By Mary Beth Klatt
There has been much secrecy at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago throughout its history. Republican leaders named Warren G. Harding as its presidential nominee there during a secret meeting (notable for introducing us to the concept of the smoke-filled room, also an aptly named suite at the hotel); gangster Al Capone got his haircut at the hotel barbershop tucked away from prying eyes; and John F. Kennedy quietly prepared at the hotel to negotiate the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Following the $139 million architectural restoration in 2008 by the Gettys Group, the firm was called on once again to lead the hotel’s multimillion-dollar renovation, which included updating original artwork, highlighting the early 21st-century glamour and craftsmanship of the original building, and incorporating technology with modern amenities and a contemporary design.
Because of the hotel’s history, the Chicago-based firm wanted to retain the charm of the 1908 Second Empire Classical hotel, designed by architects Benjamin Marshall and Charles Fox. “It was important for our team to tell the story of the rich history and events that make staying at the Blackstone Hotel a truly unique experience,” says the Gettys Group senior director Benjamin Nicholas. “The design solutions are modern and compelling, while still being respectful to the historical aspects of the building and landmark interiors.”
Contemporary artwork (from nearly 1,600 local artists) throughout the hotel reinterprets past events with unexpected twists. For example, in the lobby, a vintage photo of legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong blowing his horn juxtaposes a photo of Kanye West fans. The walls in the hotel’s 335 guestrooms, suites, and penthouses are also adorned with contemporary works primarily by Chicago artists, while plush bedding, teal and white hues, and marble accents recall the hotel’s heyday, as does Timothy’s Hutch, a 1960s-inspired cocktail lounge named after the hotel’s founder Timothy Blackstone, which is connected by the lobby to the acclaimed Mercat a la Planza Spanish restaurant.
The 21-story hotel was and continues to be ahead of its time, says Jane LePauw, who commissioned the book Benjamin H. Marshall, Chicago Architect. “There is so much to say for a hotel that offers both grandeur and a certain intimacy of contact with other people, be it in the lobby or even in the Crystal Ballroom, which while gorgeous, is still intimate,” she says.