Three of the city's most luxurious hotels are putting landmark buildings to chic new use.
Light and airy, The Kimpton Gray Hotel features 293 guest rooms with accents of blue that hint of the city’s flag, plus an inviting lobby “living room” area with coffee and tea service in the morning and a wine hour each evening.
The adage “waste not, want not” is particularly relevant in the building industry these days, where it is inspiring developers to deliver adaptive reuse projects that are not only practical and profitable but setting new standards for sustainability, design and luxury in the hospitality industry. Three Chicago office buildings that have recently been turned into luxury hotels—LondonHouse Chicago, The Kimpton Gray Hotel, and The Langham, Chicago—prove the point.
In an era when newly built hotels are often generic, these projects are intriguing and unique by virtue of their bones alone. All were born of architecturally significant edifices with landmark status and are undeniably better with age thanks to impressive, astutely executed overhauls. They owe their success to the foresight and acumen of their development and design teams—as well as the generous tax credits landmark status affords.
“It’s a smart strategy for real estate developers,” explains John Rutledge, president and CEO of Oxford Capital Group and developer of more than a dozen national adaptive reuse projects, including LondonHouse Chicago and The Langham Chicago. Repurposing landmarks has “allowed me to buy existing high-quality buildings at attractive prices, execute comprehensive redevelopment programs and still end up at a cost basis below what it would have cost me to build from the ground up.”
While buying old has allowed development teams to deliver projects that would be virtually impossible to execute if they had to start from scratch, updating these aged gems takes vision, commitment, and ingenuity. Consider the specific challenges and rewards of each of these now-glorious hotels.
Turning William LeBaron Jenney’s 15-story New York Life Insurance Building, built in 1894 in what was then the heart of Chicago’s financial district, into The Kimpton Gray Hotel (122 W. Monroe St., 312-750-9012) was “much harder than building from the ground up as we did at the Hotel Palomar,” admits General Manager Nabil Moubayed.
LondonHouse Chicago’s expansive Presidential Suite, here, exemplifies the transformation of the London Guarantee building, from landmark to luxe hotel.
“You’re handcuffed by all the landmark rules.” Time-consuming hot spots for the historic renovation team, headed by Gensler, included meticulously restoring the decrepit stone and terra cotta façade and yellowed Georgia Gray marble floors and walls and all the windows, which had to be removed, rebuilt to today’s standards and reinstalled—a feat that “took over a year,” marvels Moubayed.
Refurbishing the 1924 23-floor London Guarantee Building’s Indiana limestone façade and 1100 windows to meet contemporary standards, was also an arduous undertaking for the LondonHouse Chicago (85 E. Wacker Dr., 312-357-1200) restoration team, notes Rutledge. But the biggest trials were designing and building a seamlessly synchronized addition for a contiguous postage-stamp sized lot and programming the building. “It required an addition that would be different but aesthetically compatible with the building’s Art Deco style, and 55 different room layouts to accommodate the unique shape and size of the building’s spaces,” explains Rutledge.
Oxford Capital tapped Goettsch Partners to design a dazzling, Modernist-inspired glassy addition, and Simeone Deary Design Group to fashion interiors that channel design elements of the Roaring Twenties, re-imagined for a contemporary grand hotel.
A bedroom with river views at the luxe Langham, and the hotel’s popular lounge.
But for Rutledge, nothing was more challenging than transforming the first 13 floors of Mies van der Rohe’s last project, the minimal International Style 52-story 1972 former IBM Building (now anchor to the AMA) into an opulent Langham Hotel (330 N. Wabash Ave., 312-923-9988). “We bought a subdivision of the building at the beginning of the Great Recession, and also had to deal with an international consortium of development, design and construction professionals,” he notes.
Rutledge called on van der Rohe’s grandson, architect Dirk Lohan of Lohan Anderson, Goettsch Partners, and London interiors firm Richmond Group to forge luxury spaces that nod to the building’s heritage while reflecting the European sensibilities of the Langham Hospitality Group.
The successful adaptive reuse of the IBM Building substantiates van der Rohe’s ideas about universal space. While these buildings were all planned as office spaces, they all have successful new lives as luxury hotels.