After a meticulous two-year restoration effort, a Chicago architectural icon is ready for another bout. The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel (CAA) first opened in 1893 on Michigan Avenue where it served the city’s elite as a private sports and leisure club before closing in 2007.
Designed by Henry Ives Cobb, the 250-foot tower was intended to dazzle visitors in town for the 1893 World’s Fair. Made of stone and red brick, the building was a pioneer in adapting the vertical lines of Venetian Gothic to steel-framed skyscrapers. In its heyday the CAA boasted member names like Spalding and even Wrigley, who adapted the club’s logo for the Chicago Cubs.
The vintage building has been reimagined as a 241-room luxury hotel through a partnership among AJ Capital Partners, Geolo Capital, Agman Partners, Commune Hotels + Resorts, Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, and Chicago-based Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA). The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s 17,000 square feet features event space, a restored gymnasium, a game room inspired by classic recreational activities, multiple restaurants, retail space, and a rooftop lounge.
Reviving a historic site, which had been continually modified throughout its 114-year existence, involved tackling the layers of additive work. “The historic material that we started with represented every era from 1893 to 2007,” said Paul Alessandro, partner at Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture.
In the White City Ballroom, ceiling tiles forming a stalactite with an Edison light bulb at the tip were reproduced to match historic photographs of the space. HPA’s master plasterer worked with the company responsible for the original plasterwork to mold new tiles onsite. The suspended ceiling leaves access for modern equipment below the original structural deck. “The ceiling is essentially the most expensive lay-in ceiling ever built,” said Alessandro.
“From an architectural perspective, no detail was overlooked in the restoration project,” said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of Chicago Architecture Foundation. Even the guest room furniture was custom designed to reference CAA’s athletic past, with leather-clad benches in each room fashioned after pommel horses.
Yet the greatest architectural triumph at CAA might be a completely new addition. The rooftop bar, Cindy’s, provides guests with a spectacular view of the city; it also provided the development team with unique structural challenges. HPA’s structural engineer cantilevered trusses to support the bar’s exterior walls.
Stepping into the building’s lustrous marble entry from the rush of Michigan Avenue feels like entering a hallowed space. The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel still caters to guests of privilege—witness its rarified Millennium Park vistas and an original Andy Warhol portrait of Cindy Pritzker—but thanks to the efforts of its dedicated development team those of more modest means can find in its spaces a taste of leisure and luxury.