Congress Plaza Hotel

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Congress Plaza Hotel, October 2012
A historic view of the Congress Plaza Hotel (left) and Auditorium Building

The Congress Plaza Hotel is located across South Michigan Avenue from Grant Park in Chicago at 520 South Michigan Avenue. After opening for business in 1893, for the World's Columbian Exposition,[1] the hotel underwent two major expansions and renovations; it now features 871 guest rooms and suites. Its 11 story edifice was originally designed by architect Clinton J. Warren as an annex to the Auditorium Theater across the street. The two buildings were linked by an underground, marble-lined passage called Peacock Alley. In 1902 and then in 1907, the firm of Holabird & Roche oversaw the design and construction of two additions, bringing the total complex up to 1 million square feet.[2]

In 1940, Louis Grell (1887-1960), a Chicago based artist, was commissioned to paint thirteen murals for the lunettes that are an architectural feature surrounding the grand lobby. The murals were various popular scenes around Chicago at the time. Under the Albert Pick Jr ownership in 1952, Grell was again commissioned to paint the same architectural lunettes, this time Grell incorporated Chicago figures into the scenes depicting important trades significant to Chicago's growth and symbolism. Lady Liberty was found in one mural holding the Chicago River "Y" on her lap. Additionally, in 1955 Pick commissioned Grell once again, during one of the many renovations, to paint three walls for the newly decorated Pompeian Room which also had a magnificent Louis Comfort Tiffany glass fountain in the center of the vast room. Today glass covers the thirteen lunettes where the murals could be hiding. Grell also painted a large white Peacock that was mounted above the bar next to Peacock Alley. Each wall had a main central Greek/Roman mural, however, Grell decorated the entire wall with various patterns of flora and custom design.[3][4][5]

Taos Society of Artists painter, E. Martin Hennings painted the ceiling murals inside the Florentine Room around 1918.[6]

The hotel is not affiliated with any national chain. It is owned by a Syrian national, Albert Nasser Shayo, who purchased the property in 1987.[1][7]

On 15 June 2003, about 130 members of UNITE HERE Local 1 went on strike to protest a proposed seven percent wage cut.[8] On 16 June 2007, Barack Obama, then running for the presidency, briefly stood by the picket line and promised to return as president, but he did not.[9] The strike, one of the world's longest, ended May 30, 2013 after nearly 10 years.[10] No concessions were given by management.[10]


  1. ^ a b Kevin Robinson (2007-07-31). "Congress Strikes Back". Chicagoist. Retrieved 2011-09-04. 
  2. ^ "Can a deal put the Congress hotel back in session again?". WBEZ. 2012-12-20. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  3. ^ Grell, Louis (2012) [1948]. "Louis Grell artist file". Marquis Who's Who in AMerican on Demand. 
  4. ^ Pick, Albert (May 1948). "Meet Mr. Grell". Pick Topicks 6 (10): 6,7. 
  5. ^ Pick, Albert (September–October 1952). "Mural Masterpieces". Pick Topicks. Congress Hotel Special Edition 10 (9,10): 6, 7, 8. 
  6. ^ Hennings, E. Martin (24 August 1984). "E. Martin Hennings papers". Archives of American Art. 
  7. ^ "Long Strike at Chicago Hotel Pits Jew Against Jew –". Retrieved 2011-09-04. 
  8. ^ "Strike hits 3,000 days, not giving up the fight". Daily Kos. 2011-01-09. Retrieved 2011-09-04. 
  9. ^ Shaw, Randy (2007-06-16). "San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily News » Will Obama Fulfill Pledge and Walk Congress Hotel Picket Line?". BeyondChron. Retrieved 2011-09-04. 
  10. ^ a b Samantha Bomkamp (2013-05-30). "10-year strike at Congress Plaza Hotel is over". Chicago Tribune. 

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Coordinates: 41°52′31″N 87°37′28″W / 41.8754°N 87.6245°W / 41.8754; -87.6245