Abandoned hotel in Chicago

Strand Hotel, Chicago Illinois
Date added: September 10, 2022 Categories: Illinois Hotel
Upper Floor, Typical Corridor at west end of building; camera facing north (2012)

The Strand Hotel, a residential hotel, located in the City of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois was completed in 1915 and was designed by the architectural firm of Davis & Davis. Located in the Woodlawn neighborhood, near the intersection of 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, the Strand Hotel was once at the center of one of the city's largest commercial districts.

Construction of the Strand Hotel was completed in 1915 at a cost of $200,000. The new building was financed by Thomas Gaynor in partnership with Frank Nasher. Gaynor was a prominent local real estate developer, and long-time resident of the adjacent Washington Park neighborhood. When first announced, the hotel was originally called the Calumet Hotel and was to be developed in conjunction with a theater on the adjacent site to the south. Gaynor had purchased the 300' x 125' site in 1913, for $137,500; which was reported to be a high price as the existing three-story store and flat building on the lot was not considered to have any value. Plans for the new building were announced in June of 1914 with an illustration in the Chicago Tribune and the building was under construction by November of that same year. The hotel was planned be a five-story building, with five stores on the first floor and 140 guest rooms at the upper floors. Amenities would also include a restaurant and banquet hall.

The adjacent theater was not realized until later. The adjacent lot was sold, and the Tivoli Theater opened on this site in 1921. The theater was designed by Rapp and Rapp and was one of the earliest movie palaces built in Chicago. When completed it was also the largest, with a capacity of 4,000 seats it preceded construction of the downtown Chicago Theater by approximately eight months. The six-story-tall facade of rich terra cotta and tapestry brickwork framed a five-story stained-glass window opening. The Tivoli closed in 1963 and was demolished shortly after.

The Strand Hotel was among the finer hotels in Woodlawn and its owners worked to maintain this reputation at least through the early 1960s. A 1924 advertisement in the Chicago Tribune promoted the Strand along with a dozen other prominent residential hotels in Hyde Park and South Shore. While Woodlawn enjoyed general prosperity through the 1920s; the neighborhood as a whole began to decline as a result of the prolonged Great Depression of the 1930s and the neighborhood's subsequent instability that followed as African Americans moved into the neighborhood, despite resistance and violence from white residents. By the 1950s, vice in the neighborhood was a growing problem, and a police investigation was launched, prompted by a local resident's complaint against open prostitution and drug dealing in Woodlawn.

In an effort to counter the poor reputation earned by some of the local hotels, a number of the South Side's finest hotels organized in 1960 to form the Southside Hotel Association. Among the association's goals was the establishment of a high level of standards for their hotels and to work to attract community luncheons, meetings, and conventions. Owners of the Strand Hotel were among the charter members of this association, which also included owners from: Evans hotel, 733 E. 61st Street; Sutherland hotel, 4659 Drexel Avenue; Hayes hotel, 6400 University Avenue; Tivoli hotel, 6316 Maryland Avenue; and the Southway hotel, 6014 South Park Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive). Members of the new organization pledged to maintain their hotels and regularly invest in the upkeep of their buildings. They also agreed that selective acceptance of guests was important to maintain these high standards. Area hotels that did not meet the group's standards were denied membership to the association. The Southside Hotel Association was interracial, including both African American and white hotel owners and hoped to "regain community respect through progressive activities and strict observance of the code."

By 1970 the Strand Hotel was redecorated and by 1974 was announced to be under new management; however the hotel was reportedly in decline by the mid-1970s' The hotel was later converted for use as a single room occupancy hotel and was eventually closed. The building is presently vacant.

The hotel's first floor lounge space was long referred to as the Strand Lounge and was operated by various tenants throughout the building's history. This space was taken over by McKie Fitzhugh who opened McKie's Disc Jockey Lounge here in the fall of 1956. Fitzhugh was recognized as one of Chicago's top DJs and was also well known as a leading dance promoter in Chicago; earning him the title "Champion of the Teen Agers" as these dances were considered a wholesome activity that kept the kids out of trouble. The DJ Lounge hosted numerous local jazz and blues musicians, and famous musicians including: Gene Ammons, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and Max Roach. The DJ Lounge closed in 1965 and was reopened in August of 1966 as the "Strand Show Lounge" owned and operated by Fred Beatty. The storefront has since been significantly altered and retains poor integrity from this period. Only the box for a lighted sign remains above the storefront entrance; however it is deteriorated, has been painted over multiple times, and the lights are missing.

The Strand Hotel is an early example of the residential hotels that began to spring up in Woodlawn, as well as the adjacent neighborhoods of South Shore and Hyde Park. These hotels were built in the early 1900s through the 1920s, with construction interrupted briefly during World War I. While examples of this construction remain in the adjacent neighborhoods, the Strand Hotel is the only remaining example in Woodlawn, which was once home to at least a dozen of these types of hotels. Residential hotels ranged in size and accommodations, and those of Woodlawn were typically smaller in scale than the grand hotel towers that were constructed in Hyde Park. The Strand Hotel exemplifies the medium-scale hotel construction that anchored and supplemented Woodlawn's commercial districts, which were primarily composed of small-scale shop and flat buildings.

Residential hotels, also known as apartment hotels, catered to both short-term and long-term residents. They offered the convenience and service of a hotel, but the privacy of a home. These hotels were designed for both the wealthy and those of more modest means. Residential hotels catering to the upper class had more lavish appointments and larger spaces, while middle-class residential hotels had smaller accommodations. These often consisted of only one large room with a fold-out bed and with a closet and bathroom. These units sometimes included a kitchenette. However even the more modest hotels still offered amenities such as lounges, dining rooms, ornate public lobbies, and of course, maid service. Many also included shops and most were located near transit and established centers of commerce and entertainment. Hotel living became attractive to young people, both singe and married, who were just entering the white collar work force and for those who did not have the means to own and maintain their own home but desired a high standard of living. The cost of maintaining a home and servants became prohibitive as land values and the cost of labor increased leading up to World War I. The residential hotel provided these services for an affordable price.

Building Description

The Strand Hotel at 6315-23 South Cottage Grove Avenue is located in the Woodlawn neighborhood, approximately seven miles southeast of the Chicago Loop. Adjacent to the neighborhood of Hyde Park, Woodlawn is immediately south of the Midway Plaisance, a wide boulevard that connects Washington and Jackson Parks. The Strand Hotel is sited just south of the intersection of 63 Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. This major intersection of arterial streets is also the location of a station for the elevated train, which runs above 63rd Street and provides mass transit service between the South Side and the Chicago Loop. This intersection was once one of the largest commercial centers in the city. Historically a dense, urban location, buildings along both Cottage Grove Avenue and 63rd Street were built up to the lot lines, with no setback from the sidewalk, and often shared party walls with adjacent properties. The Strand Hotel was completed in 1915 and was originally planned to be developed in conjunction with a theater building directly to the south. The theater site remained vacant until construction of the Tivoli Theater, which opened in 1921. This 4,000-seat movie palace was later demolished in the mid-1960s. Long term deterioration of the neighborhood has resulted in extensive demolition throughout Woodlawn, leaving many vacant lots. Newer construction is limited and is generally small-scale. The Strand Hotel is one of few significant structures that remain near this major intersection that exemplifies the commercial growth of Woodlawn in the first half of the 20th century.

The Strand Hotel is a free-standing building, occupying nearly its entire 15,625 square foot site, with 103 feet of frontage along the sidewalk at South Cottage Grove Avenue and a depth of 125 feet. Public alleys are located directly north and east of the building separating it from a vacant property to the east and a one-story commercial building to the north. A paved surface area to the south originally served as an alley between the hotel and the former Tivoli Theater. The adjacent property to the south contains a one-story commercial building, set back within a paved parking lot.

The building is five stories and consists of a ground floor encompassing the entire 103-foot by 125-foot area with a U-shaped plan at the upper four floors to create a light court for the residential rooms. The building has a flat roof, surrounded by a parapet. Two elevator and stair penthouses extend beyond this flat roof and are located at the center and at the east end of the building. The east penthouse also includes a brick chimney. The building's structure consists of exterior load-bearing masonry walls, internal columns of reinforced concrete, and flat, clay-tile arch floor construction; together providing a highly fire-resistant construction for the original hotel use. The primary facade faces west, overlooking South Cottage Grove Avenue, and includes one-bay returns at the north and south sides of the building. The west facade and returns are composed of highly decorative masonry, while the secondary and tertiary facades are constructed of Chicago common brick.

The building's Classical Revival design, characterized by strong symmetry and a tripartite facade division, is expressed at the primary facade and single-bay returns. Clad in a rich combination of deep red face brick and cream-colored terra cotta, these facades are composed of a prominent, one-story base, a shaft of middle floors featuring multi-story piers, and a projecting cornice at the top of the building. The facade is terminated at the sidewalk with a band of black-glazed terra cotta, providing a visual anchor at the building's base. At the first floor, five storefronts and the main building entry are framed by cream-colored terra cotta columns with raised borders and ogee moldings that complement a Classically detailed entablature above the storefronts. The columns flanking the hotel entry are slightly larger than the corner and intermediate columns and extend to a terra cotta architrave above the entry, adding visual emphasis. This framed terra cotta entry is further embellished with an acanthus leaf molding and small dentils at the head. The main hotel entrance is marked with a projecting canopy. While the original canopy brackets remain, as well as the canopy's basic structure, much of the original ornamentation has been removed and a plywood fascia installed in its place.

The storefront openings have been significantly altered, with most if not all of the original material removed. These openings are presently covered with vandal resistant security screens. Remnants of later storefront remodeling remain and include areas of new cladding and signage. The south storefront bay was occupied by various lounges for much of the building's history. This bay was most recently used for auto repair, and thus little historic storefront material remains. Above this entry is the remnant of a neon sign that advertised the Disc Jockey Lounge, which occupied this space from 1956 through 1965. The lighting has been removed and only the metal box of this sign remains. Multiple layers of paint obscure any original finishes that may remain.

Above the storefronts, a terra cotta entablature provides a visual terminus for the building base and functions as a continuous spandrel at the second floor level. This entablature consists of a frieze with similar ogee moldings as the storefront columns, followed by an egg-and-dart molding and stringcourse with foliated wave scroll ornament that functions as the sill for the second floor windows. Above the ground floor level, the facade assumes a strong vertical emphasis.

The second through fifth floors are clad in red face brick, set in a running bond, with cream-colored terra cotta lintels, sills and trim. Rectangular window openings are regularly spaced across the facade, with paired windows at the center and end bays. Window bays are separated by wide, brick piers that project from the face of the wall for added emphasis and are framed in terra cotta with an ogee molding. The base of each pier is composed of a three-course terra cotta plinth that is continuous along the width of the facade, and at the top of each four-story pier is an ornamented terra cotta capital composed of two stringcourse moldings and a rectangular medallion.

Seven window bays are arranged in a symmetrical pattern along the primary facade. The end bays contain pairs of windows, separated by terra cotta mullions and these bays also project slightly to provide additional visual emphasis at the building corners. These corners are further enhanced by single-bay returns at the north and south facades where the design of the main facade is carried around each corner. This design provides a stronger, more three-dimensional appearance to the front of the building. The middle five window bays of the west facade consist of single window openings flanking paired openings at the center bay. The windows in each paired opening are separated by a terra cotta mullion similar to the end bays. Each single-bay return at the north and south facades has single window openings. All window openings have terra cotta ashlar window heads and projecting sills. The second through fifth floor windows at the primary facade and south return were originally double-hung, wood windows with a one-over-one configuration and with ogee lugs. Only the second floor window sash remain at the west facade, and a third floor window remains at the south return. The other window sash have been removed and the openings have been boarded over. The windows at the north return were originally steel, with a two-over-two light configuration. These windows remain, however the exterior paint finishes have not been maintained and the steel exhibits moderate to severe rusting.

The top of the main facade is comprised of a terra cotta entablature and projecting cornice with Classical detailing, set below a brick masonry parapet wall with terra cotta coping. The entablature begins with an architrave comprised of three profiled fascia courses, followed by a frieze with circular moldings centered over each window bay and rectangular molding aligning with the piers and windows below. A continuous dentil course extends above the frieze, followed by large modillions and a projecting cornice. The parapet wall is constructed of red face brick to match the shaft of the facade at the lower floors, and is capped with cream-colored terra cotta coping. At the corners, the parapet, cornice and entablature project slightly, to match the plane of the lower floors.

Decorative treatment of the Strand Hotel is reserved for the primary facade and single bay returns, with the secondary and tertiary facades constructed in a utilitarian manner. This treatment is common in urban areas where the construction of neighboring buildings in close proximity is anticipated, and would obscure the view of the side and rear facades. The building's secondary facades face north and south and are presently visible from the sidewalk, while the tertiary facade to the east, including the light court, was historically only visible from the alley. Because the lot to the east is now vacant, this facade is also visible from South Maryland Avenue, which bounds the east side of this block. This adjacent lot was historically occupied by the four-story, New Tivoli Hotel.

Beyond the primary facade returns at the north and south facades, the exterior walls are constructed of Chicago common brick in a running bond with header courses every seventh course. The common brick parapet walls are capped with overlapping clay tile coping units. Windows are regularly spaced and are set in masonry openings with limestone sills and segmentally arched heads comprised of three courses of rowlock brick. Smaller, rectangular window openings are located at an attic level and at the elevator penthouses. Windows at the south facade originally had double-hung, wood sash with a one-over-one light configuration. Most of these have been removed and replaced with plywood or security screens. Some openings are missing sash and remain unprotected. Only limited windows remain at scattered locations and these appear to be in poor condition, with open joints and extensive loss of painted finishes, hardware and glass. Windows at the north and east facades are of steel, with double-hung sash and a two-over-two light configuration. These windows have wire glass to satisfy building codes for fire protection. Most steel windows remain, however they are in fair to poor condition and exhibit rust and extensive loss of painted finishes. At the first floor, all original windows have been in-filled with masonry, and an access door has been covered with vandal resistant security screens.

The rear, east facade has an internal light court and was constructed in the same manner as the north and south facades. All windows are of steel and are in similar states of disrepair. Steel fire escapes with counterbalanced lower sections are located at the east ends of the north and south building wings flanking the light court. Each fire escape has a steel ladder at the top landing providing roof access. Fire escape door openings contain the same segmental arch construction as the window openings. All of the original first floor windows have been in-filled with masonry. Two first floor doors have been covered with vandal resistant security screens and selected upper floor windows and fire escape doors have been covered with plywood. The brick masonry on the passenger elevator penthouse in the center of the building has been covered with cement parging.

The Strand Hotel was designed to accommodate both hotel and commercial uses. On the first floor, the hotel lobby and adjacent public spaces are centrally located near the rear of the building to maximize commercial space at the front of the building. The lobby is accessed by a long entry corridor that passes the passenger elevator and an open marble stair with iron balustrade. Extensive interior renovations, including subdivision for a hardware store and garage, and years of neglect have greatly obscured the original finishes; however, these are still visible and remain intact in some locations.

The corridor and lobby floors are of ceramic mosaic tile in decorative patterns and the interior wall and ceiling surfaces are finished in plaster with ornamental cornices, projecting pilasters and coffered ceilings. The main lobby is located near the center of the first floor, below the upper story light court, allowing for three skylights at the center bay. Evidence of original mosaic tile flooring with decorative patterns is also visible in the commercial spaces flanking the lobby and public corridor. The south commercial space at the first floor has been occupied by various lounges throughout the building's history and has been extensively remodeled. The only original finish that remains here is the patterned mosaic tile floor. The space has a barrel-vaulted and coved plaster ceiling that likely dates to the period of the Disc Jockey Lounge occupancy; however at least a third of this ceiling is missing. Wall surfaces are covered with non-historic, faux-wood paneling.

The four upper floors contain individual hotel rooms, most with shared bathrooms, and are essentially identical in plan. Individual rooms are accessed off of a central, double-loaded corridor that follows the U-shaped floor plan. The passenger elevator and main stair are located near the west end of the south corridor. Both the south and north corridors lead to the exterior fire escapes at the east end of the building. A second interior stair and a freight elevator are located at the east end of the north corridor. A unique feature of the corridor configuration is the wider size of the west corridor, which evokes a more public feeling. The layout on the upper floors provided for a total of 140 guest rooms, that average 235 square feet in area. Doors between rooms allowed for the creation of suites. Each room had a small closet and the shared bathrooms each contained a bathtub and toilet. Common bathrooms were also located at each floor for those units without bathrooms. Each hotel room originally had a pedestal sink with a small mirrored cabinet above. Original plumbing fixtures exist in many rooms, but most are severely damaged. Some pedestal sinks remain in fair condition.

Interior finishes are in very poor condition and in some cases non-existent, leaving the clay tile wall partitions and underside of the tile arch floor construction exposed. This condition is due to a prolonged roof failure, vacancy and neglect. Despite deterioration, the essence of the interior finishes can be observed. The walls and ceilings throughout were originally finished in smooth plaster. The floors are of concrete, some with carpet; however the material of the original finished floor surface is unknown. Entry doors to hotel rooms are of stained wood and are two-panel doors with glazed transoms. Baseboards and door trim are also of stained wood with simple profiles and with a larger frieze and cornice molding over the transoms. No evidence of picture rails or ceiling moldings was observed within the hotel units or the corridors. The general character of the upper floors is less decorative than the Classical ornamentation observed in the first floor public spaces.

In addition to substantial loss of plaster finishes and complete loss of the original finished floor, wood elements are also in fair to poor condition. Many doors are damaged and have missing panels, while many others are missing. Trim and transoms are also significantly damaged and missing in some areas. Alterations are limited to the second floor corridor, where new gypsum board wall surfaces have been added and new partitions have been constructed.

The building has a full basement below grade. This space is not a primary space of the original hotel and is not historically significant. The floors are of concrete and walls are of concrete, clay tile, and drywall. The underside of the first floor clay-tile structure is exposed at the ceilings. The basement is subdivided and was used for support space and storage for the retail above, which is accessed by open stairs. The basement was also used as back of house space for the hotel. Standing water has left all remaining materials in an advanced state of deterioration.

The building is planned to be rehabilitated and reused as mixed-income housing with ground floor commercial space.