A Red Ribbon Birthday







A venerable Chicago grand dame with royal Spanish roots turned 100 recently and friends at 229 East Lake Shore pinned a big red bow on her in celebration.

This was harder than one might think.


229 East Lake Shore Drive. Photo by Kay Whitfield.

The birthday girl was the building itself, whose lobby, featuring a ceiling of spectacular colored plaster was modeled on the Escorial Palace outside of Madrid and stands on what many feel is the most regal block in Chicago. Janet Diederichs, a 50-year resident of 229 East Lake Shore Drive, volunteered to engineer the effort and host the birthday party, along with residents Pam Hutul Ross and Dusty Stemer. The party, featuring classic canapés, 100-year-old music, and a quiz on what was happening in 1919 (the building’s birth year), drew both residents and neighbors alike.

But first as to that red birthday bow for all to see—

Diederichs, who in her own public relations and consulting firm had handled the visit to Chicago of Pope John Paul II and worked previously on a South American team with the international team headed by Mary Wells Lawrence and designer Emilio Pucci to re-brand Braniff Airlines, didn’t let ribbon logistics or the threat of rain that morning daunt her. Having appeared countless times as one of Chicago’s 100 most influential women, is a lifetime trustee of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a president of the Junior League of Chicago, a trustee of Fourth Presbyterian Church, and member of other national and local boards of directors, Diederichs is known to handle any challenge with a flair. She still retains a Michigan Avenue office.

“In PR you know you have to be ready for everything, whether it’s a new flight to Buenos Aires or a immediate local disaster. I first convinced Pam, who is a very wise professional, that this birthday celebration would give all of us something to brag about our building,” says Diederichs.


The invitation.

After approaching a major design firm in the city, who said it would cost $25,000 to do the bow, the 229 group decided instead to purchase 50 yards of red ribbon and begin the hunt for a readymade bow. They instantly thought of car sales, contacting the US Auto Supply Company and purchasing a big red bow from them for $100, which they stored in Diederichs’s kitchen until the big day.

“Although John Lupu, a young member of our building’s staff from Romania, saw the assignment as challenging, he was very happy to try it,” she explains. “It was at the second-story level, so we made sure there were ladder holders. He attached plugs between the blocks of our building then added hooks for the wires. We wanted the bow to be held open by wires and the sides of the ribbon wrap around the front.”

She adds: “That day, joggers, strollers, and cars stopped by to take photos. And magically, there was no rain.”

The architect John Fugard, Sr. designed the building in 1918 along with its lobby details. He had made several trips to Europe prior to World War I and spent a good deal of time studying the ornate El Escorial, constructed from 1563 to 1584. The 299 lobby is a detailed copy of one of the Palace’s anterooms. Even the ironwork covering the glass doors is a copy of the rejas that cover similar doors to the anteroom at El Escorial. The Art Institute’s architectural collection, the Chicago History Museum, and the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois all house details of Fugard’s plans.

We asked Diederichs to tell us about past building residents: “First residents’ names are lost in history. Residents of some fame whom I have known over my 50 years here include Avery Brundage, controversial president of the 1952-72 International Olympic Committee, married in 1973 German princess Reuss; Patrick O’Malley, chairman of Canteen Corp. and leading public figure during the first Daley years, including serving as president of Chicago Park district; Louis Sudler, Sr., partner of the time’s largest real estate firm and big donor and longtime chair of CSO. He was also its voice in a way, frequently called on to sing The Star Spangled Banner at official events. We could often hear him practicing in his 229 home. He lived just one floor above us—my late husband John K. Diederichs, Sunbeam executive, and me.”

The birthday celebration continued throughout the day, the sun shining brightly on the big red bow. That night, Janet picked up toy poodle Mica, chose the perfect look complete with flapper ribbon, and she and Hudul Ross greeted guests at Diederichs’s door.


Janet Diederichs.

“Pam had muttered a little when I asked her to co-chair, but we both agreed that cooperative buildings don’t automatically have an immediate cohesion and a birthday party was in order. I decided to host because I have been in the building longest and my apartment, although we took down a few walls, has the original footprint, which I thought neighbors would like to see.”

Guests were delighted to read the Rules of the Party, which Ross composed and all agreed to sign the pledge as they entered:

Superficial banter preferred

Take the Quiz about 1919

No Complaining

And No Politics.

Diederichs shared the 1919 quiz to be completed by guests—none of whom passed with flying colors. Here’s a sampling of a few of the questions on the quiz, with answers below. See how many you know, and no peeking:

1) In 1919, what musical phenomenon was emerging, with Chicago as its capital?

2) How many people lived in the US in 1919?

3) What were the top films and top celebrities?

4) Name ten new words that entered the American Lexicon?

5) What was happening in fashion 1919?

6) What were people eating? Did it differ from the prior generation’s preferences?

7) How did residents in 229 dispose of their garbage in 1919?


1) Jazz! Chicago was the second home of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton.

2) The population of the US was approximately 104,514,000.

3) The Miracle Man, Daddy Long Legs, Madame DuBarry, and The Roaring Road. Dorothy Gish, Pauline Frederick, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino—not to mention Harry Houdini.

4) Ad-lib, bagel, bimbo, delouse (hate to think why Janet writes), Mercurochrome, heavy lifting, offline, payphone, pokey (jail), radio, supercharge, supersonic, semi-trailer, penne (pasta), phooey, white collar.

5) Fashion turned from the modest, conservative look, where the whole body was covered for women, and men had suits with long coats and tall hats, to a more casual attire. Hemlines rose and the roaring ’20s got ushered into the financial world as well as the country’s moral and cultural bearing.

6) Many new foods became popular in the decade ending in 1919, including Hostess Cupcakes, the first snack cake, which debuted in May 1919; peppermint lifesavers; Oreos (invented in 1912); and lots of canned foods like shrimp, chicken pot pies, and beans, due to lack of consistent refrigeration.

7) Besides the tried and true collections outside our back doors, each apartment had a chute in the kitchen that ended in our own incinerators.


The 100-year old building. Photo by Kay Whitfield.

A very Happy Birthday wish from Classic Chicago to 229 East Lake Shore Drive!