Reliance Building, Hotel Burnham, Alise Chicago, Staypineapple
Life Span: 1890-Present
Location: SW corner of State and Washington Streets
Architect: John Root of the Burnham and Root (First Floor & Basement; Charles B. Atwood (Rest of Building); 12 stories added in 1894
Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1883
The history of the lot upon the southwest corner of State and Washington streets is remarkable in that Mr. W. E. Hale’s recent purchase is said to be the but the fourth transfer from the government, The building, which at the time of its erection in 1867 for the First National Bank Company, was conceded by press and public to be one of the finest, most substantial, and thoroughly fire-proof in the West, was built with brick walls two feet in thickness, faced with stone, and its fire-proof qualities, taking it through the great fire almost unharmed. Upon its purchase, Mr. Hale at once set about making the property valuable as a model building for wholesale and retail trade.
It is intended by the owner to add four stories to the building in the early future, and to support the additional weight the building was “screwed up,” the old columns taken out, and enlarged stone piers and iron columns and girders introduced, the entire fronts taken out and iron columns substituted. As an engineering feat, this is remarkable. Messrs. Hollingsworth & Coughlin, the oldest and it might be said the only firm in Chicago who have made a decided reputation in this class of work throughout the West, were the contractors for this part of the reconstruction. They have the reputation for being able to successfully raise and even move any building of any size in Chicago.
Two of Hale’s passenger elevators are used. Though the building is comparatively small elevator service has become so much of a necessity that elevators are now in almost all cases duplicated. The steam-heating of the building was reconstructed so as to be used with either high or low pressure by John Davis & Co. All the painting inside and outside as well as the calcimining, was done by S. S. Berry & Son, 260 Wabash avenue. The hardware used in the trimming of the building is of a superior grade. Yale locks are largely used and bronze nobs and butts. Messrs. Jones & Stebbins, hardware-dealers at 580 State street, are popular among builders because of the first-class order of the goods supplied as well as for their promptness in placing them—a work that is attested by the hardware trimmings of some of our best buildings.
These improvements have given to this noted fire relic and landmark a fitting restoration and made the building so perfectly adapted to trade purposes that it yields a large revenue for the space occupied.
Prominent among the tenants is the firm of Logue & Bard, who will occupy part of the third floor, carrying a line of jewelry and watches. Mr. J. H. Logue is a prominent dealer from Peru, Ind., and Mr. A. C. Bard has been identified with the trade in Cleveland.
Fred Blauer, manufacturer of gold and silver watch-cases, occupies large and conveniently-appointed apartments upon the third floor. In this centre for the watch-case manufacturers of Chicago all but one firm in Chicago are represented, and Mr. Blau is spoken of as a leading manufacturer in this line.
Spacious apartments have been fitted up for the practice of dentistry, and will be called the New York Dental Rooms The operating and mechanical departments will be kept wholly distinct and under the management of skilled practitioners.
Dr. T. C. Duncan will occupy offices upon the fourth floor. Dr. E. L. Smith will be associated with him, and also occupy these offices.
Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1889
One at State and Washington.
Off Dearborn street, there is one sixteen-story building planned, and there is a site so eminently fitted for another that one will undoubtedly be put there within a few years. The one planned will some day stand at the southwest corner of State and Washington and will be built by W. E. Hale when the leases of his present tenants have expired.
Inter Ocean, May 2, 1890
Mr. W. E Hale will improve his building at the southwest corner of State and Washington streets in a novel manner. Construction will begin May 1 of the lower portion of what may eventually be a fifteen-story building. The first floor and entresol, held by Gossage & Co. under lease for ten years, will be decorated handsomely. while foundations will be put in to sustain the numerous stores that will be added when other leases expire. Gossage & Co. will not be disturbed in possession during the period necessary to improvements.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1890
W. E. Hale has taken out the permit to put up his fifteen story and basement office building at Nos. 100 to 104 State street, southwest corner of Washington. The structure is to cost $185,000.
Inter Ocean, March 3, 1894
New Building on State Street.
A handsome and imposing structure is to be erected at the southwest corner of State and Washington streets which will materially add to the Architectural beauty of that thoroughfare. The new building will be fifty-five feet on State street and eighty-five on Washington street, and will be fourteen stories high. W. E. Hale is the owner of the building, and the plans for the new structure have been made by D. H. Burnham & Co., the well-known architects. In the spring of 1890 the foundations and first and second stories were put in and are now occupied by Carson, Pirie & Co. This work cost about $200,000 and was accomplished without disturbing the upoper stories of the present building. The plan now is to take down all of the building above the second floor and to erect thereon a handsome modern equipped office building, fourteen stories in height, without disturbing the tenants in the two lower stories or interfering with their business. The new building will be of steel construction after the style of the Great Northern Hotel and Masonic Temple and the exterior will be entirely of terra cotta and glass. There will be large double bay windows on Washington street extending to the roof. The design is beautiful and imposing, and the terra-cotta work will be ornamented to an elaborate degree. The interior finishing will be most artistic, the halls will be handsomely frescoed, the floors will be of mosaic, and the wainscoting of various colored marbles, highly polished. All of the interior woodwork will be of mahogany, and the entire building will be elaborately and tastefully decorated. Four large elevators will be placed in the building, and the several floors will be so arranged that they may be divided and finished to suit the requirement of the prospective tenants. The cost of the new building will be $300,000, making the cost of the entire structure a half million dollars. Work will be commenced about May 1, and the building will be finished and ready for occupancy by Jan. 1, 1895. When completed it will be one of the handsomest structures on State street and will naturally add to the value of the surrounding properties.
Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1890
LEASE OF STATE STREET PROPERTY.
Gossage & Co. Pay a Large Sam for a Small Space-Other Transactions.
The lease of the store at the southwest corner of State and Washington streets, by which it is to become a part of the Gossage establishment, adds another to the list of State street leases that have been made at astonishing prices within a few days. The corner is fifty-six feet on State street and eighty-five feet on Washington. W. E. Hale is the lessor. The lease is for ten years. The terms are not made public, but it is understood that they are 830,000 annual rental. The lease conveys the frst floor, basement, and entresol.
The structure is to be almost entirely rebuilt. The novel plan will be tried of rebuilding the lower stories while the upper ones are left untouched. The reason for this is that, while the present lease of the first floor expires May 1, leases of the upper floors have a longer time to run. The building will be reconstructed on most elaborate designs. The first floor will as far as possible be thrown into connection with the first floor of the present Gossage store. This change, in connection with other alterations recently arranged for, will make the floor space of the Gossage establishment one of the largest in the country.
The two stores fronting on Washington street and adjoining the present store on the west have been leased from Mr. Leiter, and will be remodeled and thrown into connection with the present store. This will give a frontage of 120 feet on State street, 205 feet on Washington street, with a portion of the Washington street frontage extending back 184 feet.
The price at which the corner was rented is probably the highest ever paid in Chicago for so small a space. At $30,000 a year the rental is only &6.82 per square foot.
This would make the property worth on a 5 per cent basis $600,000, or $10,714 a front foot, not counting the income from everything above the entresol, which will reach a large sum. The lessees admit that it is a price that no one could hope to pay from the profits of sales within the space leased, out what gives the added space its value is the increased value given to all the other floors by the addition of this corner. The work of reconstructing the corner corner building and the Leiter buildings will begin immediately after May 1.
The Inter Ocean, August 5, 1894
The Reliance Building, the new iron and terra cotta structure fourteen stories high in process of erection at the corner of State and Washington streets, has a good many novel features in its construction which to a degree are innovations and worthy of architectural attention. The public in Chicago is familiar with skyscraping edicices, and the public generally has gained knowledge of them by sight of and through descriptions of Chicago’s gigantic, towering buildings. But as much as is known about skyscrapers the Reliance Building is the first of its kind in Chicago and differs from all others.
The greatest novelty about it is the use of of the Gray column, an angle-iron, open, lattice column, the invention of J. H. Gray, a civil engineer of this city. The column is for the first time used in the Reliance Building, of which D. H. Birnham, of World’s Fair fame, is architect, and Mr. Shanklin, World’s Fair engineer, the engineer. August Ziesing, engineer and manager of the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works, which made the steel and iron used in the Masonic Temple, Monadock, Y.M.C.A. Building, and others, the highest in the city, claims these advantages for the Gray column.
- It is cheaper, lighter, and as strong as the Z-iron or steel column or the box column. The Z-iron and box column are set together end to end, plated together, or bolted through plates together, thus making a series of joints from bottom to top of a building, or a joint at every floor and ceiling through the building. The Gray column, on the other hand, is virtually a continuous column from foundation to roof, as the parts are plated or bolted together through plates on the sides of the columns. The effect is to make buildings less subject to vibrations using the Gray column than the others. You can judge of that yourself by going to the top of the Reliance Building, I will give you a permit.
Thanks, kindly, but no!
- For the first time, too the people can see at the Reliance Building the entire skeleton structure, so mething that is avoided when the other columns are used by putting in the brick at the top, bottom, or elsewhere, not alone to expedite the construction, but to stiffen and strengthen it. This is not necessary when the Gray column is used, unless the work of building needs to be rushed.
I might add that there is this additional novelty about the construction of the building. Three years ago the iron was put in the basement and first story, the tenants of the other five stories remaining in their quarters.tta Now thirteen stories are being added while the ground floor tenant continues undisturbed, something new in erecting buildings. The Gray column is advisably used in the building, necessitated indeed by the narrow base of the tall edifice, as it has an area of 56 feet by 85 feet only and great rigidity and strength is required in the frame work of the building, upon which the terra cotta is to be hung. And here, too, is another new feature. The terra cotta is to be glazed, the first of the kind ever used and obtained after the long experimenting to get a perfect glaze. The columns have the advantage also over the box and Z-iron columns. When the fire-proof material is put around the box and Z-colums they are closed or solid. The same is not true of the Gray column, as the angles are open, and through these openings electric wires, can be passed without danger of fires, and water and gas pipes be run without defacing the walls, ceilings or other parts of the building.
While not beginning a new era in the building of sky-scrapers, the novel features used in the Reliance Building are claimed to be great improvements in the method of erecting modern “Towers of Babel.”
Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1895
During the past year the old First National Bank Building, which was one of the two structures in the heart of of the city that remained standing after the Chicago fire, has given place to a glazed terra cotta tower. The circumstances under which this, the latest of Chicago’s great office buildings, was erected are indeed novel.
In 1890, Mr. William E. Hale decided to construct on the site of the old First National Bank a building fourteen stories high. The ground floor had been left free by the expiration of leases, but the three upper floors were occupied by tenants whose leases did not expire until May 1, 1894. Plans were prepared by the well-known architects, Messrs. Burnham & Root, and without disturbing in the least the tenants in the upper floors, the old foundations, basement, and first flor were removed and replaced by the substructure of the new building. This was accomplished by supporting the three upper stories on jack screws. Immediately after the completion of this work the first floor and basement were leased by Carson, Piries, Scott & Co. Thus, in the minimum time and with little loss of rent, the first half of the undertaking was successfully carried out.
In May, 1894, the leases of the three upper floors expired and Mr, Hale was at last free to complete the improvement. Here again was performed an engineering feat of an exceptional character. An agreement had previously been entered int with Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. that their business should not be interfered with during the completion of the building, and this was observed to the letter. The sidewalks were roofed over with heavy timbers at so great a height that the light was but slightky obstructed, while the crowds passing and repassing this busy corner were not in the least incommoded. A temporary roof was placed over the first story and in a very short time the upper floors had been removed. Then commenced the erection of the steel skeleton, which progressed with unprecedented rapidity. Incredible as it may appear, it is a fact that less than two days were required to run up the steel-work of each of the upper stories. The accompaniments photographs illustrate this. On July 16 the steel shell had risen to the seventh floor; twelve days later preparations were being made to put in the roof structure—200 feet above the sidewalk.
The designing and supervision of this work was entrusted to Mr. Edward C. Shankland, whose great roof trusses of the Manufactures’ Building were so much admired at the World’s Fair. It is no small compliment to the engineer and contractors that the tenants of the first floor carried on their extensive business, unmindful of the great work in progress above their heads.
In its location on one of the most prominent corners in Chicago, it was evident from the first that the building must be one of the finest construction throughout, The necessity of providing ample light in each office was pointed out to the architects by Mr. Hale, and this was fully recognized by them in making the design.
The exterior of the building is faced with enameled Terra Cotta, manufactured by the Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. of this city. This is the first work of such magnitude in this country as well as anywhere in the world. For a number of years Chicago has taken the lead in the construction of office buildings, wherein the steel skeleton was protected from fire by Terra Cotta fronts. It was long thought impossible to obtain the enameled material of such perfection and in such quantities, although for years it has been the desire of architects and owners to procure a surface easily cleaned as well as pleasing in color and perfectly fireproof, and a material imperishable and unaffected by the weather.
Partly on account of the failure of earlier enameled brick manufactured in this country there was an overwhelming prejudice against this kind of work, that only after the most conclusive evidence the Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. were permitted to make what was generally supposed to be an experiment on a large scale, and what proved to be a perfect success. There is no doubt but that this first example will find many imitators, and although it is doubtful if any other company will undertake a job of this kind the capacity of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. is such that they will be able to meet the requirements under all circumstances.
The interior of the building is in keeping with the exterior. The finest woods, marbles, and mosaics have been used on every floor. Carefully selected mahogany of superior quality and finish has been exclusively employed for the woodwork. The wainscotings and columns are of Italian marble, perfectly matched to produce veritable pictures in stone, and set by skilled workmen. The mosaic floors are beautiful in pattern and execution.
For the equipment of his own building Mr. Hale, appreciating the value of having as nearly perfect elevator service as possible, becuse the Hale Elevator already had a world-wide reputation for safety and perfection.
Having retired from the business himself and being familiar with the merits and defects of all the various elevators made, Mr. Hale adopted the Hale type , secured improvements, and gave his order and instructions to the Winslow Bros. Elevator Co., a reorganization of his former employés, who had been trained by him to appreciate the importance of builsing elevators in the best possible manner.
The four poassenger elevators located close to the main entrance should be seen in order to be appreciated. The hatchway inclosure and the cars are of beautiful design and have been executed in iron in the inimitable way peculiar to the Winslow Bros. Co, A striking feature is immediately noticed in the double door opening—one for entrance and the other for exit—both doors being operated simultaneously by a simple arrangement of levers, with compressed air. It is, however, by the construction of the safety devices that the attention of the practical investigator is particularly attracted. The cars are provided not only with a safety governor, through the action of which they would be brought to a perfect stop incase of of the breaking of the lifting cables, or of any part of the lifting mechanism, but also with a simple, very ingenius safety fritcion brake, through which the operator may, by the pressure of his foot, release the powerful grips and immediately bring his car to a stop. By this device accidents wil be obviated which have been frequently incident to the breaking or disarrangement of some part of the operating mechanism, or to the carelessness of passengers or operators.
Especially in the perfection of the elevator machinery the investigating engineer will find and appreciate the practical superiority of these improved Hale elevators, and it is on account of their general construction that the elevator service will prove a most attractive feature of this beautiful building.
The Hardware is furnished by Orr & Lockett Hardware Co. It is of special design, in genuine Bower-Barffed black iron, which was first intriduced by this company for use on builders’ hardware on the Rookery Office building in this city and the Midland Hotel of Kansas City. The hardware on the main entrance doors is of natural colored bronze metal to correspond with the front.
The Orr & Lockett Hardware Co. have a wonderful record for this class of work, having furnished nearly all the prominent hotels, office buildings, and railway depots, as well as the finest residences erected in Chicago since the great fire of 1871. They are now engaged upon the Hardware of the Temple of Music and the Mammoth Marquette.
The Reliance is fitted throughout with the best sanitary plumbing, and none but filtered water is used in the building. The toilet rooms and private baths are lined with white Italian marble.
The plumbing in this building was executed by the well-known firm of J. J. Wade & Son, 276 Dearborn-st., who have done most of the work in the large down town buildings during the past 5 years. It consists of the latest and most improved open sanitary plumbing, and cannot be excelled.
On the first floor there is located a telephone exchange connected with all offices. At this exchange one may ascertain in a moment if the party they desire to see is in, can leave a message, or converse with him—all without going above the street level.
Similar exchanges are also located on the ninth and fourteenth floors, connecting the consultation rooms with the general reception rooms, and also with the exchange on first floor. The above mentioned telephnes were supplied by the Harrison International Telephone Co.
Ventilation for all offices, halls, and closets is secured by means of alarge fan in the attic, operated by an electric motor.
The heating has been carefully installed to secure the most satisfactory results. All hammering in pipes, leaking of air valves, wetting of carpets, and escape of disagreeable odors have been avoided by using Paul exhaust system, by which a constant and free circulation is secured at all times. Electric light and power and gas are provided in every room.
The first floor of the Reliance Building is occupied by Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. The second floor is reserved for a large retail business. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth are divided into salesrooms for tailors, milliners, dressmakers, jewelers, and others. The seventh, eights, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth floors are devoted to the purposes of physicians, dentists, and others desiring suites of offices.
The ninth and fourteenth floors are fitted especially for physicians and surgeons who desire office accommodations during onkly a few hours of each day. All of the offices on these floors are completely furnished by the owner. On each floor is a large, general reception-room, managed by lady attendants. About this and connecting with it by telephone are grouped the private consultation rooms, each of which has its independent exit; it is thus unnecessary for patients to pass out through the reception-room. The offices are rented at very low monthly rates for as many hours per day as the physicians may desire. The rental includes use of room, furniture, light, heat, power, etc. The physician is subject to no expense for attendants nor anything else but the one charge for rent, which averages $10 per month for use of an office one hour daily. Physicians may thus at very small expense supplement their home practice and enjoy the advantages of an office in the very heart of the city.
These reception rooms are most luxuriously furnished, the services of Messrs. J. A, Colby & Sons of Wabash-av. having been requisitioned for this work. The tables, chairs, and lounges are of solid mahogany, and most unique pattern, constructed from special designs by Mr. L. F. Crosby, the above named firm’s superintendents and manager. The floors are covered with rich Wilton and Oriental rugs, which at once impart style and comfort to the rooms.
The building will be opened on strictly ethical principles, and no tenants will be admitted who are not entitled top position with the most particular classes. As the space is limited, and all appointments are of the best, it is believed there will be enough tenants of the best class to always keep it full.
Inter Ocean, August 14, 1904
The conclusion of two State street deals, one depending on the other, was announced on Thursday. The consideration involved is not given out, but is in each case in the shape of a bonus. Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. purchased the leasehold and stock of H. Selfridge & Co. at State and Madison streets, and Hillman’s purchased the fixtures and unexpired portion of the lease of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. Possession will be given to Hillman Jan. 1, 1905. Possession was taken at once by Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. of H. G. Selfridge & Co.’s store and stock, which was acquired by Mr. Selfridge eight Weeks age from Schlesinger & Mayer. Although the exact money consideration paid for the. Selfridge store is withheld; it is said that Mr. Selfridge retires with a bonus profit of several hundred thousand dollars.
When H. Selfridge bought the building, leasehold and stock from Schlesinger & Mayer, the purchase price was said to be $5,000,000. Later Otto Young bought the building and leasehold for for $1,486,000, and immediately the lease was renewed to H. G. Selfridge & Co. The ground is owned by Marshall Field, with whom Mr. Selfridge was associated for many years.
The present Hillman store at 112-116 State street adjoins the Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. premises. The land and building are owned by the estate of Levi Z. Leiter, and were leased by Mr. Hillman form Mr. Leiter in 1903 for a term of twenty-eight years. Subsequently Mr. Hillman re-leased the property to Carson,
Pirie, Scott & Co., who now convey to Mr. Hillman the unexpired portion
of the lease.
Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1948
Fifteen story Reliance building at the southwest corner of State and Washington sts., acquired yesterday by State Street Properties, Inc., thru purchase of building and leasehold for $400,000.
In October 1948, Karoll’s Men’s Shop opened a store on the lower two floors, with a modern façade that obliterated the original storefront, which is reflected in this 1963 photograph.
Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1999
It’s like seeing a great time-worn fresco—one thinks of the Sistine ceiling—brought back to its legendary splendor. Once-vivid colors emerge from decades of dust and grime. The bold outlines and sharply etched details of the artist are revealed anew. You see a brilliant, total work of art, not faded fragments.
That is the near-miracle wrought by the architects who have transformed the 104-year-old Reliance Building, the gossamer-gorgeous Chicago skyscraper that anticipated the taunt-skinned, steel-and-glass office builsings that now etch the world’s skylines. Their achievement is all the more astonishing because they have converted the renowned Reliance to an entirely new use without compromising the building’s brilliant original design.
Four years ago, when the big-windowed, white terra cotta exterior of the Reliance was returned to its ethereal glory, it was half a victory. Now, with the interior sparkling as a new, 122-room luxury hotel (renamed the Hotel Burnham in honor of architect Daniel Burnham, whose firm designed it), this triumph of preserving the past is complete.
From a dazzling elevator lobby to a dramatic internal staircase, the job has been executed with meticulous attention to detail. Never has the often-grubby business of recycling old buildings seemed so artful or so significant.
The Relianc boosts an already resurgent State Street and fuels the emerging trend of giving, Chicago’s aging skyscrapers new life as hotels or condominiums. And at a moment when a developer wants to erect the world’s tallest building in the Loop, the comparatively diminutive Reliance, at just 16 stories, offers a timely reminder about what endures in architecture; not what is biggest, but what is best.
Credit for the final leg of this six-year odyssey, which cost more than $30 million in public and private funds, goes to architect Joseph Antunovich of Antunovich Associates of Chicago and his restoration adviser; T. Gunny Harboe of McClier Corp. of Chicago.
But it would be remiss not to mention either the developers who backed the project, McCaffrey Interests, Mansur & Company and Granite Development, the hotel managers, the San Francisco-based Kimpton Group, and Mayor Richard M. Daley, without whom the restoration of the Reliance would have been impossible.
In 1994, a year after the city won control of the Reliance from a longtime owner who had allowed the building to go to seed, Daley had to endure jeers from the City Council before recalcitrant aldermen finally agreed to fund a $6.4 million restoration of the Reliance’s crumbling exterior. “This building is not worth a dime,” said John Steele, the 6th Ward alderman.
Now, though, it’s easy to appraise the Reliance’s true value: priceless.
No other building so dramatically encapsulates the engineering and aesthetic advances that made Chicago the birthplace of the skyscraper: the shift from load-bearing walls of masonry to curtain-like walls of glass supported by an internal metal cage; the invention of elevators and new foundation technology that gave the new cloudbusters firm footing in Chicago’s soft clay soil.
The early skyscrapers, finished in the 1880s, were clad in stone, a material associated with solidity; it was used to soothe pedestrians jittery about the structural stability of the nee kids on the block. But the Reliance, which was completed in 1895, eschewed the heavyweight cloak for a thin membrane of generously scaled windows and white terra cotta panels. The latter marked the first time glazed terra cotta had clad an office building.
Projecting window bays added to the Reliance’s sense of verticality while flooding its interior with daylight, a major improvement over the dim wattage of the primitive electrical fixtures then in use. That feature proved especially useful in the examining rooms of the doctirs and dentists who were among the building’s origina tenants.
Yet for all the Reliance was a precursor to the bare-boned boxes of Ludwig Mies Van Rohe, the skyscraper partook from history, as the 1995 renovation made clear.
Once all the grim was wiped off the terra cotta, you could see how the Reliance’s designers drew upon the soaring Gothic cathedrals of medieval France to dramatize the form of the tall building. Clusters of thin columns, or colonnettes, for example, made the building’s corner seem delicate rather than blocky.
But the fragile beauty did not last. Gradually the pristine white facade became encrusted with soot and blighted by klutzy signs and fire escapes. Panes of some windows were boarded up with plywood. By 1993, the building had just six tenants, including Ella’s Tea Leaf Studio on the seventh floor. Its street-level retailers included a shop selling peek-a-boo bras and other exotic lingerie.
One of the principal virtues of the restoration is that it reclaims the work of two great architects—Burnham’s partner, John Root, who shaped the very glassy brown-granite base of the Reliance before he died in 1891; and the man who replaced him as Burnham’s chief designer, Charles Atwood, who was responsible for the Reliance’s equally revolutionary upper floors. (He gets his due in the Hotel Burnham’s ground-floor eatery, the Atwood Cafe.)
To passersby on State Street, who have been eyeballing the Reliance’s restored terra cotta facade and cornice since 1995, the most noticeable change will be to the bottom of the building, where a temporary wall of glass and aluminum panels have been replaced by new brown granite walls that are overlaid with a delicate reproduction of Root’s original Gothic filigree.
The brown granite endows the base of the Reliance with an appropriate feeling of solidity without repeating the heavy, fortress-like appearance of such earlier Root buildings as the Rookery. Huge sheets of glass allow pedestrians to glimpse the tall-ceilinged Atwood Cafe while unifying the bottom of the building with the big windows of the Reliance’s upper floors. There are new, curvy drapes up there, but they do not disturb the building’s overall sense of transparency.
The hotel, whose official address is 1 W. Washington Dt., has entrances on both Washington and State, the former leading to a new and largely conventional hotel lobby, the latter pointing the way to a restored elevator lobby that is nothing short of extraordinary.
Here, the vistor encounters a small but soaring space that repeats in miniature the perfect proportions of the skyscraper. It has a glistening mosaic floor and exotic polished marbles—some red, some green, others black. The most striking of them, a white Italian stone with inky black and blue veins, is arranged in wall and ceiling panels that form near-perfect mirror images.
Despite the bold display of color, the lobby never goes over the top. And, like the exterior, it has an incredible sense of transparency, accentuated on one side by the Gothic metalwork of new elevator grilles and, on the other side by an enormous interior wall of glass. Together, they make the lobby the cafe and the street outside seem like one continuous space.
What marks the Hotel Burnham as truly unusual, however, is that when hotel guests venture upstairs they will get a sample of what the interior of a turn-of-the-century office building looked like. The hotel even allows architectural buffs to visit one of the rooms, provided they have an escort. Thus the Hotel Burnham is something of “a living skyscraper museum,” says Jim Peters, who helped oversee the project as director of Chicago’s landmarks commission.
People used to beige-carpeted, white-walled corridors in modern office buildings will encounter something very different here: terrazo tile floors, white marble wainscoting and mahogany door and window frames. In a wonderful touch, the hotel room numbers are painted onto the translucent glass doors in an old-fashioned format that precisely recalls the office numbers that once graced the Reliance.
The room numbers exemplify the balance struck by the architects and the interior designer, Susan Caruso of Los Angeles, between preserving key features of the office building and giving the interior enough in the way of hotel touches so that it doesn’t seem cold and institutional.
Happily, that balance continues in the guest quarters—former office cells that were small enough to be easily adapted into hotel rooms. The drapes, for example, are a chubby blue on the inside, but white on the outside, so they blend in easily with the building’s milky exterior.
Best of all, by inserting two new fire stairs in the back of the building, the architects were able to preserve the openness of the Reliance Building’s richly decorated internal staircase, which sweeps through the upper-floor lobbies like a piece of sculpture.
All this painstaking detail work adds up to a supreme example of historic preservation.
A world-renowned skyscraper that could have been lost to the wrecking ball now proves that old buildings can be recycled to good effect. Long heralded for what it foreshadowed, the Reliance today can be appreciated for what it is—the culminating achievement of Chicago’s early skyscrapers.
But the reconstitution of the Reliance teaches a broader lesson about architecture, and it is one that deserves special attention in a tradition-bound city that sometimes seems to have lost its nerve. The same daring that gave us the landmarks of yesterday is needed to create the landmmarks of tomorrow. Only if we heed that lesson we fully appreciate the restored glory of this total work of art.
Crain’s Chicago Business, December 21, 2016
Hotel Burnham has a new owner and a new name
A small West Coast boutique hotel chain has bought the landmark Hotel Burnham and changed its name, jumping into a Loop hotel market that’s a lot more crowded than it was just a few years ago.
Bellevue, Wash.-based Pineapple Hospitality has renamed the property at 1 W. Washington St. the Alise Chicago, according to its website, dropping the moniker that was inspired by famous Chicago architect and planner Daniel Burnham. Pineapple acquired the Burnham from Lone Star Funds, which bought the 122-room hotel in 2014 and hired a broker to sell the property earlier this year.
Pineapple is a newcomer to Chicago, with seven hotels in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and San Diego. It’s entering a Loop market that’s digesting a building boom, with 2,400 hotel rooms opening there in the last two years or so.
Two more projects are under way, including a 198-room Cambria Hotel & Suites about a block from the Alise, adding more supply to a downtown market that’s slowing after several years of big gains. One reason: increased competition from new hotels.
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