Designed as a glamorous apartment hotel in the 1920s, Shoreland has seen its fair share of change both inside and out. The building was situated as a gateway to Hyde Park, and its construction aligned with the rapidly developing lakefront and public parks that surrounded it. During its hotel days, Shoreland saw the comings and goings of the city’s elite, hosting a whirlwind of formal events in its opulent ballrooms and notorious Al Capone card games in its back rooms. Not long after opening, the lobby was completely transformed and given a new bright and airy ambiance. Eventually, it welcomed more students than socialites as a University of Chicago dormitory, but after continued deterioration and ceiling collapses, it was sold.
In the early 2000s, Mac purchased the property and in partnership with Studio Gang Architects, restored this Hyde Park classic to a new version of its former glory with modern amenities and touches of luxury throughout. Visitors and residents today fall in love with the local legend for its unparalleled lake views, updated interiors, vintage grandeur, and the stories held within this historic landmark.
Shoreland Initial Vision
The vision for Shoreland was clear: it was “conceived in 1923 as a monumental apartment hotel that would accommodate affluent long-term residents and short-term visitors, with grand public spaces and ground-floor shops that could be utilized by the larger Hyde Park community.”†
The Jackson Shore Hotel Company (later the Shoreland Hotel Company) was the developer for the project, and two Milwaukee men, Gustav H. Gottschalk and Meyer Fridstein, were enlisted to bring the vision to life. Their other work included the Belden-Stratford in Lincoln Park and the Congress Theatre, respectively. But Shoreland proved to be the grandest and most ambitious project for G. H. Gottschalk & Company. While they focused on actually constructing Chicago’s third largest apartment hotel building, they brought on a consultant to help fill and furnish the space. Hotel manager Harry J. Fawcett was just the man for the job. He oversaw the interior design, proposing luxuriously appointed rooms and impressive European-style furniture reflective of the building’s richly textured exterior.
Construction began in the spring of 1925 and the Shoreland Hotel opened its doors on May 1, 1926 to great acclaim.
Shoreland’s grand design and sheer mass were both practical and whimsical in nature. Set on an unusually large one-and-a-half acre plot, the U-shaped structure’s two projecting wings created space for an open circular drive with a cast-iron porte cochère. The wings themselves yielded more corner units, allowing more residents to bask in airy accommodations with spectacular views of the lake. Moreover, residents could peer down from their windows to spy on guests coming up the drive. After all, as architectural historian Paul Groth notes in his book Living Downtown, “hotel life was spectacularly and notoriously public.”
For a 13-story property, Shoreland has a striking visual presence – it feels intimate up close but can be easily admired from a distance. The property’s exterior can be divided into three sections (the three-part vertical block style is actually a prominent feature of many Chicago structures). Though the majority of the building’s masonry exterior is composed of buff-colored brick, terra cotta details create focal points at the top and bottom. Because of the condensed ornamentation and circular drive, approaching Shoreland feels a bit like arriving at a country manor. But when viewed from afar, the overall composition and sheer size set Shoreland apart from every other property dotting the lakefront.
Shoreland Exterior Ornamentation
For a city whose history called for fireproof building components, terra cotta – a highly versatile, durable, and lightweight material – rose to the occasion. In fact, Chicago’s proximity to transcontinental railways made the region a hub for terra cotta manufacturing. The Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, which once served the likes of Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright, provided Shoreland with its own decorative elements.
At the base of the structure, a glazed terra cotta arcade stretches out behind the port cochère, punctured with enormously tall windows which allow a glimpse into the sun-drenched lobby. A large open terrace extends over this two-story façade, encrusted with intricate detailing and crowned with oversized vases. The terra cotta arcade design is repeated on a smaller scale at the top, perhaps to create the illusion of even greater height to passers-by at the ground level.
Spanish Renaissance Revival
The idea to build Shoreland was born at a time when historical revival styles were at the pinnacle of popularity. The Spanish Renaissance Revival style chosen for the hotel’s design was visually dynamic, weaving inspiration from the entire canon of Spanish architecture into a flamboyant terra cotta patchwork. Though this style is fairly rare in Chicago, it was popular elsewhere in the design of exotic movie palaces.
The hallmark of Spanish Renaissance Revival is its medieval flair. Fanciful eagles, heraldic shields, and imposing satyr heads can be found in abundance along Shoreland’s exterior. Plus, the ornamentation pays homage to both sea and shore: its main motif is a Spanish galleon at full mast situated between two lions. On either side of the crenelated (castle-like) penthouse level, enormous cartouches of ships and satyrs look out across the cornices of red terra cotta tile and off to the lakefront.
When Shoreland’s construction began in 1925, the lakefront directly adjacent was already undergoing a facelift. The building itself was a significant consideration in the redevelopment of the Lake Michigan shoreline. It was intended to rise out from its luscious surroundings as a landmark welcoming visitors to the public parks and the Hyde Park neighborhood. This “massive lakefront extension and improvement plan… had been in the works since the years following the Columbian Exposition and… by the early 1930s, had completely transformed the shoreline between Grant Park and Jackson Park.”†
But when Shoreland opened for business, the front was not as picturesque as early illustrations show it to be: “initial postcards and advertising for the hotel omitted or altered the true state of the new park space, which was rough, un-landscaped, and unsightly.”† The future site of Promontory Point was just an infill of land utilized as a dirt parking lot until 1929.
The Original Lobby Design
Echoing the expanse of the Lake Michigan shore, Shoreland’s magnificent 125-foot long double-height lobby with mezzanine is shielded behind the arcaded exterior and massive windows. Originally done in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style like the exterior, it featured opulently decorated column capitals and 14-foot chandeliers of hand-wrought bronze. The overall effect was captured in the August 1926 issue of The Hotel Bulletin: “there are no crystals of any kind in the fixtures, they being entirely of metal. It is most unusual, and in keeping in every way with the elegance and beauty of the lobby.”
Also described in the Bulletin were the lobby’s amenities. The first floor contained a barber shop (“modern in every way”), beauty salon (“with every device necessary for enhancing milady’s beauty”), along with a convenience store and grocery. For a little recreation, tenants could stop by the bowling lanes and eighteen-hole indoor mini-golf course that filled the enormous basement.
With such close proximity to the charming public parks and gardens along the lakefront, guests looking for fresh air were never in want.
1930s Lobby Renovation
To draw the attention of lakefront recreationists, supposedly a massive “Shoreland Hotel” sign was installed on the property’s penthouse in 1934. Though this is no longer present, the 1930s marked a concerted effort to change with the times and move beyond the what was, at that time, seen as an old-fashioned design bogged down with heavy ornamentation.
Architect James Eppenstein was selected to address this concern in 1937. Despite running newspaper ads with minimalistic illustrations of the property’s silhouette, not much could actually be done to alter the exterior. So, Eppstein turned his focus inward. The height and volume of the lobby space were retained during the renovation, but it was redesigned for a more streamlined look under the Art Moderne style. All ornamentation was stripped away, leaving a stark but elegant contrast from outside to inside. Weighty details were removed to emphasize the graceful lines of the soaring structure, providing a striking backdrop to the sophisticated modern décor.
Studio Gang Renovation
Although the lobby today echoes many of the design choices adopted in the 1930s, it has undergone some significant renovations since then. Jumping ahead to 2008, Mac purchased the hotel-turned-dormitory and partnered with Studio Gang Architects to revitalize the entire property. Coated with student doodles and crumbling plaster, with a caved-in ballroom ceiling and broken elevators, the 82-year-old Shoreland was crying out for “tender, loving care” according to Jeanne Gang.
After a year-long interior demolition, each and every electrical wire and gas line were replaced, a garage was carved out of the basement, damaged terra cotta ornamentation was repaired, and the extra-wide hallways were preserved. The former dorm rooms were comfortably enlarged to studio, 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments.
The goal was to establish “historical continuity with modern juxtaposition” through design. To achieve this, a careful assessment was taken to understand how the vintage features could be repaired and enhanced, and to identify areas that needed a complete overhaul. Most visitors wouldn’t realize it, but the lobby is filled with refinished and reupholstered furniture from the 1930s – with their new coats of glossy orange paint and velvety black fabric, the pieces are at once very modern and very timeless. Rather than mimicking the original look or going faux when something was missing, airy modern features like the floating lobby stairs, glass doorways, and contemporary rugs were selected to play off the original charm without overshadowing it.
In 2014, the apartment complex reopened and was honored with a Preservation Excellence Award. The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks praised Shoreland’s carefully restored exterior and the extraordinary interior improvements made during the conversation from crumbling dormitory to sleek luxury apartment complex. In addition to the units themselves, Shoreland’s former ballrooms and dining spaces were also given significant time and attention as they were brought up to code and into the present day.
Perhaps the most enchanting space at Shoreland is one of the ballrooms, and it’s tucked behind the mezzanine. With the capacity to seat 800, the Crystal Ballroom was highly sought out (as was the equally beautiful Louis XVI Ballroom) for lavish wedding receptions and anniversary parties, bar mitzvahs and birthdays, cotillion balls and proms. One particularly significant gala in the hotel’s history was the 1928 reception for Amelia Earhart after her successful trans-Atlantic flight. The Hyde Park Herald tracked these social goings-on in a regular column called “At the Hotels,” and Shoreland was even nicknamed “The Wedding Hotel of the South Side,” playing host to multiple marriage celebrations a day.
And it is the ideal space for such an occasion, with its fanciful white and gold detailing. A row of crystal chandeliers dangle below an intricate plaster ceiling with a gold scrolling pattern. Arched window openings let the light stream in along on the west wall, and a matching blind arcade on the east wall originally supported shimmering mirrored panes that reflected all the room’s brightness and beauty back into itself.
The most recent renovation breathed life back into the Crystal Ballroom. Today, its delicate detailing is contrasted with shocks of playful color and minimalist lines. Rather than being a space for dancing and dining, both ballrooms are currently used by the University of Chicago in the development of the Genomic Data Commons, a sophisticated platform for streamlining, analyzing, and sharing cancer research.
Louis XVI Ballroom
The Louis XVI Ballroom, situated along the north end of the main floor, served as the hotel’s primary public dining room. It was especially impressive as there were no columns obstructing its openness, and it was often used as a secondary event venue on a busy weekend.
A remarkable space, The Louis XVI Ballroom was decorated in a palette of lavender, ivory, gold, and green. Silk damask drapes of a “Du Barry rose color” added to the sumptuous atmosphere of the space, and charming murals, “all depicting and describing phases of the dance,” added a whimsical touch. According to The Hotel Bulletin, “masters have pronounced [the walnut floor] to be the finest dance floor ever built,” and the entire space “rival[ed] in magnificence those rooms that were actually done in the day of Louis Seize.”
Unfortunately, the original plaster ceiling and its decorative features no longer survive. On April 10, 1985 the Hyde Park Herald announced that the room “ha[d] been closed off since the ceiling collapsed as the result of a water leak.” This severe damage occurred during Shoreland’s time as a dormitory, and instead of receiving careful attention, the ballroom was abandoned.
During the most recent renovation, delicate fragments of the historic wall ornamentation were meticulously preserved and given a fresh coat of bright white paint. The imperfections and asymmetry, like ancient ruins, possess a type of ethereal beauty. Vibrant orange chandeliers playfully harken back to the ballroom’s original glory days, and today the space serves as an inspiring space for the University of Chicago’s cancer researchers.
English Room & Spanish Room
In addition to the ballrooms, there were three smaller but equally impressive dining rooms on the mezzanine level called the Spanish, English, and Italian Rooms. The latter no longer exists, but the Spanish and English Rooms were – and have remained – totally unique from one another in design and ambiance.
Clad in leather walls with a 400-year-old table as the focal point, the Spanish Room was “unlike anything ever done,” according to The Hotel Bulletin. At the center hung a wrought-iron light fixture with Shoreland’s signature galleon motif, which is proudly displayed today in what’s now a meeting room or study area for residents.
The English Room was decorated in an entirely different style, with deep oak wainscoting and a marble floor. Fixtures of silver and crystal once illuminated the space. Now, this space serves as a luxurious resident lounge with a pool table, foosball, board games, and comfy couches around the TV.
In its hotel heydey, room sizes and amenities varied from single-room lodgings to expansive nine-room suites with living, dining, cooking, and sleeping spaces. Each of the well-appointed apartments had the finest European-style furnishings, providing the utmost comforts and luxuries for temporary guests and long-term tenants alike. Shoreland’s landmark designation report explains that “permanent residents in the hotel’s larger ‘housekeeping suites’ were provided with hotel linens, china and silverware. Maid service, laundry service, and room service were also available [and] modern exercise equipment [could be] delivered to guests in their rooms upon request.”†
Another feature exciting to guests at the time – and apartment hunters today! – was the contemporary kitchen design, described by The Hotel Bulletin as being “unusually attractive.” Each kitchen included “an electric stove, completely automatic; a refrigerator of unusual size, mechanically cooled, with facilities for making ice cubes and ices, built-in ironing boards… and any other facilities that could be thought of.”
Kitchens in Shoreland still have the same wow-factor today, with stainless steel appliances, chic cabinetry, and granite countertops. The in-unit laundry machines serve as a nice upgrade from the built-in ironing boards of old, and the open floorplans and high ceilings make the units airy and bright. Overall, the apartments provide desirable modern comforts and upscale amenities wrapped in Shoreland’s historic charm, with a tranquil lakefront location.
At Mac, we know how much our residents and neighbors connect with the Hyde Park neighborhood and want to be a part of its story. Sometimes it’s not easy to articulate this during the apartment search, but when you enter a place like Shoreland, you can truly feel the history around you, and it’s instantly clear that there’s something special about the space. If you’re a resident, thank you for helping us keep this landmark alive. If you haven’t visited yet, we would love to show you around! To learn more about apartment availability and schedule a tour at Shoreland, message us below or give us a call at 773-362-4468.
† Shoreland Hotel Landmark Designation Report, 2010. http://www.cityofchicago.org/dam/city/depts/zlup/Historic_Preservation/Publications/Shoreland_Hotel.pdf
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