Now is the time to make plans for the Annual OPS Program in
If you have managed to not attend
the annual program in Chicago 2012 or 2014, you should strongly consider doing so
this year. Besides the fantastic educational experience and valuable networking
with coworkers and friends, the meeting hotel, the InterContinental is well
worth a visit. If you have any interest in history, you can satisfy your
curiosity in the photo gallery on the Upper Fifth Floor, take a swim in the
original pool and visit many of the restored ballrooms. The hotel offers all
the modern facilities within an elegant old-world frame work. Please take a few
minutes to review the interesting history provided by the hotel.
We hope to see you there.
History of the InterContinental Chicago
InterContinental Chicago was built in 1929 by the Shriners Organization as the
Medinah Athletic Club.
exotic gold dome originated as part of a decorative docking port for dirigibles
before the Hindenburg disaster changed the country’s mind about the future of
travel by blimp and the docking structure was never used. Years later, the
building would lose several feet with the dismantling of an ornamental canopy
on the small turret north of the dome. This chimney-like structure was
originally intended to assist in the docking of these air ships, but was never
used. Inside the dome a glass cupola and spiral iron staircase resembling the
top of a lighthouse led down to the hotel’s upper elevator landing.
In the heart of the tower beneath, the club
featured a twenty third floor miniature golf course, complete with water
hazards and a wandering brook, a shooting range, a billiards hall, a running
track, a gymnasium, an archery range, a bowling alley, a two story boxing
arena, and a junior Olympic size swimming pool. All of this in addition to the
ballrooms, corporate meeting rooms, and 440 guest rooms which were available
for the exclusive use of the club’s 3,500 members and their guests.
The pool, with its blue Spanish
majolica tiles and terra-cotta fountain of Neptune
on its east wall, is one of the hotel’s few features which to this day remains
virtually untouched. At the time of its unveiling, it was one of the highest
indoor pools in the world, and its fourteenth floor location was heralded as a
feat of engineering. Today it is commonly referred to as the Johnny Weismuller
pool, a testament to the famous Olympic athlete and actor who trained in its
waters. The rows of seats which remain on its western wall recall the days when
swimming was a popular spectator sport.
The elegant Grand Ballroom, a
two story, one hundred foot long elliptical space, was decorated with Egyptian,
Assyrian, and Greek ornamentation
and surrounded by a horseshoe shaped mezzanine. In
its center hung a 12,000 pound Baccarat crystal chandelier, the largest in North America.
The King Arthur Court, a far more masculine
room built to function as the men’s smoking lounge, featured heavy timbering,
stained glass, and a mural depicting the stories of King Arthur and Parsifal.
the club was originally built as a men’s club, there were only designated areas
in which women were allowed. They were given a separate entrance and elevator
to visit the Grand Ballroom for social gatherings or to access the Women’s
Plunge, Lounge and Tea Room. At that time, the women also had access to an
outdoor loggia overlooking Michigan
Avenue and decorated to evoke the feeling of a
Venetian terrace, perched high above the Adriatic Sea.
When the club finally opened,
it was criticized by many for its "wasteful extravagance,” although in time its eclectic mix of multicultural styles would become widely
recognized as a genuine historical treasure. With only 32 percent occupancy
upon its opening, many saw this elaborate fortress of excess as overly
decadent, but it never failed to keep the architectural community talking.
Although October 29th
of 1929 would
become known as the "Blackest Day in Stock Market
History,” it would be another four years before the effects of this financial
disaster would force the Shriners to file for bankruptcy. In 1934 they lost
their beloved clubhouse, and in the decade that followed the building went
through various incarnations, including a brief stint as residential
apartments. In 1944 it began its life as a hotel, debuting as the Continental
Hotel and Town Club, where Esther Williams would swim in the now famous pool. Subsequently
it would operate under both the Sheraton and Radisson hotel chains. In 1961 the
Sheraton expanded, adding a second tower just north of the existing building
and bringing the northern boundary of the hotel all the way to Grand Avenue.
During this era, the hotel featured an outlet of the popular Polynesian themed
Kon Tiki Ports restaurant chain. A facade of lava rock adorned the northern
wall along Grand Avenue,
where today only a small section remains visible, tucked at the end of the
balcony of Zest’s outdoor café. When the Radisson’s contract ended in 1983, the
hotel’s name was changed back once again to the Continental. It would remain
open for only three more years before finally closing its doors in anticipation
of major remodeling and restoration.
In 1989, Intercontinental
Hotels and Resorts purchased the property and it went through extensive
renovations prior the grand re-opening in 1990. During that time, a former
Medinah Club member heard of the renovation and donated a 1930 anniversary yearbook
entitled "The Scimitar,” filled with photographs which would serve as reference
for much of the work.
In addition to the guestroom
modifications, the balcony of the Grand Ballroom, which had long since been
removed, was rebuilt to match its original design. The murals and gold leaf
detailing on the room’s ceiling were restored by Lido Lippi, the same man who
consulted on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. On the ninth floor, which
had at one time housed the shooting range and billiards hall, renovations
included raising the floor two and a half feet to accommodate plumbing for
additional guestrooms. In the public areas, designers paid painstaking attention to detail. Photographs of the original
carpeting were enlarged and used to recreate its exact pattern, even making
sure not to incorporate more colors than were originally available from the
manufacturer. Initially, workers utilized a process called cornhusk blasting to
strip away the many layers of paint from the marble walls in the Hall of Lions,
as traditional sandblasting would have destroyed the intricate details of any
etchings beneath. When it was determined that a single marble column would
require close to a ton of ground corn cobs, restorers decided to scrub away the
paint by hand. The two carvings of lions which were discovered underneath have
become an emblem used throughout the hotel.
the Hotel Intercontinental Chicago opened its doors to the public in March of
1990, every step had been taken to return this classic beauty to its original
splendor. The north tower, which had opened the previous year as the Forum
Hotel, now operated as a separate property, although the two shared
back-of-the-house facilities. While the Forum catered mostly to business
travelers, the Intercontinental continued its tradition of elegance and
attention to detail. A decade later, a second phase of renovations would unite
the two once again. Remaining open this time during construction, a new
entrance and a four story lobby were built, combining elements of both
architectural styles. Its grand staircase, which ascends to the banquet space
above, is lined with banisters bearing intricate cast bronze ornamentation. An
illuminated rotunda is capable of changing colors and creating the illusion of
twinkling stars against a night sky.
the Hotel Intercontinental Chicago is a world renowned destination hotel which
embraces the contemporary traveler’s tastes while proudly acknowledging its own
rich past. Occupying a prominent place in Chicago’s
Michigan-Wacker Historic District, the hotel is also listed on the National
Register of Historic Places. It features 807 guest rooms, over 40,000 feet of
meeting and banquet space, and the largest fitness facility of all the downtown
building’s creators, in a ceremony which took place on November 5th
of 1928, placed within its cornerstone a copper box to commemorate its place in
history. Filled with records of their organization, photographs of its members,
a copy of the Chicago Tribune announcing the proposal of the building, coins,
and other historic data, this time capsule remains sealed within the hotel’s
limestone exterior. If given the opportunity to add to its contents, there
would be no shortage of memorabilia, gathered over the near century which has
passed since that day, to document the impressive evolution of this grand
With the Medinah Athletic Club
in the distance, an airship crosses over the Chicago Skyline circa 1929.
History and Images were graciously provided to us by the hotel for this purpose