Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Blackstone Hotel, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Blackstone Hotel, Chicago (1908) Marshall & Fox, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

During his career and partnership with Charles Fox, architect Benjamin Marshall designed some of Chicago's most elaborately decorated building exteriors. He used the plasticity of terra-cotta to adorn his buildings like a baker piping out acres of ornamental icing on a cake. In 1908 when the team drew-up plans for the Blackstone Hotel, the red brick tower was trimmed in a sea of white-glazed, baked-earth tiles that looked like whipped confectioner's sugar.

  [Blackstone Hotel, Chicago, 636 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The hotel was built by the sons of John Drake a pioneer Chicago hotelier. Drake became famous as the man who took a chance, and with luck on his side, made one of the great purchases of a lifetime. As the Chicago Fire started to burn the awnings of Drake's 1850s-era Tremont House the hotel owner salvaged as much cash and silver as he could from the safe, squeezed the money into a wagon and headed for the safety of the lake's waters. There, looming in front of him on the corner of Congress Street, stood the recently completed Michigan Avenue Hotel. With a leap of faith, he walked in and offered the owner cash on the spot for the hotel and its contents. As the fire approached the shoreline the blast furnace of flames turned north and Drake's hasty purchase not only survived the inferno, but became the only downtown hotel to remain standing in the city's 2,000-acre burn district.

  [Blackstone Hotel, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Soon after the fire, John Drake sold his Michigan Avenue property and became owner and manager one of the city's premiere hotels, the Grand Pacific. That hotel closed in April, 1895 and Drake died the following November. Jump forward to 1908, and Chicago sees one of the last remnants of the formerly opulent Michigan Avenue residential district disappear when Mrs. Timothy B. Blackstone vacates her 50 year old mansion. She left for another large house on elite Prairie Avenue because her house was going to be torn down and replaced by Drake's sons John, Jr. and Tracy's Blackstone Hotel. Soon the stopping off point of U.S. presidents, the opulent looking structure provided guests with luxury accommodations and a view of the lake. Unfortunately the Great Depression undid the Drake brothers, and they lost the hotel as a result of the financially devastating event.
The Blackstone became one of those "Oh, I remember when" hotels. Tattered, a little worse for    wear, in need of a redo, yet packed with history, in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the building became renowned as the venue for two of the city's longest running entertainment productions. The Jazz Showcase arrived in 1972 offering a devoted clientele a weekly dose of great music until 1995 when new owners took over the building. The theatrical whoddunit Shear Madness arrived in 1982, bringing 1.3 million people through the Michigan Avenue entrance before closing up shop in 1999 when the building was shut down by the city for having over 1,000 building code violations. The former grande dame of Chicago hostelries sat empty until 2005 when a $128 million update and rehab, with Marshall & Fox's swirls and swags cleaned and refurbished, launched the Blackstone into a new, bright and shiny future.

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