Shoreland Then and Now – Part 2 – Lifestyle
In Part 1 our history of Shoreland Apartments, we charted the property’s design transformation from the 1920s through today. It was born as a premiere apartment hotel in 1926 — the third largest in Chicago with a thousand rooms. And a thousand stories, too, bubbling out of its glamorous affiliation with celebrities and bootleggers alike.
But what exactly was an apartment hotel? And why did a bunch of college students start inhabiting the building in the 1970s? In this installment, we’ll explain how and why Shoreland residents lived the various lifestyles that they did.
The 20th Century Apartment Hotel
In the late nineteenth century, Chicagoans clung tightly to a bucolic vision of their city. It was, to them, a haven of single-family homes neatly arranged along tranquil tree-lined streets; they chafed at the idea of becoming like other urban centers where living quarters were stacked one atop another. Of course, some apartments did exist, but these were small in scale and blended neatly into the existing architectural landscape.
Following a tumultuous recession in the 1890s, land values and building costs skyrocketed. As city-dwellers today can attest, building or purchasing a home became more of a financial challenge than a desire. By the 1920s, apartment living had become an attractive choice for members of the working, middle, and upper classes.
Many hotels that were originally built for the 1893 World’s Fair made the smooth transition from tourist trap to comfortable residence. But the purpose-built apartment hotel was a new type of urban structure at the time. It was a calculated combination offering all the comforts and privacy of a home without the maintenance and upkeep, and a desirable solution to the shifting preferences that paralleled Chicago’s increasing property costs.
One brochure published in 1920 explained it thusly: “In an apartment hotel a family can live as comfortably in a five- or six-room apartment as they can in a very large private residence…not bothered with servants, coal bills, janitors, repairs and a thousand and one other vexing problems… [additionally,] a community residence is less expensive than an individual residence.”†
The earlier focus on a sheltered family-oriented lifestyle diminished and apartment hotels sprung up to cater to newfound social desires. They were often close to beaches, transit, and city nightlife — ideal for young professionals who much preferred dining and dancing to the quiet life in an empty house. Affluent and established (i.e. older) clientele sought out the large and well-appointed private suites, impeccable service, and refined meeting and dining rooms that apartment hotels offered.
At Shoreland, hotel rooms were appointed with custom furnishings — often reproductions of signature European silhouettes. A hotel-operated upholstery shop was hidden in the attic to maintain the building’s furniture collection which, at the time, had an estimated value of $2 million. The “fully–furnished suites rang[ed] from single-room hotel units that rented in the 1920s for $240 a month to nine-room suites with living room, dining room, kitchen, and spacious bedrooms with large closets for $1,075 a month.”†
For those looking to make Shoreland their long-term residence, the so-called ‘housekeeping suites’ were the answer. These suites were complete with “hotel linens, china and silverware. Maid service, laundry service, and room service were also available.”† And for those looking to maintain a fitness routine, “modern exercise equipment was delivered to guests in their rooms upon request.”†
A Place to See & Be Seen
Architectural historian Paul Groth explains in his book Living Downtown that hotel residents attained a “gregarious existence not possible in private houses.” Grandiose apartment hotels like Shoreland “were built for crowds and hotel life was spectacularly and notoriously public.”
The Shoreland Hotel certainly embraced the spectacular and notorious. Al Capone hosted weekly card games at Shoreland, and in 1928 the hotel hosted an elegant reception to celebrate Amelia Earhart’s successful trans-Atlantic flight. (The aviatress actually attended Hyde Park Academy High School and was known fondly in the neighborhood as “Our Amelia.”) Serving as a social nexus in Hyde Park for 50 years, Shoreland welcomed guests including Eleanor Roosevelt, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Hoffa, Poet-Laureate John Masefield, and White Sox owner Bill Veeck, along with corporate moguls, investment bankers, and other Chicago celebrities.
Locals sought out the Crystal Ballroom and Louis XVI Ballroom for wedding celebrations, birthdays, and grand galas. Shoreland was even nicknamed “The Wedding Hotel of the South Side,” sometimes hosting multiple events per day. To track all the excitement, the Hyde Park Herald charted these social goings-on in a regular column called “At the Hotels” for all to admire. Naturally, Shoreland appeared first on the list.
End of an Era
Following the shock of World War II and the suburban sprawl that swept the nation in the 1950s, the Shoreland Hotel’s golden era was coming to a close. Suburban single-family houses were back in vogue, meaning city apartments were out.
The property was extravagantly built for an estimated $6 million in the 1920s, but it sold in foreclosure for just $750,000 to the University of Chicago in the 1970s.
Dorm Life at Shoreland Hall
While other historic hotels were torn down, Shoreland was spared and converted to student housing. As the University of Chicago’s largest standalone dormitory, Shoreland Hall was home to around six or seven hundred tenants each year. Unusually, according to UChicago’s The Core, “a handful of people who had taken up permanent residence in the building while it was still a hotel were allowed to stay as long as they wished; the last non-University residents remained until the 1980s.”
But for students, despite being over a mile away from campus, having easy access to the lakefront, parks, and public transit to downtown offset the slightly longer commute to class. Spacious corner suites were especially great for hosting friends, and the building’s unique off-campus vibe and historic feel actually made it a favorite among many.
Students showed their love for Shoreland by embellishing the halls with cartoon paintings and doodles, but after a few decades of wear and tear, the property had become prohibitively expensive to keep up. A water leak in 1985 caused the ceiling of the Louis XVI Ballroom to completely collapse, and the resulting damage was never repaired. According to The Chicago Maroon, “in 2001, a facilities audit of the site found that nearly $50 million in renovations would be needed to bring the Shoreland up to code.”
Instead of facing this massive undertaking, the University broke ground on a new dormitory building closer to campus. Shoreland, a washed up Jazz Era landmark on the shores of Lake Michigan, passed from one developer to another with the promise of becoming condominiums. However, the housing market collapse quashed the condo conversion idea.
A New Lease on Life
Spared from certain demolition, Shoreland was purchased by Mac Properties in the early 2000s. Its disintegrating interior was completely gutted to make room for modern luxury apartments. The results of the 2013 rehab by Studio Gang Architects are breathtaking. The award-winning renovation balances the preservation of historically significant terra cotta ornamentation with the addition of contemporary design elements and functional modern additions.
Shoreland is now a LEED-Certified historic landmark, and was the first building in the City of Chicago to have 1GB high-speed internet. Today, residents in the spacious studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments enjoy bright airy accommodations afforded by 9-foot ceilings and wide windows. The kitchens — outfitted with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and European-style cabinetry — are second only to the in-unit laundry as favorite interior feature. An amenity-rich community, Shoreland contains a fitness center, recreation room, multiple resident lounges, bike storage, parking, and a pooch parlor room made for dog grooming.
And there’s another perk for the pups and their people. Although “the city of Chicago strongly encourages full-fledged dog runs at new residential buildings,” according to Chicago Magazine we “made the case, successfully, that the several hundred acres of park at the Shoreland’s front door should count for something.”
This prime lakefront location is arguably Shoreland’s best feature. It’s still as ‘enviable’ as it was when Shoreland first debuted as a hotel in the 1920s. Facing only the lakefront and parks, the rooms provide unparalleled privacy with access to natural light and spectacular views. The building itself sits along a quiet tree-lined street and is just steps away from the eclectic mix of Hyde Park restaurants, shops, and museums, with easy access to the Loop via public transit.
Although Shoreland made a great vacation spot in its early days, we at Mac believe it’s an even better place to call home. To our past and current residents, thank you for helping us keep this lakefront jewel full of life. To all those who’ve yet to pay Shoreland a visit, we would be happy to make the introduction. If you’d like to learn more about apartment availability and schedule a tour, 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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