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Virgin Hotels Chicago

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Virgin Hotels Chicago
20150217 Virgin Hotels Chicago Wabash entry.JPG
Virgin Hotels Chicago entrance
Former namesOld Dearborn Bank Building
Alternative names203 North Wabash Avenue
54 East Lake Street
General information
Location203 North Wabash, Chicago, Illinois
Coordinates41°53′10″N 87°37′34″W / 41.8861°N 87.6260°W / 41.8861; -87.6260Coordinates: 41°53′10″N 87°37′34″W / 41.8861°N 87.6260°W / 41.8861; -87.6260
OwnerVirgin Hotels
Design and construction
ArchitectRapp and Rapp
Renovating team
ArchitectBooth Hansen
DesignatedJune 4, 2003

The Virgin Hotels Chicago (formerly Old Dearborn Bank Building or 203 North Wabash Avenue) is a historic building in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois, that has been converted from use as an office building to use as a hotel run via a mobile app based business model. The 250-room hotel is the first of Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels brand boutique hotels geared toward the female business traveller.

Old Dearborn Bank Building[edit]

Old Dearborn Bank Building in 2007 and the adjacent The Loop portion of the Chicago 'L'

Situated at the intersection of East Lake Street and North Wabash Avenue,[1] the Old Dearborn Bank Building was constructed between 1926 and 1928 with ornate medieval and mythological terra-cotta decoration that was typical of movie palaces that were its contemporaries. The neoclassical architecture designed building is one of only two Rapp and Rapp buildings designed as an office building.[2][3] Soon after the Old Dearborn Bank opened in 1928, it was acquired and its parent company was liquidated in the United States' Great Depression.[4] The building, which is 27 stories high,[5] was designated a Chicago Landmark on June 4, 2003.[2] The 300-foot (91.4 m) light brown brick building with a steel structure includes 25 floors above ground and two below.[3]

The owners of the building defaulted on a $9 million loan from John Hancock Life Insurance resulting in the acquisition of the loan (and thus the property) for an undisclosed amount by Urban Street Properties LLC in April 2010. The building had been acquired by the previous owners for $9.5 million in 2001.[6]

Virgin Hotels Chicago[edit]

On October 24, 2011, Virgin Hotels, part of Virgin Group, purchased the building with the aim of opening it as their first hotel in 2013 with approximately 250 rooms.[7] The transaction was an all-cash deal that was valued at about $14 million.[1][8] The company hired The John Buck Company to renovate the building.[5][1] The lead architect for the renovation was Booth Hansen.[4] The co-designers for the interior renovation were Rockwell Group Europe and Virgin Hotels' in-house design team.[9] The purchase was part of Virgin Hotels' 2010 business plan to acquire distressed properties in North America cheaply during the property downturn.[10]

Commons Club main bar
Lobby main desk with check-in screens

The building opened for business as a hotel on January 15, 2015.[11] It is the first of what was planned to be twenty Virgin Hotels locations that operate under this business model.[12][deprecated source] The renovation took longer than planned due to the building's city landmark status, which required continuing coordination with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Original features that were retained include a 1920s oak cigar bar, brass elevator lobby doors and a tiled ceiling.[8] The final layout of 250 rooms includes 40 single-room suites and 2 penthouse suites.[8] 40 rooms are pet friendly.[13]

Under the auspices of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, the renovation included brick, window and steel frame replacement.[4] The focal point of the renovated building is the publicly accessible Commons Club on the second floor, with a contemporary-style bar, a full kitchen, a lounge area, curated books and local memorabilia. At the time of opening, four additional dining options were expected within three months.[8] The area was carved out of a former second-floor banking hall.[4]

A pet friendly room with its sculptural marking

The hotel has no check-in desk; it uses a smartphone check-in system in which you scan a QR code and retrieve your room key from a vending machine.[12] The visitors use a mobile app, named Lucy, that the company describes as a "personal comfort assistant".[14] According to Mary Forgione of The Los Angeles Times, the app can order more pillows, handle room service orders, and serve as a remote control for both the television and the hotel's music library.[13] The website also suggests that the app can control room temperature, interface with the chat board, provide local knowledge, and coordinate your messages with hotel staff.[14]

When asked about the operation, Virgin's Richard Branson said "There won’t be hidden charges, and you won’t get charged $10 for a chocolate bar you know you can buy at a store for $2."[15] Branson has stated that the brand is geared toward the female business traveler.[16] The rooms feature a patent-pending ergonomic bed and several female friendly features in the dressing room, shower and closets.[12]


Bloomberg Business's Jennifer Parker noted that the hotel was on the cutting edge of technology upon its opening, but questioned whether the hotel had any gender leanings. She found fault with the gym, toiletries, and delayed spa opening, but enjoyed the social ambiance, the normal retail prices of minibar items (rather than more standard hotel overpricing) and the top notch free Wi-Fi. She found many of the appealing elements of the designed to be dubiously marketed, but appealing nonetheless.[9]

Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Blair Kamin, praised the incorporation of various wildlife into the decor and numerous elements of the rehab resulting from the alliance of real estate developers and historic preservationists, but made it clear that Virgin Hotels Chicago is not the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago or Ritz-Carlton (Four Seasons). He describes this as a successful recycling of a second-tier historic building.[4]

Old Dearborn Bank Building 2007 Gallery[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Virgin Hotels Announces Purchase of Chicago Property" (Press release). Reuters. October 24, 2011. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Old Dearborn Bank Building". City of Chicago Dept. of Pl. and Devpmt., Landmarks Div. 2003. Archived from the original on May 9, 2007. Retrieved May 21, 2007.
  3. ^ a b "203 North Wabash". Emporis. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e Kamin, Blair (January 25, 2015). "Virgin Hotel Chicago a stylish restoration of former bank building". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Cancino, Alejandra and Blair Kamin (October 24, 2011). "Virgin hotels, developer Buck to turn old Rapp & Rapp office tower into hotel". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  6. ^ Gallun, Alby (April 7, 2010). "Small firm snaps up East Loop office building". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  7. ^ "Virgin Hotels buys Old Dearborn Bank Building in East Loop". Chicago Tribune. October 24, 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Briscoe, Tony (January 16, 2015). "Virgin Hotels opens its first hotel in Chicago's Loop". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Parker, Jennifer (February 17, 2015). "Exactly How 'Female Friendly' Is Chicago's Virgin Hotel, Richard Branson's New Project Aimed at Women?". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  10. ^ Karmin, Craig (April 20, 2014). "Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels Are Slow to Launch: Entrepreneur Plans a Third U.S. Hotel, but First Is Unfinished". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  11. ^ Galland, Zoe (January 15, 2015). "Here's what Virgin's 'female-friendly' Chicago hotel looks like". =Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Amey, Katie (January 20, 2015). "No check-in desk, a room key vending machine and free drinks at happy hour: Sir Richard Branson launches Virgin's first city hotel". Daily Mail. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  13. ^ a b Forgione, Mary (January 20, 2015). "Virgin Hotels opens in Chicago, with a helpful app named Lucy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Meet Lucy: Your Personal Comfort Assistant". Virgin Hotels. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  15. ^ Earle-Levine, Julie (January 13, 2015). "Richard Branson Enters the City Hotel Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  16. ^ Karmin, Craig (January 13, 2015). "Richard Branson Pitches Virgin Hotels as Female-Friendly: First Property to Open in Chicago; Safety Features, Well-Lit Vanities Court Women". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 20, 2015.

External links[edit]