicely appointed but, it seemed, never occupied. I’m glad its use continues to evolve as the needs of the community evolve as well.