If it’s clean sheets, free HBO and a continental breakfast you’re after, any Hampton Inn off the interstate will do the job. For history and pedigree in overnight lodging, you’ll have to search a little harder.
The Renaissance Blackstone Hotel at 636 South Michigan Avenue fits the bill nicely. The 1908 structure was one of the most ornate and stately tour venues from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 2014 Open House Chicago.
Architects Marshall and Fox designed the neoclassical Beaux-Arts hotel. The Blackstone looks as good as new, thanks to a recent $128 million restoration.
What’s priceless about the Blackstone is its role in history. The hotel has hosted 12 presidents. Consider these visitors representing fame and infamy:
Suite 915 was the site in 1920 of a secret meeting where Republican leaders nominated Warren G. Harding as a candidate for president. In the process, it became known as a “smoke-filled room” dubbed by an AP reporter.
- The Crystal Ballroom held a noteworthy event in 1931. No, it wasn’t the Schwartz bar mitzvah. Charles “Lucky” Luciano hosted the first convention to create a board of directors for his national crime syndicate.
- In 1944, Harry Truman hung out—and played the “Missouri Waltz” on the piano while he considered whether he should accept the nomination for vice president, to run with FDR.
- John F. Kennedy stayed in the same room—the Suite of Presidents—just before rushing back to Washington to handle the Cuban missile crisis. Rumors still persist of a hidden panel in the bedroom closet, where Secret Service agents allegedly aided entrance to Marilyn Monroe.
The Blackstone also served as the backdrop for a number of Hollywood movies, including “The Untouchables,” “Color of Money,” “The Babe,” “Only the Lonely,” and of course, “March in Windy City.”