Until the beginning of the twentieth century, Uptown possessed few residential hotels or large apartment buildings. Most of the district’s residences were either single-family houses or two- and three-story flats. This began to change with the extension of the Northwestern elevated railroad to Wilson Avenue in 1900. The ‘L’ significantly reduced commuting times and ticket costs for those who lived in Uptown and worked in other parts of the city. Chicagoans who may have once considered Uptown “too far north” began to view the area as an attractive and well-connected section of the city. The ‘L’ also stimulated increased real estate investment in Uptown. Speculators, expecting rapid growth in the district’s population, began to purchase properties throughout the district, pushing land values upward. As real estate prices and property taxes rose, many property owners sold their homes or one-story shops to developers who replaced them with larger, more profitable office buildings, retail stores, movie theaters, and multi-story residential hotels and apartment buildings.
During the 1910s and 1920s, several new eight- to twelve-story apartment buildings were built on land formerly occupied by large single-family homes. The once tree-lined Sheridan Road began to remind some observers of the Loop or Midtown Manhattan as new buildings pushed skyward. Uptown’s apartment hotels struck many Chicagoans as the epitome of modern urban living. Most offered the kind of amenities and services, such as swimming pools and cleaning maids, typically associated with high-priced downtown hotels or luxury resorts. In time, overbuilding drove apartment rents down to levels low enough that Uptown became an attractive place of residence for young, unattached men and women, many of them newcomers to the city of Chicago.
As with most of the city’s outlying hotels, Uptown’s hotels offered a mix of renting options. Guests could rent a room for a single night or for several weeks or months at a time. A few “hotels,” looking to attract a wealthier class of residents, rented rooms only on a monthly basis, functioning more as an apartment building. Chicagoans of the early twentieth century, however, shied away from referring to such buildings as “apartments,” due in part to the term’s association with working-class tenements and also the willingness of proprietors to rent out units on a nightly basis.
The following were some of Uptown’s larger residential apartment hotels during the early twentieth century:
See Somerset Hotel.
The seven-story Donmoor Hotel, located at 917-925 Eastwood Avenue, was built in 1928 and contained 123 apartments of two, three, and four rooms each. It was owned by Maurice Leavitt and cost a reported $800,000 to build. Designed by architects Johnck and Ehman, the hotel featured an all-brick exterior with terra-cotta trimmings, a rough-plaster lobby, and entry windows made of specially cut art glass. All apartments included a kitchenette with refrigerator, tile-floor bathrooms, and as a extra enticement to potential renters, a brand-new radio set. “However, the owner,” noted the Chicago Tribune, “although having the fullest faith in the Diogenes manners of our fellow Chicagoans, will nail the sets down so should one feel in the mood to walk away with one his mood would find itself suppressed.”
Located at 4621 North Sheridan Road, the Grasmere Hotel was built in 1915 and designed by architect R. C. Harris. The landmark Sheridan Plaza Hotel stood immediately to the south of the Grasmere. The four-story Grasmere had approximately 110 rooms and cost a reported $105,000 to build. In 1923, E. L. Wenzel, operator of the Planters and Washington Hotels in Chicago’s Loop, leased the Grasmere from owner Frank Cuneo and refurnished all its rooms. Weekly rents at the hotel in 1925 were $14.50 and higher. The Grasmere continued to operate as an apartment hotel until at least 1962, but its cachet declined over time, with weekly room rents dropping to as low as $10. By 1968, however, it had been converted into a halfway shelter for former mental health patients. A fire that year, started by careless smoking, killed three hotel residents and destroyed ten rooms on the fourth floor.
Uptown’s Hotel Chelsea, located at 920 West Wilson Avenue, was built in 1923. It was designed by architect B. Leo Steif and cost an estimated $2 milion to construct. The ten-story hotel consisted of 360 single rooms, each with a private bath. According to the Chicago Tribune, the hotel’s first residents were required to rent rooms on a monthly basis in order to exclude what the newspaper called “transients.” Room rates ranged from $50 to $75 per month. During its early years, the hotel served as a meeting place for several notable community organiations, including the Uptown Optimists, the North Shore Kiwanis Club, and the influential Uptown Central Association of business leaders. Like other Uptown hotels, the Chelsea declined in popularity and prestige in the years after the Second World War, when a shift toward suburban living undermined the appeal of urban apartment hotels. After years of deterioration, the Chelsea was sold at auction to Leonard Richman, a real estate developer who specialized in the conversion of old “white elephant” commercial hotel properties into senior-citizen “retirement hotels.” Investing more than $1 million into the property, Richman refurbished the entire hotel, installed a new dining room, opened an on-site medical and dental office. Renamed the Chelsea House, the new retirement hotel opened in July 1967.
Construction of the Hotel Leland at 1201-1213 West Leland Avenue began in 1926 and was completed in 1927. The six-story hotel had 205 rooms, cost a reported $350,000 to build, and was designed by architects Dubin & Eisenberg. It opened for guests in April 1927. Room rates began at $15 per week. In 1985, the Leland was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure within the Sheridan Park Historic District. A $14.75 million renovation project in 2005 preserved the Leland as a 137-room affordable-housing apartment building.
The twelve-story Lawrence Hotel at 1020 West Lawrence Avenue was built in 1928. It was designed by architects Ralph D. Husazgh and Boyd Hill, whose other projects included the nearby Wilton Hotel and Aragon Ballroom. Prior to the mid-1920s, the site of the Lawrence Hotel had been occupied by the legendary Netherlands Apartments, one of Uptown’s first apartment buildings. “Old time north siders who fled before the invading hordes,” wrote theChicago Tribune, “will recall the Netherlands for its gabled roof, its half timber work, the bird cages in its pretty gardens, and its goldfish pool. And it was hinted that the building, then the abode of the Wilson avenue plutocrats, contained a swimming pool in its basement, though the report was not confirmed for the majority.” The new Lawrence Hotel featured a distinctive art-deco architectural style and was touted as the epitome of “modern, effortless living” when it opened in late 1928. Among the Lawrence’s most popular amenities were its indoor swimming pool, golf practice center, handball courts, exercise gymnasium, and rooftop garden with views of Lake Michigan. The hotel’s 380 fully-furnished rooms were outfitted with stainless-steel kitchen appliances, furniture from Marshall Field and Company, and linens, blankets, mattresses, and carpeting from Loren Miller and Company. Room rates in 1928 ranged from $75 to $160 per month.
Uptown’s Plymouth Hotel was built in 1912. It occupied the southern part of the block surrounded by Broadway, Leland, and Racine Avenues. Designed by architect George Kingsley, the hotel featured a simple dark brick exterior with cream and green terra cotta ornamentation. It contained fourteen stores, seventeen offices, and an apartment hotel of 144 rooms and 81 baths arranged in two- and three-room suites. The hotel opened to guests in January 1913. An early advertisement claimed the Plymouth was “the only hotel of its kind north of the Loop” and advised potential guests that its fully furnished rooms offered “all 1913 modern improvements.” Early guests reputedly included movie stars Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Berry, George Roberts, and others employed by the Essanay movie studios on nearby Argyle Street. In 1926, the hotel was renamed the Uptown Hotel and purchased by Loren Miller and Company, owners of an adjacent department store, two years later. In 2000, the building, no longer in use as a hotel, was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Uptown Square Historic District. Two years later, the Chicago city council approved plans for the demolition of the Plymouth Hotel building as part of the redevelopment of the adjacent former Loren Miller/Goldbaltt’s department store building. Despite community opposition, the former hotel was demolished as planned in 2003 and replaced by a two-story commercial and residential condominium building.
Sheridan Plaza Hotel
See Sheridan Plaza Hotel.
See Somerset Hotel.
Built in 1926, the eight-story Viceroy Hotel was located at the southeast corner of Kenmore and Lawrence Avenues and featured a Venetian Gothic architectural style. It was designed by architects Ralph D. Huszagh and Boyd Hill, whose other projects included the nearby Lawrence Hotel and Aragon Ballroom. The hotel contained 144 rooms and featured an indoor swimming pool and several first-floor stores. During the late 1920s, the Viceroy Palais, a dine-and-dance club, operated on the hotel’s mezzanine floor. It featured a mix of American and Chinese cuisine and jazz music by Phil Levinson’s Viceroy Palais Syncopators. Room rates in 1928 started at $12.50 per week. By the 1960s, the hotel had been renamed the Wilton Hotel. In 1969, the hotel’s owners, citing declining business, announced plans to convert the building into a sheltered-care facility for senior citizens. Despite initial community and aldermanic opposition, the project eventually received the necessary zoning board approvals and became a retirement home, later known as the Crown Plaza.
Photograph: Viceroy Hotel, exterior view, 1926 [Univ. of Minnesota Library]
Sources: Chicago Daily Tribune, 18 Feb 1912, A3; 28 Jan 1913, 20; 7 Jan 1920, 20; 13 June 1920, F10; 15 Aug 1920, F7; 14 Jan 1923, E22; 28 Oct 1923, A16; 2 Oct 1924, 30; 7 July 1925, E11; 25 Apr 1927, 35; 19 June 1927, C1; 25 Mar 1928, B3; 27 July 1928, 28; 30 Sep 1928, I1; 14 Oct 1928, J2; 15 Nov 1928, 42; 26 Mar 1929, 28; 27 Oct 1929, I8; 13 Oct 1929, J3; 13 Dec 1932, 14; 1 June 1947, NA; 2 Aug 1962, C12; 2 July 1967, D1; 21 Nov 1968, C12; 23 Aug 1969, A3; 31 Aug 1969, N10;Chicago Sunday Tribune, 31 Aug 1919, pt. 2, pg. 7; 28 Aug 1921, pt. 1, pg. 6; 6 Nov 1927, B1; 31 May 1936, pt. 8, pg. 3; 2 Jan 1938, pt. 8, pg. 6; 4 June 1939, pt. 8, pg. 2; Uptown News, 9 June 1931, 4; city of Chicago building permit records.