Savoring The Legacy at 1878 on the Lake

By Anne Morrissy | All Photos courtesy of Lake Lawn Resort

The Geneva Lake area is known throughout the Midwest for its hotels and resorts, and Delavan’s award-winning Lake Lawn Resort has the distinction of being the area’s most historic. When Lake Lawn management decided to renovate and refurbish the popular lakefront fine- dining restaurant (formerly known as the Frontier Dining Room), they chose a new name that honors the resort’s storied history with a reference to the year of Lake Lawn’s founding: 1878 on the Lake.

The new signature dining destination is the result of a multimillion-dollar renovation that began
in 2022, which included the restoration of the dining room’s wooden beams and columns, as well as the original wood floors. Part of the resort’s goal with the renovation was to “bring the outdoors in while celebrating the original space.” This included reorganizing the layout of the dining room to make it more open and spacious, and modernizing the interior decor with a palette of blues, grays and creams to reflect the room’s spectacular views of Delavan Lake. The renovation also included new carpet, furniture, lighting and artwork, as well as a new sound system.

In addition to these updates, the dining room’s adjacent spaces have also been refreshed, including the 1878 Lounge, which features a rebuilt, art-deco bar with five built-in kinetic sand art tables by Sisyphus, along with a newly rebuilt fireplace. The Fireside Lounge, a historic gathering area for generations of families, has also been updated with new flooring, furniture, decor and lighting. Completing the renovation, the Delavan Room has also been updated, providing diners with lake views and a room suited for small parties and events.

These spaces have a fascinating history. The current dining room and its adjacent lounges date back to 1942,when three partners—Harold Zilisch, J. Reader and Russ Babcock — purchased the property from Delavan’s Borg Warner Corporation and added structures to the property to accommodate the increasing guest demand. Reader managed the dining room, and his wife, Ruby, played the organ for diners every night during dinner. In 1943, they hired a highly trained pastry chef named Henry Tsuru, a Japanese-American who, with his family, had been forcibly removed from their home on the West Coast and forced to live in an internment camp in Idaho due to wartime prejudices. The owners of Lake Lawn sponsored his employment and relocation, establishing a tradition of cross-cultural friendship.

Today, 1878 on the Lake Executive Chef John Billings brings a lifetime of experience to his role. On three separate occasions, Billings has cooked at the James Beard House, headquarters of the elite James Beard Foundation, which bestows the industry’s most respected awards for fine dining upon restaurants and chefs around the country. His menu for 1878 on the Lake features a consistently rotating selection, with a focus on delivering unique and elevated twists to culinary classics.

Following the extensive renovation, 1878 on the Lake is ready for its next chapter as a fine dining destination. “We spent a great deal of attention to every design element during this process to ensure an experience that will simultaneously bring out the best of our amazing location on the lakefront, as well as shine a spotlight on the creativity and skill of our Executive Chef John Billings,” says Dave Sekeres, general manager of Lake Lawn Resort. “We kept our guests and the Geneva Lakes community top-of-mind during each step of the planning process with a focus on creating a premier local dining spot that would be perfect for a special night out or a destination for family and friends.”

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