The 16-story building at 5901 N. Sheridan Road in Edgewater is officially known as Thorndale Beach Condominiums. But it’s known around the neighborhood, and to many of its occupants, as the Bob Newhart Building. In the opening credits of The Bob Newhart Show, mild-mannered, stammering psychologist Robert Hartley ends his journey by foot and by L through Chicago by standing outside the building, staring up at the condo he shares with his wife, Emily.

It’s an edifice that plays an important role not just in the history of Edgewater, but in our television heritage. The Bob Newhart Show was part of a wave of urban sitcoms that debuted in the 1970s, and it helped popularize the concept of high-rise living, says John Holden, president of the Edgewater Historical Society.

“It was the most exposure Edgewater ever got on national TV,” Holden says. “Bob Newhart was a graduate of Loyola, so I’m sure it was his way of tipping his hat to the neighborhood he lived in. The Hartleys were the early role model of a double-income, no-kids couple. It was fashionable to live in a high rise. Their condo looked sophisticated.”

(The Hartleys’ wacky neighbor, divorced airline navigator Howard Borden, was played by Lane Tech graduate Bill Daily.)

Two years ago, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show’s debut, the society erected a historical sign on a post beneath a “No Parking Tow Zone” sign next to Emanuel Congregation synagogue. The lake winds blew it down two months ago, and it now occupies a wall in the condo of Bridget McBride, who lives in the Bob Newhart Building and has become its ultimate apostle for preserving Bob’s memory. 

(McBride’s condo is much brighter and airier than the Hartleys’ dark, sunken unit, and its balcony has a fabulous view of Thorndale Beach and the Chicago skyline. The producers never looked inside the Thorndale Beach Condominiums before building a set on a Hollywood soundstage.)

“Why isn’t a building like this preserved for the kitsch of it all?” asks McBride, who works in public relations and marketing. “It’s a piece of Chicago history. It’s nostalgic. It was like a latter-day The Bear. Sometimes, they would show montages of Chicago. It’s going to fade away if it’s not preserved. A lot of the young people know him [as Professor Proton] on The Big Bang Theory. He has an afterlife. Every decade he’s reinvented himself. I don’t know any artist that’s been that relevant.” 

Edgewater Historical Society president John Holden holding a honorary Bob New Hart street sign in 2022. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

First, she wants a new, sturdier sign in a more prominent location — before Bob’s 95th birthday this September and before his death, which may be “imminent,” since his wife passed away last year. Second, she wants the park next to the building to be named after Bob. It’s currently named for George A. Lane, a forgotten political hack who was chief counsel to the Metropolitan Sanitary District and Democratic committeeman for the 49th Ward during the 1950s and 1960s.

“I don’t even know who George Lane is,” McBride complains. “Did he make as much impact as Bob? He was a local guy, but Bob’s an international icon, in some circles. It’s good for the neighborhood, it’s good for pop culture, and it’s good for business.”

McBride and Holden also want the Bob Newhart statue relocated outside the Bob Newhart Building. Depicting Bob seated in his psychologist’s chair, it was placed outside his Michigan Avenue office building when it was dedicated in 2004 (with Bob in attendance), but has since been relegated to a remote corner of Navy Pier.

“We were trying to get the statue relocated to the beach,” Holden says. “We connected with the people at Navy Pier and they said, ‘We like the statue.’ There’s a little more synergy in having it where he lived in the TV series.”

As for a Bob Newhart Park, Holden says getting parks renamed in Chicago is next to impossible. “I think it would make more sense if it were named for Bob, but you can’t always get what you want.”

Losing the red tape battle with the city, McBride wants to do what she can to turn her building into a Bob shrine. She’d like to hold a Bob Fest at Lane Beach, showing Bob Newhart re-runs on an inflatable screen, and inviting attendees to play the “Hi, Bob” drinking game, taking a shot whenever a character greets Newhart. There’s an empty first floor unit in the building that could be converted into Bob and Emily’s condo, and rented out to Bob’s fans.

“If you could stay at Graceland, wouldn’t you?” McBride asks. “Well, maybe that’s a stretch.”

It’s a stretch everywhere but Edgewater, where they’re trying to treat Bob Newhart as Elvis, in a city that doesn’t quite see him that way.