After 42 years in the hotel biz, it’s check-out time for Scott Faulkner
His family owned the Edgewater, where many celebrities stayed.
When Scott Faulkner first started fulltime in the hotel business in 1978, his father, Augie Faulkner, who owned the Edgewater Hotel in Madison, made him the night auditor.
His various duties included bank deposits, and early on Faulkner was excited to handle a $10,000 check for an Edgewater wedding event.
How excited was he?
“I deposited the stub and threw the check in the trash,” Faulkner says.
He survived that miscue — “my dad called the father and explained about his night auditor” — and began a distinguished career that spanned decades and included being named 2002’s “Innkeeper of the Year” by the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association.
Faulkner has been thinking about these things lately because this week it’s coming to an end. He’s retiring: October 30 is Faulkner’s last day as manager of the Wisconsin Union Club Suites at the Memorial Union and Union South, the position he assumed in 2013 after selling the Edgewater to Hammes Co.
While Faulkner, 64, started fulltime with his dad in 1978, his immersion in the Edgewater and the hospitality business started much earlier.
The family lived in the Edgewater when Scott was born.
“Suite 507,” he says. “My sister Barb used the roof garden as her playroom.”
Augie and his wife, Audrey, soon moved the family to Maple Bluff. Augie had managed the Edgewater since its 1948 opening and owned the hotel since 1963. His son assisted when called upon. During a 1974 expansion Scott and his buddies helped move furniture into the new rooms.
That was the year Faulkner graduated from Madison East High School, where he’d captained the hockey team. Though he went to Ohio to attend Bowling Green State University, there was never any doubt he would return to Madison.
“I was always coming back to work with my dad,” he says.
Faulkner brought Lynne, whom he’d met as a freshman and is now his wife of 42 years, back with him.
By that time, the Edgewater was established as a favorite spot for locals — weddings or cocktails on the pier — travelers, and, especially it seemed, visiting celebrities.
Augie Faulkner had worked summers at Chicago’s Drake Hotel while studying hotel management at Michigan State. He patterned the Edgewater’s Rigadoon Room after the Cap Cod Room at the Drake. Even more inspired was borrowing the Ambassador East’s Pump Room concept of putting signed celebrity photos up on the wall.
At the Edgewater, the photos went up in the Cove Lounge: Bob Hope, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Betty Ford and 150 more. One of my favorites was Gentle Ben, the bear who starred in a 1960s TV series.
I once asked longtime Edgewater maître d’ David Martineau, who curated the photos, if the bear stayed in the hotel.
“His handlers did,” Martineau said. “But Gentle Ben swam in the lake.”
There were two newspaper writers on the Cove Lounge wall. One was the great Bill Stokes. Modesty prevents me from naming the other.
Scott Faulkner said the hotel made a concerted effort to protect the celebrity guests’ privacy, not always successfully.
“Johnny Cash’s manager told me, ‘Make sure nobody knows he’s here,’” Faulkner recalled. “Then they parked a big truck out front that said, ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ on the side.”
Bob Dylan strolled the grounds and rented a bike to check out Madison’s downtown. Shirley Manson, lead singer of the band Garbage, lived in the hotel for six months and once approached Faulkner behind the front desk and said, “You look like an old movie star.”
“I am,” Faulkner replied.
One night, Engelbert Humperdinck’s manager told Faulkner, “Engelbert has to play golf tomorrow.”
“I can take him to the best course in the city,” Faulkner replied. “But he has to play with me.”
They played a threesome at Maple Bluff Country Club — the singer, the comic opening his show, and Faulkner.
“Should I call you Mr. Humperdinck?” Scott asked.
“Call me Engel,” came the reply.
Madison Magazine hosted numerous “Best of Madison” parties at Faulkner’s Edgewater. Among the most memorable was the one in 1994 that Chris Farley attended — the night of the O.J. Simpson slow speed Bronco chase in California.
At the first magazine party held several years earlier, Faulkner recalls, “[Madison Magazine co-owner] Gail Selk [telling] me we’d have 2,000 people. I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ Well, the governor came, the mayor came, it was a huge success. The next morning, I had three beers left in inventory.”
Faulkner owned and operated the hotel after his father died following a heart attack in 1996. He fielded five to 10 offers a year to buy the Edgewater; none felt right until Hammes Co. approached him. Still, it was a complex and ultimately controversial deal, although — pre-pandemic — most agreed the redeveloped Edgewater was on the way to creating its own legacy.
Faulkner had originally thought he’d retire, but after sitting around for four months and getting a certain look from Lynne, he found his way to the Union, and a last act he has enjoyed. He tinkered successfully with rates and occupancy expectations — “I used Augie’s formula” — and brought the Edgewater’s head housekeeper with him.
He’ll walk away Friday with few regrets.
“I’ve always loved the hotel business,” Faulkner says. It’s nice that, for 42 years, it loved him back.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.