I like hotels, you know that, and this week I stayed in two historical buildings that in last year have been tastefully converted.
In Chicago this week I stayed at the old Chicago Athletic Association (CAA). The CAA was established in 1890 just south of the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue. It’s original use was as a private club (for men I am sure) to meet for ‘athletic, business and social activities.’ Chicago based architect Henry Ives Cobb was inspired by Venetian architecture and the huge building was completed in 1893 with a sold out membership of 3,000 members.
The CAA used to host big national and international sporting events such as boxing and swimming. Many famous sports figures like swimmer and Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller used it to stay and train. The CAA remained a private membership social club for the city’s top brass, and I remember when I lived there it had a very hoity reputation. It closed in 2007.
The building then went through five years of struggles, originally bought to be developed into a apartment building, which was never given permission for by the city, or knocked down to replaced by a high rise. Also turned down. In 2008 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the CAA building as one of the USA’s most endangered places. Five years of upheaval followed until the building was rescued by a consortium of investors including hotel group Two Roads.
Then in painstaking detail whilst keeping the historical character of this almost 130-year old Venetian Gothic inspired building it was restored and converted to the Chicago Athletic Hotel with plaster artisans restoring the grand stairwell and the overhead 1890 canopied ceiling.
The 40 metre pool, which became a white elephant when the Olympic Association ruled that competitive pools must be 50 metres, is now renamed The Tank, and the deep sided room is used for exhibits and parties. The Drawing Room adorned with restored light fittings is a lovely place to hang out with a drink in front of large fireplaces.
The tiny hidden Milk Room, dubbed by original CAA members during the Prohibition, because it only sold milk (of course) is now a coffee by day, and micro bar by evening. I had a few drinks and some food the night arrived in the Cherry Circle Room, originally the blacked out windowed street level men’s lounge. The Games Room has been lovingly restored to a mecca of bar games including a full blown bocce court. I walked through here numerous times of day and night and it was constantly a hive of activity.
I had lunch with a mate in Cindy’s, the naturally sunlit, well it rained the whole day but you get my drift, covered rooftop bar and restaurant that gives stunning views out over the lake. At ground level burger chain Shake Shack occupies the once Turkish Baths.
Due to the layout and size of the hotel, is didn’t flow like a regular hotel and it certainly creaked in places, but it was all part of it’s charm, and it was a nice step away from so many cookie cutter city hotels. Definitely a recommend from me.
Then after flying into London on Thursday I wanted to be south of the Thames near to Tower Bridge to make a quick getaway yesterday out to north east London to see my brother.
Looking around online I found a new place I had never heard of called Lalit, upon research a high-end Indian owned chain that is solely in India, but the owner wanted a central London one to add to his collection and acquired the old St Olave’s Grammar School building on Tooley Street in 2014.
They building was erected in the mid 1800’s but I was surprised to read that the school actually closed and moved to Orpington, where it remains, in 1968. I guess I knew it because the name lived on in just after the turn of the century and was used by South London College and as one their compasses but ran into ruin and eventually closed in 2004 where it remained derelict for 10 years.
The hotel developers found that the building had several restrictions on any alterations to it as it is listed, and therefore remains pretty much the same inside. It is said that any old boy could still walk around it and the classrooms, labaoratories, kitchen and the dining hall, now the Baluchi Restaurant, are exactly in the same place.
The hotel plays on that with the rooms called classrooms, senior and junior, and there are science labs, a teachers room and a headmasters headquarters. It was tastefully done although the rooms, like a students, were a little sparse and getting food appeared to be an issue at certain times even though there are four restaurants on site. I started my working life on Tooley Street, and with the almost finished London Bridge development this is a great location.