Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hilton, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger
 [Hilton, Chicago (1927) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
It was once called the "largest hotel in the world" providing 3,000 guest accommodations for conventioneers and tourists with a gigantic, 7,000 square foot suite available for visiting kings, queens and presidents. James W. Stevens and his son Ernest J. already owned and operated another large Chicago hotel, the LaSalle, when they opened the $28 million Stevens in 1927. Both hotels were designed by the same architects Holabird and Roche, no strangers to the hotel business, having drawn up plans for a number of the city's major lodging palaces, including the Congress just up the street.
  [Hilton, Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Unfortunately for the Stevens' the collapse of the U.S. stock market and the resulting economic depression did them in. Not only did they lose their hotels but J.W.'s insurance company also went belly-up. The hotel went into receivership where it remained until 1942 when the U.S. Army purchased the building for $6 million to use as a housing, meeting and recreation space for the Army air corps. By September 1943, the military no longer needed the 3,000 rooms and the structure was purchased for $5.2 million by local contractor Stephen Healy. After turning the building back into a hotel Healy soon realized that this guest accommodation business was not for him, and who should step into the marble-lined Grand Lobby at just the right moment but none other than Conrad Hilton.
 [Hilton, Chicago, Historic Michigan Boulevard District /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Hilton was looking to expand his somewhat small collection of hotels. The Stevens still supplied the largest number of rooms of any hotel in the world and would be the crown jewel in an expanding Hilton empire. He paid Healy $7 million for the privilege, and in the process also acquired the pieces of the French luxury liner S.S. Normandie's interior that Healy had installed in the second floor lounge during his conversion from army barracks to upscale hostelleire. Then, soon after the February 1945 purchase of the Stevens, Hilton went on to buy Chicago's second largest hotel, the Palmer House, in December of that year. In the short span of 11 months, Conrad Hilton now owned the bragging rights to the two largest hotels on the planet, the Stevens by room count, and the Palmer House by cubic feet.
In 1951, the Board of Directors of the Hilton corporation honored their largest stock holder by changing the name of the Stevens to the Conrad Hilton. For years there was a large neon sign at the top of the building that spelled out the hoteliers name in bright lights. Now known solely as the Hilton, Chicago, the hotel can no longer boast to have the largest number of rooms, but it does still boast that it has the largest hotel suite you'll find anywhere in the world. 

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