Stevens Hotel Conrad Hilton Hotel (1957), Chicago Hilton & Towers.
Life Span: 1927-Present
Location: Michigan Avenue and Congress
Architect: Holabird & Roche
Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1922
BY AL CHASE
Boul Mich is to have the world’s greatest hotel, a twenty-five story, $15,000,000 structure, with 3,000 rooms—which is 800 rooms larger than the Pennsylvania in Gotham—occupying a block of frontage between 7th and 8th streets, just south of the Blackstone. It will be called the Hotel Stevens, in honor of James W. Stevens, president, and Ernest J. Stevens, vice president and manager, of the Hotel LaSalle company, which will build, own and operate it. Holabird & Roche, who designed the La Salle, are architects of the Stevens.
Airplane Landing on Roof.
An outstanding feature of the big hotel will be its convention accommodation. In addition to being able to care for 3,600 persons at one time in the combined ball toom, main and special dining rooms and lounge on the second floor, there will be a huge exhibition room in the basement with 35,000 square feet of space, which it is declared equals the coliseum. Another innovation will be an airplane landing on the roof, a block long.
The main entrance in the Stevens will be on Michigan avenue with a 400 foot corridor from 7th to 8th streets, lined with shops also opening on the boulevard.
WORLD’S GREATEST HOTEL FOR CHICAGO. It was announced yesterday that the ground between 7th and 8th streets on Michigan avenue, just south of the Blackstone, has been purchased by the Hotel LaSalle Company and that there will be erected on it a 3,000 room hotel, to be called the Hotel Stevens, in honor of James W. Stevens and Ernest J. Stevens. The structure will be of Bedford stone, and will cost $3,000,000. The plans from which the photograph was made, were prepared by Holabird & Roche, architects. The site was bought for $2,500,000 from the Otto Young estate, the deal being closed through Alberty Wetten & Co. and William H. Babcock.
World’s Largest Banquet Hall.
The main dining room, seating 1,000, will be at the north end of the second floor, and the banquet hall, said to be the largest in the world, accommodating 1,444 at the south end. The two big hotel daylight kitchens are on this floor as well as all the administrative offices. There’ll also be a state suite for distinguished guests on the same floor. Part of the fourth and all of the fifth will be for sample rooms.
Final negotiations for the purchase of the 400×174 site were closed yesterday by the brokers, Albert H. Wetten & Co., and William H. Babcock. James W. Stevens took title from the Otto Young estate for $2,500,000. This settles the flock of rumors about various big eastern hotel syndicates building there. Work may begin July 1 if conditions warrant, with the expectation of completion in a year and a half.
Popular Mechanics, February, 1923
AN enterprise that is the embodiment of magnitude in at its component parts is the design, of the Stevens Hotel, about to he erected in Chicago. This huge structure will he a veritable museum of world’s records in connection with other things besides mere magnitude, although this will be its most arresting characteristic, for it will be the largest hotel in the world, containing altogether about 3,000 bedrooms, or nearly 800 more than the world’s present largest hotel. It will have a population equal to that of a fair-sized city, averaging about 7,000 residents, with an estimated daily transient traffic, including visitors, of around 40,000 people.
Besides the main hotel itself, there is to be an annex, or service building, which will correspond to what is often referred to as the “back of the house.” Through the means of this service building, a guest, without leaving his room, by the use of his telephone, will be able to order any kind of modern hotel services. The laundry will be located in the service building, and he will be able to send his soiled linens there in the morning and get it back clean and fresh in the evening of the same day. In case of sickness, serious or slight, the guest will not have to leave the hotel, for on the fourth floor there will be a hospital, with reception room, consulting and operating rooms, two wards for patients, and bedrooms for the physician and the nurses.
The hotel with its annex will occupy nearly a whole city block between Michigan Avenue on the cast, Wabash Avenue on the west, Seventh Street to the north, and Eighth Street to the south. The main building will have a frontage of 400 feet on Michigan Avenue, and a width of 175 feet on Seventh and Eighth streets back to an alley on the west. It will have 25 stories above grade, and in addition four stories of roof promenade, with an observation tower. On the ground floor the total area will be 70,00® square feet. Above the fourth story there will be three courts facing Michigan Avenue, and two in each of the north, south, and west facades. These upper stories will each have an area of 46.883 square feet. Below grade, there will be a basement, a mezzanine floor, a sub-basement for the boilers, engine* pump, and fan rooms, and a lower level for ash handling, the ash tunnel being 67 feet below grade. In the basement will be an exhibition hall of 35,000-square-feet area, believed to be the largest hotel exhibition hall in the world. The annex, or service building, will front on Wabash Avenue, It will be 52 feet wide and 180 feet long, and will bridge the alley. It will have 12 stories above grade, and below it a basement and sub-basement.
The hotel is to be built of Bedford stone and light-red brick. The main entrance will be at the center of the Michigan Avenue front, leading to a rotunda, 140 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a ceiling height of 40 feet. The carriage entrance will be on Eighth Street, and near this on the second floor will be the ballroom and grand banquet hall.
One of the most striking features in the design of this hotel are four steel trusses above the suspended ceiling of the great ballroom, at the level of the fifth floor. These trusses and their supporting columns carry 30 stories, and are the largest steel structures of the kind in any building in the world. The span of each truss is 86 feet from center to center of columns, and its over-all height is 38 feet. Each truss weighs 20® tons, and carries a total load of 5.00® tons, or the weight of one of the largest passenger shins on the Great Lakes. This remarkable feature of the building, which is, of course, entirely a steel-frame structure, together with its vast, size will make it not so surprising that a total of 40,0®0,00® pounds, or 20,000 tons, of steel will be required for the main hotel building alone.
The machinery in the sub-basement necessary to run such & stupendous building as this hotel, will he equivalent to quite a large manufacturing plant. Besides the chicF engineer and his clerks, there will be 75 employes. There will lie seven large boilers, occupying a space of 60 by 150 feet, with a height of 4® feet. There will be bunkers for the storage of 800 tons of coal, and adequate coal-handling equipment. The engine room, with a floor area of 8,960 square feet, will contain, besides the engines, five large generators. In the pump room, besides air compressors and blowers, there will be eight large pumps, two of which will be reserved for use in case of fire. In the fan room there will be 16 supply fans, handling 600,000 cubic feet of air per minute, and Z5 exhaust fans with a capacity of 700,000 cubic feet per minute.
Throughout the whole building there will be a system of pneumatic tubes for sending and receiving messages, and compressed-air outlets will be provided for cleaning purposes. On each floor there will be two pull boxes for sending an alarm to the city fire department, besides six gongs, for use by an authorized member of the hotel fire department.
In the annex or service building, at the first-floor level, there will he a driveway and receiving platform for provisions and all the hotel supplies, as well as for the guests’ baggage, which by means ui a chute will be conveyed to the basement in the vicinity of the service elevators. Besides these, there will be a truck elevator large enough to accommodate any automobile, for conveyance to the banquet, hall on tbc second floor, or to the exhibition hall in the basement.
At the employes’ entrance will be the service- building office. After traversing this, the employees will go down a stairway to a corridor which will lead directly to their locker rooms.
On the second floor there will be storage rooms of every description. On the third floor there will be the ice-cream and candy-making departments, besides the dishwashing rooms, and hot-water storage for the laundry. The entire fourth, fifth, and sixth floors, each with an area of square feet, will be devoted to the various departments of the laundry, including 12 large washing machines, and everything necessary for drying, sorting, and distributing the washed articles. Tbe seventh, eighth, and ninth floors will contain sewing rooms, carpenters’ and painters’ shops, besides general storage.
Relaxation and entertainment will be provided for the women employes of the hotel in a club-room, and a large lounge for reading, sewing, or dancing, all on the tenth floor. Similar accommodations for men, including a billiard room, will be on the eleventh floor. Thus it will he seen that employes in the annex will be as well taken care of as the guests . It is probable that erection will start next spring.
The Stevens Hotel
The structure on top of the building is the Conrad Suite.
Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1927.
The Stevens, a hotel of superlative statistics, opened officially and gayly last night.
Hundreds were on hand to eat an elaborate dinner in one of the four dining rooms, to dance in the mammoth ballroom, to view the flowers sent from all parts of the country, and to walk and walk and walk over miles of floor space. Most of all, however, they were on hand to congratulate James W. Stevens and Ernest J. Stevens, the father and son who, back in 1922, determined to build on Michigan avenue the world’s largest hotel.
A vast and efficient tavern it is, with 3,000 guest rooms and a staff of 2,500 employees; with a ballroom adorned like the palace of Versailles, and a barber shop equipped for the envy of any king who ever lived at Versailles; with St. Genevieve marble panels and Travertine columns above ground, competing with huge refrigerating plants and boiler rooms below ground.
At the Stevens, as the guides pointed out last night, a guest is more than a guest. He can read a book to his liking among the 25,000 volumes. He can have his appendix removed, for there is a completely equipped two-ward hospital. He can run a convention in the large assembly hall or he can display a complete exhibit in the exposition rooms.”
A Few Statistics
Suppose, for example, he seeks to occupy, in sequence, every room in the house. He’ll be at the Stevens after May 1, 1935, and he won’t have repeated once. Here’s a few other results he might compute:
Sixty car loads of mattresses are used.
The ice cream factory can produce 120 gallons of ice cream an hour.
The laundry could care for the demands of a community of 60,000.
A bushel of potatoes can be pared every three minutes.
The telephone room has 3,800 lines and the silver chest contains 2,000 dozen forks.
Among those who had tables at last night’s dinners were:
Mr. and Mrs. B. E. Sunny, Mrs. Frederick Upham, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Whiting, Judge and Mrs. John P. McGoorty, Mrs. Jacob Baur, Edward J. Kelly, and Michael Igoe, and John A. Holabird of Holabird and Roche, the architects who designed the building.
The Stevens Hotel
First Floor Plan
The Stevens Hotel
Faces Lake Michigan and Grant Park on Michigan Avenue.
The Stevens Hotel
The Stevens Hotel
Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1933
New Merry-Go-Round Bar Opened at Congress Hotel
While the hurdy-gurdy played old favorites of the “Sweet Adeline ” era, fifty’ or more persons found footing at the polished rail of a merry-go- round bar yesterday in the Pompeian room of the Congress hotel. The new bar opened officially with cere- monies attended by stage and radio performers find writers. This Is said to be the bar of its kind in this country, the other being In New York. It Is approximately 20 feet In diameter, and revolves on a circular section of the polished floor.
Pompeian Room, Congress Hotel
Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1953
Fifty years ago, the most fashionable promenade in Chicago was Peacock Alley in the old Congress hotel. Gay blades and their belles strolled the beautiful hall, as vain and as proud as the stuffed peacocks that lined the walls in preening postures. Came depression and war, and Peacock Alley became only an elegant memory’
Next Friday, tradition will return to the Congress hotel when a new Peacock Alley is opened. The occasion will be marked with a nostalgic ceremony. A bride and groom of 50 years ago, who walked down the old Peacock Alley on their honeymoon, will cut a Peacock-feather ribbon at the entrance of the hall, which has been renovated in an ultra- modern version of the fashion- able old Chicago landmark.
Returning for Celebration
They are Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Shank of Des Moines, Ia. Shank, 80, owner of a plumbing and heating equipment company, and his wife, who is “a little younger,” were married in Des Moines on June 25, 1903, and came to the Congress the next day on their honeymoon. Mrs. Shank, the Mabelle Arzella of the musical comedy and light opera stage, wanted to sh6w her new husband the scenes which she was familiar as a student of the Chicago Musical college.
When Albert Pick Jr., president of the Pick Hotels corporation, learned that the Shanks would be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, he invited them to be his guests at the Congress and to help inaugurate the hotel’s new Peacock Alley.
The first Peacock Alley was a marble tunnel connecting the old Auditorium hotel with its “an- nex” across Congress st. The annex, forerunner of the Congress hotel, was constructed in 1893 to house visitors to the Columbian Exposition.
Becomes Congress In 1911
Enlarged in 1902 and again in 1907, the annex was officially named the Congress in 1911. At that time the old tunnel was abandoned and a new promenade constructed. It extended for nearly a block along the front of the hotel.
But it was the old alley which became famous. Designed as a quick and convenient means of communication between the two sections of the Auditorium hotel, the luxuriously decorated tunnel quickly became the place for Chicago’s great and near-treat to meet for tea, dinner, and theater engagements. A stroll down Peacock Alley was an indispensable prelude to any gala occasion.
The alley was also an ideal vantage point from which the public could watch their favorite stars of opera and drama going from their suites in the annex to the old Auditorium theater.
The Stevens was the largest hotel in the world when it opened its doors to guests. Six years later, Ernest Stevens was on trial for embezzlement, his brother committed suicide after the family’s insurance business went bankrupt and the U.S. Army purchased the Stevens Hotel in World War II to house soldiers. In 1945, the property was acquired by Conrad Hilton and the immense hotel property has carried the Hilton name for over seventy years.
For the Stevens the marble contract alone was $600,000. The total cost of the hotel was an unprecedented $27 million. To measure that cost today you need only note that the price of the most expensive meal served in the hotel was $3. The lowest room rate—for a single—was $3.50. Nearly 60 years later, the Hilton Corporation (which bought the hotel in 1945) spent $185 million to renovate and restore the hotel, which had steadily declined despite—or perhaps because of—several remodelings and refurnishings.
In the years from 1927 to 1984, when the renovation was begun, most of the innovations that had made the Stevens one of the grandest hotels in the world had disappeared. Gone were the hospital; the library, once presided over by a University of Chicago librarian; a children’s playroom; a dry-cleaning plant that could handle as many as 500 suits a day; banquet facilities for 8,000 people at a sitting; an art gallery; a cigar stand with a humidor that stored and kept moist thousands of boxes of Havana cigars; two telegraph stations; a railroad ticket office; a beauty shop with 23 booths and six manicure stands; a barbershop with 27 chairs; a five-lane bowling alley; a 9-hole putting green on the roof; the largest private power plant in the world, which generated for the hotel all its own light, heat, and primitive air-conditioning; a water-filtration plant; its own police and fire departments; and two roof gardens where guests could sit and stroll under the stars, enjoying the cool breezes off the lake in the days before air-conditioning. At Wabash and Seventh Street (now Balbo) the hotel had what was then a huge parking lot–for 75 cars. The Stevens was built by one of the stellar architectural firms of the day, Holabird & Roche (now Holabird & Root), and it had 1.4 million square feet and a bath for each of its 3,000 rooms (an extravagance unheard of at the time). It remained the largest hotel in the world until 1967, when the Soviets built the Hotel Rossiya in Moscow.