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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.
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.
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 refurbishings.
The Stevens Hotel
First Floor Plan
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.
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
HOTEL’S FAMED PEACOCK ALLEY TO OPEN AGAIN
Newlyweds of 1903 to Revivelendezvous
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.