InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
|InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile|
InterContinental Chicago entrance
|Roof||471 ft (144 m)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Walter W. Ahlschlager|
InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile is a hotel in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The hotel currently occupies two multi-story buildings. The historic tower, or "South Tower," is a 471-foot (144 m), 42-story building which was completed in 1929 originally as the home of the Medinah Athletic Club. The new tower, or "North Tower" is a 295-foot (90 m), 28-story addition, completed in 1961.
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Medinah Athletic Club
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Before the stock market crash of 1929, the United States was experiencing a building boom. One of these projects was the future home of the Medinah Athletic Club in Chicago, commissioned by the Shriners Organization and designed by architect named Walter W. Ahlschlager. The Chicago Shriners Club purchased the property at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Illinois Street directly north of the Tribune Tower for $1,000,000, while $5,000,000 more was spent on building and equipping what was then to be the 34 story Medinah Athletic Club. The plan was for there to be 3500 members, all of whom had to be a Shriner; at the time of the announcement in 1925, 1000 Shriners had taken out founder memberships for the club. The ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the Medinah Athletic Club was held on November 5, 1928, and to commemorate the occasion, a copper time capsule was placed within the cornerstone. The capsule, which currently remains sealed within the hotel's limestone exterior, contains records of the organization, photographs of members, and a copy of the Chicago Tribune announcing the proposal of the building, as well as coins and other historic data. Construction of the building's 42 floors and 440 guest rooms was completed in 1929, and its facilities were made available for the exclusive use of the club’s members and guests.
The Medinah Athletic Club building was intended to combine elements of many architectural styles. At the eighth floor, its Indiana limestone facade was decorated by three large relief carvings in ancient Assyrian style. Each frieze depicted a different scene in the order of constructing a building, with Contribution on the south wall, Wisdom represented on the west wall and Consecration on the north. (According to an article in the Chicago Tribune from Sept 16, 1928 entitled “Building art inspires panels”:“The friezes were designed by George Unger, in collaboration with Walter Ahlschlager, and carved by Leon Hermant. The figures are costumed in the period of the building, which is that of an old fortress in Mesopotamia in Xerxes time, about 5th century BC. The theme of the panels as explained by Mr. Unger, was inspired by the history of construction of any building. The south panel starts the story. Here a magnificent cortege is displayed. This panel, termed Contribution, signifies the getting together of treasures for the construction of the building. In the west panel, facing Michigan Avenue, a ruler is shown with his counselors and an architect is shown bringing in a model of the building planned. The north panel shows the consecration of the building after it has been built. A priest is sacrificing a white bull whose blood will be mixed with crushed grapes and poured into the earth. A monkey trainer and his animals are shown. Since the animals represented bigotry in the ancient drawings, they are shown here in leash as symbolic belief that bigotry has no place in the Masonic order.”) The figures in all three scenes are said to be modeled after the faces of club members at the time of its design. Three Sumerian warriors were also carved into the facade at the twelfth-floor setback, directly above the Michigan Avenue entrance, and remain visible today.
Extending the Moorish imagery, the building is topped by a gold-painted dome. In the tower beneath the great dome, the club featured a miniature golf course on the twenty-third floor, complete with water hazards and a wandering brook; also a shooting range, billiards hall, running track, gymnasium, archery range, bowling alley, two-story boxing arena, and a junior Olympic size swimming pool - all this in addition to the ballrooms, meeting rooms, and 440 guest rooms which were available for the exclusive use of the club’s 3,500 members and their guests.
At the time, the pool was one of the highest indoor pools in the world, and its fourteenth-floor location was heralded as a grand feat of engineering. Today it is commonly referred to as the Johnny Weismuller pool, after the famous Olympic athlete and actor who trained in it. The rows of seats which remain on its western wall recall the days when swimming was a popular spectator sport. Its blue Spanish majolica tiles and terra-cotta fountain of Neptune on its east wall remain virtually unchanged today.
The elegant Grand Ballroom, a two-story, 100-foot (30 m) elliptical space, was decorated with ornaments in Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek styles and was surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped mezzanine. In its center hung a 12,000-pound Baccarat crystal chandelier, the largest in North America.
The somewhat more masculine King Arthur Court was built to function as the men’s smoking lounge, and featured heavy timbering, stained glass, and a mural depicting the stories of King Arthur and Parsifal. At this men's club, facilities for women were considerably less grand. They were allowed only in designated areas, and were provided a separate entrance and elevator to visit the Grand Ballroom for social gatherings or to access the Women’s Plunge, Lounge and Tea Room. Female guests also had access to an outdoor loggia overlooking Michigan Avenue, which was decorated with the intention of evoking a Venetian terrace.
Four years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 the Shrine Organization filed for bankruptcy protection. In the following year they lost control of the building, and in the decade after, the building went through various incarnations, including a brief stint as residential apartments. 
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In 1944 the building began its life as a hotel, debuting as the Continental Hotel and Town Club, where Esther Williams would swim in the then-famous pool. Subsequently it would operate under both the Sheraton and Radisson hotel chains. In 1961 the Sheraton expanded, adding a second tower just north of the existing building and bringing the northern boundary of the hotel all the way to Grand Avenue. During this era, the hotel featured an outlet of the popular Polynesian themed Kon Tiki Ports restaurant chain. A facade of lava rock adorned the northern wall along Grand Avenue, where today only a small section remains visible, tucked at the end of the balcony of Zest’s outdoor café. When the Radisson’s contract ended in 1983, the hotel’s name was changed back once again to the Continental. It would remain open for only three more years before finally closing its doors in anticipation of major remodeling and restoration.
Becoming the InterContinental
In 1988, InterContinental Hotels and Resorts purchased the property outright and completed the first phase of extensive renovations prior to its re-opening in 1990. During that time, a former Medinah Club member heard of the renovation and donated a 1930 anniversary yearbook entitled “The Scimitar,” filled with photographs which would serve as reference for much of the work.
Many of the inner walls above the eighth floor were restructured to expand the size of the guestrooms. Gutting and redesigning the size of these rooms would prove difficult because almost none of the original architectural drawings had been saved. Therefore, there are now 175 different room configurations in the historic tower.
In addition to the guestroom modifications, the balcony of the Grand Ballroom, which had long since been removed, was rebuilt to match its original design. The murals and gold leaf detailing on the room’s ceiling were restored by Lido Lippi, the same man who was consulted on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. On the ninth floor, which had at one time housed the shooting range and billiards hall, renovations included raising the floor two and a half feet to accommodate plumbing for additional guestrooms.
Photographs of the original carpeting were enlarged and used to recreate its exact pattern, with care taken not to incorporate more colors than were originally available from the manufacturer. In the Hall of Lions, workers at first utilized a process called cornhusk blasting to strip away the many layers of paint from the marble walls, because traditional sandblasting would have destroyed the intricate details of any etchings beneath. When, however, it was determined that a single marble column would require close to a ton of ground corn cobs, restorers decided to scrub away the paint by hand. The two carvings of lions which were discovered underneath have become an emblem used throughout the hotel.
The hotel reopened its doors to the public in March 1990. The north tower, which had opened the previous year as the Forum Hotel, now operated as a separate property, although the two shared back-of-the-house facilities. A decade later, a second phase of renovations would reunite the two hotels. A new entrance and a four-story lobby were built, combining elements of both architectural styles. Its grand staircase, which ascends to the banquet space above, is lined with banisters bearing intricate cast bronze ornamentation. An illuminated rotunda is capable of changing colors and creating the illusion of twinkling stars against a night sky.
Planned new tower
In April 2005, Strategic Hotels & Resorts, acquired 85% of the ownership of InterContinental Hotels Group's Chicago & Miami hotels. Several months later Strategic Hotel Capital, Inc. proposed a new 850ft, 55 story north tower. Designed by Lucien Lagrange Architects, the new tower would have been twice the height of the current 42-story south tower, and would have replaced the 28-story north tower built in 1961 by Sheraton. The new north tower would house new condominiums as well as an addition to the hotel. It was never built due to the 2008 economic crisis.
- Emporis. (Unknown Last Update). Hotel InterContinental. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=hotelintercontinental-chicago-il-usa
- Emporis. (Unknown Last Update). Hotel InterContinental Addition. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=hotelintercontinentaladdition-chicago-il-usa
- "InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, a Historic Hotels of America member". Historic Hotels of America. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
- Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1925
- Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1929
- “Arnstein & Lehr, The First 120 Years”, (Louis A. Lehr, Jr.)(Amazon), p. 22
- Corfman, T. (2005, November 01). InterContinental plans skyscraper. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from, http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-0511010196nov01,0,2421110.story?coll=chi-business-utl