Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 145;  Hotel History: Hotel Burnham, Chicago, Illinois (1895)

/Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 145;  Hotel History: Hotel Burnham, Chicago, Illinois (1895)

Nobody Asked Me, But…No. 145;  Hotel History: Hotel Burnham, Chicago, Illinois (1895)

|2015-07-20T11:40:03+00:00July 20th, 2015|

“Hotel Mavens” Reviewed by the New York Times

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

1. Hotel History: Hotel Burnham, Chicago, Illinois*

Located in the heart of Chicago’s loop, the Hotel Burnham is one of the most important early skyscrapers in America. Originally built as the Reliance Building, it was designed by John Root and Charles B. Atwood of the Burnham and Root architectural firm. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. David W. Dunlap wrote in the New York Times (July 25, 1999):

“Six decades ahead of its time, the chrystalline Reliance Building soared skyward in 1895 as a scintillating rebuke to its own somber masonry surroundings like a diamond in the rough-hewn loop.”

A forerunner of the modern skyscraper, the Reliance has a steel-frame construction that supported a 14-floor structure. Its wall-to-wall windows present a slim, light and modern facade in contrast to contemporary structures. After its opening as the premier office building in Chicago, it provided office space for merchants, health professionals and Al Capone’s dentist. During the Great Depression, the Reliance struggled to stay occupied and slowly fell into disrepair. After years of neglect and deterioration, the building was rehabilitated and restored in 1999 and was converted into the Hotel Burnham under the initiative of the City of Chicago, the McClier Corporation and the Baldwin Development Company. The Canal Street Partners purchased the building and invested another $22 million into recreating the building’s historic exterior and interior public spaces. The operator is the Kimpton Hotel Group.

Its lobby features a one-of-a-kind mosaic-tile floor, multi-colored marble walls and metal elevator grills. Winding through the upper floors is the original open cast-iron staircase, whose elegant balustrade carries the same decorative device– a four-petal Gothic flower, or a quatrefoil– that is used in the undulating ribbons of white terra cotta on the exterior. Rather than enclosing this staircase as current building codes require, the developers installed two new enclosed stairways through the building.

The upstairs rooms, originally built as offices for doctors and dentists were too small to be converted into acceptable hotel rooms. The Kimpton Hotel Group commissioned the interior design firm Intra-Spec of Marina Del Rey, California to create and design new hotel rooms utilizing romantic icons, including the cherub and the swan.

In an October 2001, Lodging magazine article “(Shabby No More)”, Kathleen Cassedy described the Burnham’s interiors:

As for the lobby, the decor is reminiscent of an early 20th-century gentlemen’s club. Deco-style chairs and plush leather sofas surround the requisite lobby fire-place found at all Kimpton hotels…..

The Burnham’s top seven floors are the most historic– they retain the original ornate cast-iron balustrade that winds through an open stairwell….

The New York Times (August 16, 2012) wrote:

This is perhaps the most charming hotel in the city. Located in the theater district and built in 1896 by Daniel Burnham. It served as a steel-and-glass model for the nation’s first skyscrapers. The rooms are stylishly decorated and the warm, wood-paneled lobby feels like an Ivy League Library.

*excerpted from my book “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi”

2. The New York Times book review (May 3, 2015) by Sam Roberts:

“Nostalgia for City’s caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel’s “Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf” (AuthorHouse). The fact-filled book by Mr. Turkel, an industry consultant, explains, among other things, the history of the hyphen (recently excised) in the name of the Waldorf Astoria, which inspired a mid-block street and even a song.”

To purchase a copy, visit my website ( and click on the book title: softcover for $19.95, dust jacket hardcover for $28.95 or an E-Book for $3.99 directly from the publisher.

About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.Turkel is a well-known consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, providing asset management and hotel franchising consultation.Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1,842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City.
He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute ("Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry" and "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi"). A third hotel book ("Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York") was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. All of these books can be ordered from the publisher by visiting

Contact: Stanley Turkel

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