Chicago's strong architectural legacy lives on not only in our minds and in history books, but also in the dozens of historic buildings all around the city whose age and pedigree make them too important to get rid of, but too outdated to still serve their original purpose. Buildings meant to be offices a century ago no longer meet the needs of office tenants today, so in order to avoid money-wasting vacancy or tragic dilapidation, these buildings need to find new uses. Fortunately, the rebounding economy is seeing a lot of interest in rescuing these historic buildings by changing their use from offices to something new.
Office tenants might not be interested in these old buildings, but the hotel and apartment markets are so hot that developers are willing to spend lots of money restoring these landmarks while converting them to suit the newer markets. By converting these buildings from offices to new uses, they're saving a piece of history by breathing new life into buildings we aren't ready to give up yet. Let's look at some of our favorite rescues happening right now.
[photos by Nicholas James]
London Guarantee Building
The London Guarantee Building at 360 N Michigan stands stalwart at the site of old Fort Dearborn, overlooking the eastern bend of the river and the mouth of Magnificent Mile. Built in 1923, the Chicago Landmark building had been offices for 90 years before the owner sold to a hotel developer who's in the middle of converting it into a 450 room boutique hotel with two floors of retail. The empty lot next door is even being used to build a glass extension to the hotel.
[photos by Harry Carmichael]
The Old Dearborn Bank Building/Virgin Hotel
Around the corner from the London Guarantee Building is the Old Dearborn Bank Building, built just after it in 1928. This landmarked Art Deco tower was chosen to be the first hotel developed by Richard Branson's Virgin Group. After a number of delays, the 250 room hotel is now set to open this December, possibly still the first of the several new hotel conversions going on within a few-block radius.
[Chicago Motor Club Building, Kevin Dickert/flickr]
Chicago Motor Club Building/Hampton Inn
Barely a block from both of the previous buildings, the Chicago Motor Club Building is another Art Deco tower built in 1928 that's been vacant and in foreclosure until being bought at auction by a developer who's convinced Hampton Inn to turn the space, a structural monument to the midwest's car culture, into a flagship location for the motorist-friendly hotel chain. The building's expansive lobby and its intricate Art Deco trimmings have made it a favorite of architecture buffs, who will no doubt relish the chance to see it restored and reopened soon. Once completed, the new hotel will add 191 rooms to the downtown hotel boom.
[photos by Nicholas James]
Chicago Athletic Association
On South Michigan Avenue just across from Grant Park and the Art Institute, the 1893 Venetian-Gothic building that once headquartered the Chicago Athletic Association isn't as tall as its neighbors, but its terra cotta facade is one of the most stunning elements of Michigan Avenue's famous street wall facing Grant Park. Its new owner is carefully restoring this beauty as it's converted for use as a 240 room boutique hotel, as well as the second Chicago location for New York's famed Shake Shack burger joint.
[photos by Harry Carmichael]
Roanoke Building/Marriott Residence Inn
Built and expanded upward in three separate projects, the Roanoke Building on South LaSalle is part of the "Financial Row" of banking and investment-centered office towers terminating at the Board of Trade. The 1915 building has been added to both the Chicago Landmarks list and the National Record of Historic Places. Early this year, a local developer announced a $68 million project to renovate the building and convert it into a Marriott Residence Inn.
New York Life Insurance Building
The landmark New York Life Building at 39 S. LaSalle St. in the heart of the financial district has been scooped up by Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, who who will convert the building into a 281 room hotel. The building will require a $106 million renovation for its new life as a hotel, but once completed, it will join Kimpton's stable of other historic buildings that have been turned into hotels which include the Hotel Burnham, Hotel Allegro, Hotel Monaco and Hotel Palomar.
[photo by AJ LaTrace]
Northwest Tower aka Coyote Building
Standing at the west corner of the Damen, North and Milwaukee intersection, the old Northwest Tower has sat in disrepair for years but is currently being transformed into a 120 room hotel by Mexican hotelier Grupo Habita. Built in the late '20s, the art deco tower was one of the first to be built outside of the downtown area.
[screenshot of Google Streetview]
Borden's Dairy Depot
Perhaps not as exciting as some of the downtown art deco tower conversions, the old Borden's Dairy depot at 312 W. Chestnut is currently being converted into a 46 room hotel. Local outfit Urban Holiday, who currently owns a hostel in the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood, is the company transforming the derelict structure into a boutique hotel spot.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons; photo via Infinite Chicago
Three Loop Office Towers Becoming Apartments
The south end of the Loop is home to more college campuses than it would be advisable to count, which creates an interesting housing situation where tens of thousands of college students need to live in an area where only few can afford to. To cater to that underserved market, two large projects are underway to convert older office buildings into lower-cost student housing. In exchange for being at the heart of a major metropolis at a student-friendly price, the apartments will most likely be on the smaller side with some shared facilities. The Old Colony Building right next to the Harold Washington Library at Dearborn and Van Buren is one such project, as is the Infinite Chicago project at Jackson and Wabash, just across from University Center. In addition to the student-specific housing conversions, the Oriental Theater's office building next door is currently being converted into a 230-unit apartment tower.
— Aaron Dunlap & AJ LaTrace