InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile

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Discover the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile with its eclectic design, including a golden Moorish dome and ballroom - also decorated with Middle Eastern flourishes.

InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile was constructed amid the great economic calamity that affected most of the world during the 1930s.

The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile was designed by esteemed architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, who is also known for his New York City creations, the Beacon Hotel and Theatre and the Roxy Theatre. The 32-story tower was commissioned by The Shrine Organization to become the future home of the Medinah Athletic Club in Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper. When the club finally opened, it was criticized by many for its “wasteful extravagance,” although in time its eclectic mix of multicultural styles would become widely recognized as a genuine historical treasure. With only 32 percent occupancy upon its opening, many saw this elaborate fortress of excess as overly decadent, but it never failed to keep the architectural community talking.

In contrast to other buildings of the time, the Medinah Athletic Club, combined elements of many different architectural styles. At the eighth floor, an Indiana limestone facade was decorated by three large relief carvings in ancient Assyrian style. The club’s exotic gold dome, which is Moorish in influence, originated as part of a decorative docking port for dirigibles before the Hindenburg disaster changed the country’s mind about the future of travel by blimp. The club also featured a twenty-third floor miniature golf course, complete with water hazards and a wandering brook, a shooting range, a billiards hall, a running track, a gymnasium, an archery range, a bowling alley, a two story boxing arena, and a junior Olympic size swimming pool. All of this in addition to the ballrooms, corporate meeting rooms, and 440 guestrooms, which were available for the exclusive use of the club’s 3,500 members and their guests. The pool, with its blue Spanish majolica tiles and terra-cotta fountain of Neptune on its east wall, is one of the hotel’s few features which to this day remains virtually untouched.

In 1934, four years after the “Blackest Day in Stock Market History, the Shriners filed for bankruptcy and lost their beloved clubhouse and in the decade that followed, the building went through various incarnations, including a brief stint as residential apartments. In 1944 it began its life as a hotel, debuting as the Continental Hotel and Town Club, where Esther Williams would swim in the now famous pool. Al Capone was also known to practice his putt in the mini-golf course. Subsequently it would operate under both the Sheraton and Radisson hotel chains. In 1961, the Sheraton expanded, adding a second tower just north of the existing building and bringing the northern boundary of the hotel all the way to Grand Avenue. When the Radisson’s contract ended in 1983, the hotel’s name was changed back once again to the Continental. It would remain open for only three more years before finally closing its doors in anticipation of major remodeling and restoration.

In 1989, Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts purchased the property outright and completed the first phase of extensive renovations prior to its grand re-opening in 1990. During that time, a former Medinah Club member heard of the renovation and donated a 1930 anniversary yearbook entitled “The Scimitar,” filled with photographs which would serve as reference for much of the work. Many of the inner walls above the eighth floor were restructured to expand the size of the guestrooms. Gutting and redesigning the size of these rooms would prove difficult because almost none of the original architectural drawings had been saved. Therefore, there are now 175 different room configurations in the historic tower. In addition to the guestroom modifications, the balcony of the Grand Ballroom, which had long since been removed, was rebuilt to match its original design. The murals and gold leaf detailing on the room’s ceiling were restored by Lido Lippi, the same man who consulted on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. On the ninth floor, which had at one time housed the shooting range and billiards hall, renovations included raising the floor two and a half feet to accommodate plumbing for additional guestrooms. In the public areas, designers used painstaking attention to detail. Photographs of the original carpeting were enlarged and used to recreate its exact pattern, even making sure not to incorporate more colors than were originally available from the manufacturer. Initially, workers utilized a process called cornhusk blasting to strip away the many layers of paint from the marble walls in the Hall of Lions, as traditional sandblasting would have destroyed the intricate details of any etchings beneath. When it was determined that a single marble column would require close to a ton of ground corn cobs, restorers decided to scrub away the paint by hand. The two carvings of lions which were discovered underneath have become an emblem used throughout the hotel.

Today, the Hotel Intercontinental Chicago is a world renowned destination hotel which embraces the contemporary traveler’s tastes while proudly acknowledging its own rich past. Occupying a prominent place in Chicago’s Michigan-Wacker Historic District, the hotel is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It features 807 guestrooms, over 40,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, and the largest fitness facility of all the downtown hotels.

The building’s creators, in a ceremony which took place on November 5th of 1928, placed within its cornerstone a copper box to commemorate its place in history. Filled with records of their organization, photographs of its members, a copy of the Chicago Tribune announcing the proposal of the building, coins, and other historic data, this time capsule remains sealed within the hotel’s limestone exterior. If given the opportunity to add to its contents, there would be no shortage of memorabilia, gathered over the near century which has passed since that day, to document the impressive evolution of this grand hotel.

  • About the Architecture +
    Walter Ahschlager designed the 42 tower commissioned by the Shrine Orgaization which became the Medinah Athletic Club. Its eclectic design incorporated elements of many different architectural styles such as Assyrian relief carvings in the limestone facade. A gold Moorish dome was created as a possible dirigible docking port, before the Hindenburg disaster brought an end to commercial blimp travel. Inside the dome, a glass cupola and spiral iron staircase resembling the top of a lighthouse led down to the hotel’s upper elevator landing.Internal architecture reflected an eclectic blend also: the two-story Grand Ballroom featured the largest chandelier in North America, and Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek ornament.
  • Famous Historic Guests +
    American swimmer and actress Esther Williams made use of the pool on the 14th floor; then among the highest in the world. American gangster and businessman Al Capone liked to practice his putt in the hotel's min golf course located on the

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