Sunday, February 22, 2015

Waldorf Astoria Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Waldorf Astoria Chicago (2010) Lucien Lagrange Architects, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Is it possible that one building and the individuals involved in its short history, could, in some way, tell the story of the roller coaster ride the U.S. economy has been on for the past 4 years? Well lets start with the the developer of this luxury high-rise tower David Pisor. Pisor saw an opportunity in the burgeoning market of high-end condo living combined with luxurious condo/hotel accommodations, that was all the rage in the new millennium. So he hired Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange to deliver one of the architect's signature, post-moderny, French-inspired residential designs. With mansard roofs and classical pastiche, a buff-colored limestone reminiscent of Parsian Boulevards, the 51 mega-sized condominiums in the 60-story Elysian sold quickly, while the 188-room condo/hotel segment became a victim of the collapsing economy.

 [Waldorf Astoria Chicago, 11 E. Walton Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

And so did Lagrange. Just as the building was nearing completion in July 2010, Lagrange announced he was closing his office and filing for bankruptcy. At age 69 and with a deepening recession, the French-born architect decided it was time to retire, and in order to protect himself from any ensuing litigation, decided bankruptcy was the way to go. However his retirement didn't last long. Like a phoenix rising from recessionary ashes, Lagrange became the lead designer of the luxury residential, hospitality and commercial mixed-use division of Chicago-based architects VOA in August, 2011.

   [Waldorf Astoria Chicago, Elysian Hotel & Residences /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

David Pisor eventually had to put the kibosh on the condo/hotel idea and decided to open the Elysian Hotel as a traditional, yet very upscale hostelry. The Elysian got rave reviews and was voted the #1 hotel in the U.S. by such august publications as Conde Nast Traveler. But the economy continued to take its toll, and the hotel's bookings weren't enough to pay-off the $280 million construction loan. Before collapsing into default and bankruptcy, in steps Chicago billionaire Sam Zell, no stranger to swooping in and scooping up distressed properties - and insolvency. Zell led the team that took over the Tribune Company in 2007, which resulted in the 160-year-old company filing for bankruptcy in 2008, the largest in American media history.
By 2011 Zell was on to bigger and better things and pulled together a team of investors to buy-out Pisor's Elysian Hotel investment having convinced Hilton Corporation's Waldorf Astoria division to take over the upscale inn. Ironically, Hilton had once had big plans to open a Waldorf Astoria along the banks of the Chicago River. Designed by DeStefano Partners, the curving 107-story tower got scraped in 2010 when the developer pulled out of the deal due to the, you guessed it, economy. Our story ends, when just a couple of weeks ago, Lucien Lagrange's self-described "Paris in Chicago" mansard-topped tower officially became the Waldorf Astoria Chicago.

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