In the Windy City, the Michigan Avenue Bridge is defined by four 1920s architectural icons: Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, 333 N. Michigan Ave., and the London Guarantee & Accident Building, now part of the LondonHouse Chicago hotel, a new award-winning historic redevelopment.
The cupola-topped hotel, overlooking the Chicago River at North Michigan Avenue and East Wacker Drive, distinguishes itself in the cityscape with a sleek contemporary glass extension that seamlessly blurs the lines between old and new, past and present.
“I’ve always thought it was the prettiest and most beautifully proportioned building in the city,” says developer John Rutledge, founder, president and CEO of Oxford Capital Group and affiliate Oxford Hotels & Resorts, which manages the hotel, as well as trustee board chair of the Chicago Architecture Center. “It really is a Grace Kelly of buildings, which we believe will continue to stand the test of time.”
The structure’s and the city’s history are entwined: It was constructed on the site of Fort Dearborn, which was originally built in 1803 and ultimately destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Through the years, it served as offices for a variety of well-known companies ranging from the radio station WLS-AM to the publisher Crain’s Communications.
By the time Oxford Capital Group decided to turn it into a hotel-anchored mixed-use building with two floors of retail, it was nearly vacant.
Leonard Koroski, FAIA, LEED AP, a principal of Goettsch Partners, says that “it was a unique opportunity for adaptive reuse and expansion. It has 23 different faces, and the floor plates are irregular, which is not good for offices, but it’s ideal for a hotel because there are 56 different room types so it appeals to various types of users.”
The 305,000-square-foot, 21-story limestone Beaux-Arts building, designed by Chicago architect Alfred Alschuler to house the London Guarantee & Accident Co., was restored. Original façade details, including the 6-foot-high, 5,000-pound urns that serve as rooftop finials, were repaired or replicated and remounted. Some 1,100 windows were replaced with energy-efficient replicas, and the building’s HVAC systems were upgraded.
The 85,000-square-foot new tower, which melds with the 1929 Neo-Gothic terra-cotta Mather Tower next door, replaced a street-level surface parking lot.
Adding the tower, says Rutledge, “was like filling in a missing tooth” in the Wacker Drive street wall.
It was, he adds, an aesthetic as well as a financial decision—the 80 additional guest rooms it contains, along with an expanded rooftop and column-free ballroom, were necessary for the redevelopment because “we needed the incremental revenues generated by those additional rooms and spaces to make the investment pencil.”
From the beginning, Rutledge’s vision was of a contemporary component that would complement the existing architecture while satisfying the rules and regulations of local, state, and national preservation groups, which had indicated they didn’t necessarily want the addition to be a replica or updated version of the building’s architecture.
“We wanted something that paid homage to the original building,” he says.
Koroski adds, “We sculpted the two buildings together. Each has a base (floors one through four), a shaft (floors five through 21) and an elaborate top.”
Two types of glass define the new tower’s façade and delineate its distinct uses. On floors one through four, which include the lobby, ballroom, retail stores, and other public rooms, the glass is transparent because “we wanted people to see that there’s activity going on inside,” Koroski says.
The upper floors, where the guest rooms are, are clad in glass that has more reflectivity, he says, “to create a sense of privacy while still giving a better view of the Chicago River.”
The redevelopment of the hotel, which has 452 guest rooms, allowed the team to design the city’s only tri-level rooftop, whose features include a two-level bar and event space, an indoor bar and an outdoor terrace that has lounge seating and a covered bar.
The original building’s cupola, which offers 360-degree views of the city and is a city icon in its own right, has been turned into additional rooftop space, as well as a venue for private dining and events.
In keeping with the historic theme, the guest room interiors, designed by Simeone Deary Design Group, were inspired by luxury automobiles of the 1920s. Contemporary furnishings with opulent embellishments and lavish upholstery and Art Deco-inspired geometric patterns are used throughout the hotel to reflect the building’s history and make it come alive.
The hotel’s name—LondonHouse Chicago—also is a nod to the past. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the building was home to the world-famous London House jazz club, which featured some of the genre’s greatest performers, including Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, and Bobby Short.
LondonHouse Chicago has won a lot of praise and numerous honors, including the 2021 Award of Excellence, Renovation from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the 2018 Chicago Landmark Award for Preservation Excellence from the City of Chicago Commission on Chicago Landmarks, the 2017 Historic Redevelopment of the Year Award from the Chicago Commercial Real Estate Awards, and the 2016 Gold Award, Mixed-Use Architecture—Chicago Design Awards.
“The project was extremely gratifying for our entire team,” Rutledge says. “It has been architecturally and financially successful, receiving almost universal accolades.”
Koroski adds that the hotel is “a success on so many levels—historic preservation and stewardship, adaptive reuse with existing architecture and design. And it’s a real magnet. People stand in line to get onto the rooftop.”
Architect Goettsch Partners
Developer Oxford Capital Group
Interior Designer Simeone Deary Design Group
Owner’s Representative/ Project Manager Daccord
Structural Engineer TGRWA
MEP/FP Engineer WMA Consulting Engineers
Exterior Masonry Restoration Klein & Hoffman
Lighting Designer AKLD Lighting Design
General Contractor W.E. O’Neil Construction
Curtain Wall Manufacturer Schüco
Curtain Wall Installer Alliance Glazing Technologies
Window Installer Jensen Window Corp.
Window Manufacturer Graham Architectural Products
Stonemason Mark 1 Restoration
Stone Supplier Galloy & Van Etten