A while back I found two small Christmas cards from the 11th Heaven Tea Room, run by Ella Roberts.
The name was evidently inspired by the tea room’s location on the 11th floor of the Browning Building, an oddly narrow building for its height, located in the Chicago Loop. The building, designed in “Moorish Gothic” style by architect Harry S. Wheelock, was constructed in 1899 and razed in 1990.
I have been able to find out almost nothing about the tea room or its owner, who had an unfortunately (for me) common name. In April of 1931 she ran three brief newspaper advertisements in the classified section saying, “Home cooked dinner, 50c; hours 10 to 4. Phone Dearborn 2673.”.
How long did she stay in business? Was her tea room a victim of the Depression? Was the 11th floor a curse, despite the building’s four elevators?
Regardless, I echo Ella’s messages: may the world treat you right, have a gorgeous appetite, and call again.
Thanks to Gary Allen, author, food blogger, and researcher extraordinaire, I now know more about the proprietor of Chicago’s 11th Heaven Tea Room.
Ella M. Roberts was a hard-working, seasoned businesswoman who had owned her own grocery store as far back as 1910. Her first husband had been a confectioner and it’s possible she had worked with him. By 1910 she was divorced; she remarried and in later censuses she was described as widowed. In 1920 she was still running the delicatessen, i.e., grocery. By 1930, at age 71, her occupation was listed as tea room proprietor, but no longer in the 1940 census. She lived to be 96.
Following on Gary’s research I learned that Ella’s three children were stage actors in the early century. In 1912 her daughter Maude Le Page created quite a stir and became a minor celebrity when she stood up in the balcony of a Chicago theater and loudly proclaimed that she would sell herself to a man for $1,000 so that she could escape working in a deli (!) and publish her poetry. She then enjoyed a whirl as a newspaper columnist writing on the hard life of working girls, explaining why they liked cheap thrills and frills, why they should be paid better, and why they were tempted to trade sex for money. In 1930 she lived with her mother and worked as a hand letterer for a card company. I have to wonder if she designed her mother’s Christmas cards.