Determination and Strategy Revive Iconic Chicago Athletic Association as a Stylized Hotel with a Spirit of Play

Because the columns only supported gravity loads, the engineers devised a giant tube truss from the basement to the 13th floor that connects to the building tower. The tube truss transfers the horizontal wind loads down to the foundation while acting as a shaft for the new elevator accessing the rooftop addition.

Breathtaking views of Chicago’s Millennium Park and Lake Michigan from the rooftop inspired an outdoor terrace for this rooftop bar on the 13th floor.

Breathtaking views of Chicago’s Millennium Park and Lake Michigan from the rooftop inspired an outdoor terrace for this rooftop bar on the 13th floor.

The original columns were covered in intricately carved oak and mahogany paneling with marble, wood and plaster coverings. As the columns were stripped for reinforcement, Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture’s team ensured every section of the historic finishes was itemized and catalogued so they could be appropriately repositioned and refastened.

“We also wanted to tie the new addition into the neighborhood’s history,” Alessandro notes. “Our research unveiled that Grant Park across the street was once home to train sheds, so we styled the trusses after that structural steel and drew upon train station imagery for the addition’s glass roof.”

Re-work of Art

In the White City Ballroom, a drop-down ceiling added in the 1950s concealed an intricate plaster masterpiece. Crafted as a testament to the light bulb (a newfangled invention during the building’s original construction), plaster cones descended from the ceiling into stalactites with a light bulb at each tip. DC (direct current) electricity generated in the basement powered the light bulbs, and DC wires were embedded in the plaster. During the drop-down ceiling’s construction, all the plaster tips had been sawed off.

Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture wanted to reclaim the stalactite ceiling but needed to provide access to electrical wiring and fire sprinklers. They dismantled all the panels and walls and repaired the damaged material while plaster craftsmen casted new sections onsite. “Rather than
a monolith of plaster and wires, we put it back as a suspended ceiling,” Alessandro recalls. “Each cone is a separate piece laid into the grid. At the intersection of each grid is an access point to the wiring and sprinkler system, and the tips of the cones screw off so you can reach the light socket.”

The careful blend of renovated and new elements elevates the whole. “It was important to preserve the original use of each room while bringing out distinctively playful modern touches, as we did with the Game Room by bringing in foosball tables, a bocce court, and board-game tables to complement the rich mahogany walls and restored wooden inlay,” Hatton notes. “We’ve worked to infuse each space with an engaging, lively atmosphere that celebrates a spirit of play throughout the building.”

For Alessandro, one of the smallest findings held the biggest impact. Hidden in a corner area, the team found where the original mason had carved his name into the building’s brick. “That really made us stop and think. It demonstrated to us the pride the original craftsmen took in the work they did and how the work we were doing needed to respect and extend that tradition. We all felt that weight of history in every decision we made and wanted to continue that original sense of pride from era to era,” Alessandro remarks.“One-hundred years from now, someone will find our names hidden behind a panel and hopefully continue the tradition.”

A high ball served at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel.

A high ball served at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. PHOTO: Clayton Hauck

Retrofit Team

Owner Partnership: AJ Capital Partners, Chicago; Geolo Capital/Commune Hotels + Resorts, San Francisco; and Agman Partners, Chicago
Architect: Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, Chicago
Interior Design: Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, New York
M/E/P/F/P Engineer and Acoustical Consultant: KJWW Engineering Consultants, Chicago
Engineer: Forefront Structural Engineers Inc., Chicago
Exterior Restoration and Structural Facade Engineer: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., Chicago
General Contractor: Bulley & Andrews LLC, Chicago
Masonry Restoration: Bulley & Andrews Masonry Restoration LLC, Chicago
Historic Advisor: MacRostie Historic Advisors LLC

Materials

Metal Cladding: Kingspan USA
Custom Entrance Canopy: Louis Hoffmann Co.
Roofing: LiveRoof
Wood-frame Windows: Jensen Window Corp.
Metal-frame Windows: Graham Architectural Products Corp.
Glass: Opal Glass Studio
Skylights: Super Sky Products Enterprises LLC
Hardware: Saflok
Paints and Stains: Sherwin- Williams
Cabinetwork and Custom Woodwork: Glenn Rieder and Bernhard Woodwork Ltd.
Floor and Wall Tile: Bourbon Tile & Marble Inc.
Plaster Replication, Drywall Contractor: RG Construction Services Inc.
Furniture: Thomas Interior Systems, 555 International and Decca Hospitality
Lighting: Archistoric Products and Siena Design Inc., (212) 595-0996
Dimming System, Lighting Controls: Lutron
Custom Plumbing Fixtures: Symmons

Building by the Numbers

  • 235,300 gross square feet
  • 53,300 gross square feet of food and beverage
  • 241 keys
  • 545 decorative light bulbs (rewired from original DC current)
  • 18,000 square feet of restored ornamental plaster work
  • 26,500 square feet of restored Carrera marble and mosaic flooring
  • 32,000 square feet of restored historic wall paneling and bas relief
  • 82 rebuilt and restored colored art glass windows
  • 1,100 new windows

About the Author

KJ Fields
KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

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