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Hilton Chicago And Blackstone Hotel
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© Christine Till
The Chicago Hilton and the Blackstone Hotel are two of the best hotels of all times with an enormous history.
Left: Hilton Chicago
Formerly: Chicago Hilton and Towers
Formerly: The Stevens Hotel
When the Stevens Hotel opened in 1927, the newspapers wrote of a new Versailles rising on South Michigan Avenue. The colossal building soared 28 stories and occupied an entire city block. With 3,000 guest rooms, it was the biggest hotel in the world, and with its brick-and-limestone walls, decorated inside with hand-painted frescoes, fine restaurants, exclusive shops, vast ballrooms, bowling alley, hospital, a special private room for pets, an 18 hole golf course with real grass on the roof, a 1,200 seat theatre with "talking motion picture" equipment, a three-story laundry, and 5 sub-basements, the most opulent. The Stevens could produce 120 gallons of ice cream per hour. No one had seen anything quite like it before.
Yet, just a few years later, the Stevens Hotel plunged into a disaster - the hotel went bankrupt, the State of Illinois charged its owners with financial corruption. One of them was crippled by a stroke; another committed suicide. In 1942, the hotel was requisitioned by the U.S. Army, and guest rooms became barracks, the Grand Ballroom a mess hall, and other rooms were turned into offices and training rooms. After the war, Conrad Hilton bought the former Stevens Hotel and named it for himself.
Few, if any, of the thousands who pass through the cavernous Chicago Hilton and Towers, as the Stevens is called today, know the dramatic episode of Chicago history that unfolded there. Completely renovated in the mid-eighties, at a cost of $185 million, the hotel still features the two-story entrance hall with grand staircases on either side that so astounded visitors in the Roaring Twenties. But the original 3,000 rooms have been consolidated to 1,544, so the hotel is no longer the biggest in the world. Still, for all the trouble and even tragedy that attended the its early years, the landmark has endured, vindicating the dream the Stevens family envisioned so many years ago.
Right: Blackstone Hotel Chicago
Opened April 16, 1910, and located at 636 South Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the city's arts and theater district - adjacent to the world class Millennium Park, The
Blackstone represents yet another significant development milestone in the renaissance of Chicago's South Loop downtown.
The Blackstone was the temporary home of the rich and famous, the politically connected and kings and princes. It was, and is again, renowned the world over. In the early years of the twentieth century there were few hotels that could compare. Twelve presidents - from Taft to Carter - have stayed at the Blackstone, some at times of national crisis, e.g. John F. Kennedy learned of Cuba's nuclear capabilities while eating a bowl of chowder.
The nearly century-old 22-story Blackstone Chicago hotel, a work of art in itself, is now part of the Marriott Renaissance chain. It is one of the most history-rich hotel properties in the U.S.
November 1st, 2012
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