Construction Update
What’s Driving the Chicago Motor Club Building

Work continues to convert one of Chicago’s best art moderne office towers into a hotel.  The Chicago Motor Club Building (68 East Wacker Place) occupies a prime location just steps from the epicenter of tourist Chicago, but those few steps make a huge difference.  Few visitors, or even locals, have actually seen it in person.

Wacker Tower under constructionIt’s not just this building that suffered when obscurity knocked.  When Lakeshore East was built, it revived a long-buried and disconnected stretch of East South Water Street.  This caused confusion for the businesses in this two-block stretch of the same street a few blocks away.  So the building owners petitioned the city for a name change and this orphan chunk of East South Water Street became East Wacker Place, adopting the sobriquet of the more prestigious street from which it forks.  It also allowed this building to take its official name, The Wacker Tower.

The Wacker Tower wasn’t always the forgotten middle child.  It was a seat of power.  As our Wendy Bright wrote back in March of this year:

The Chicago Motor Club was not just a social or sporting group as many auto clubs had been. It wielded power in advocating for city improvements. Nineteenth-century roads were made for horse-drawn carriages and streetcars and were, by the early 20th century, deeply rutted – not well suited for cars. With the introduction of the Ford Model T in 1908 and Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, major change was afoot. The middle-class could now afford automobiles and Burnham’s Plan called for urban changes to accommodate the increased auto traffic (to facilitate commerce, naturally!).

The Motor Club helped make things happen. North Michigan Avenue was widened by 1920, a public parking garage was built in Grant Park (1921), and Wacker Drive was transformed into a double-decker motorway by 1926. Coordinated traffic control signals in Chicago were implemented in 1925. Roads all over the city were now better surfaced and safety concerns for motorists and pedestrians alike were brought to the fore.

Wacker Tower under constructionIn a smaller town, the Chicago Motor Club Building would occupy an honored place in the city’s skyline, like the Lincoln tower does in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  But in Chicago, it has to compete with the outrageous over-the-top beauty of the Carbide and Carbon Building across the street.    In a fitting analog, while Carbide and Carbon got to be a Hard Rock Hotel, the Motor Club Building will only be a Hampton Inn, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Chicago Architecture Blog photographer Daniel Schell took these photos of the building’s construction progress, and much like previous photos we’ve shown, there isn’t too much to see.  The bulk of the work is being carried out inside the building, with most matériel moving in and out through Chicago’s hidden lower-level transportation network.

The two swing stage scaffolds hanging from the roof and the construction hoist on the back are the only places where the public can see progress.  When completed, there will be 143 hotel rooms and a 1,300-square-foot green roof.  And hopefully within a matter of months this hotel will be open to the public so that everyone can once again enjoy its historic interior.

Location: 200 North Michigan Avenue, The Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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