Over the last decade Chicago has seen hotels pop up like wildflowers after a desert rain. And it’s not just downtown germinating these seeds of hospitality. Hotels have sprouted from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park. And now Chinatown is getting another place to lay your head.
A company called Sky River has filed paperwork with the city to put a 200-room hotel in a disused warehouse right on the Chicago River.
If you’re a frequent rider of the CTA Orange Line, or the 21 bus, you’ve probably seen the old W.M. Hoyt Warehouse crouched next to the river on West Cermak Road. Hoyt was a wholesale grocery company.
The old Hoyt building is one of five structures forming Chicago’s Cermak Road Bridge District. The others are the Wendnagel & Company Warehouse (2146 South Jefferson Street), the Western Shade Cloth Company Building (2141 South Jefferson Street), the Thompson & Taylor Spice Company Building (500 West Cermak Road), and the Cermak Road Bridge, itself.
According to a 2003 city report, “The Cermak Road Bridge District is the city’s finest intact ensemble of riverfront industrial buildings grouped around the city’s sole-surviving double leaf Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge.” As luck would have it, “Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge” is the name of my nanobrew IPA.
The five-story (some say six, the city says five) Hoyt warehouse was built in 1909 and designed by George Croll Nimmons and William Kinne Fellows of Nimmons & Fellows. It’s the same firm that designed the landmark Sears, Roebuck and Company Administration Building (3333 West Arthington Street); and the Railway Terminal Building (now the River Bank Lofts at 500 North Kingsbury). It is described as, “the most high-style, elaborately detailed building within the district, utilizing dramatic Prairie-style stone ornament around the building’s main entrance and just under its rooftop parapet as well as in its pier and spandrel expression.”
Although W.M. Hoyt was a wholesaler, it advertised directly to women shoppers so they would ask their grocers to stock Hoyt goods.
The “Housewife.” That is a noble appellation of which every true woman should feel proud. It means that she is some man’s—let us hope, some good man’s—helpmate. To her is intrusted [sic] the management of the household. It is a duty that should be intelligently discharged. Every endeavor should be made to save money that he is assiduously striving to gain. If she buys a thing that is unfit for use, that is so much money wasted. If she can buy something that is superior for the same money as she would pay for inferior goods, that is as much money saved. Our object in sending you this little pamphlet is to help you choose the finest goods that can be procured in their several classes and which can be bought as cheaply as those that are not so good. You will find that by buying these goods you will be fulfilling your duty as a housewife. Study the names of these goods, ask for them, and do not be put off with things that a grocer will tell you are “just as good.” W. M. HOYT COMPANY, Chicago, Ills.
Whether that is more or less insulting than the modern grammatical disaster/advertising slogan “I’m lovin’ it” is an exercise for the reader.
Though visually interesting, the Hoyt warehouse was poorly timed. It went up at a time when industrial shipping in Chicago was moving from barges to railroads. When the city established the Central Manufacturing District (that vast expanse of mostly vanished factories in Bridgeport and McKinley Park where you still can’t get internet faster than 1Mbit because the phone lines are too old, and the cable company won’t run a line across the street), that spelled the end for big riverside industrial buildings in Chicago, which is why this district is so special.
But that was the past. The future for this building is as a hotel. And unfortunately, that also includes a big surface parking lot built on land owned by the City of Chicago (that means you, the taxpayer) across the street. But on the upside, both the hotel and the parking lot include new patches of riverwalk along the Chicago River. You can’t beat that with a KitchenAid.
The building is also expected to incorporate five interior retail spaces on the first floor, which will be a nice addition for Chinatown, although this is technically the South Loop, and the parking lot is technically in East Pilsen. Technically correct is the best kind of correct.
We’re happy to see this stately old pile getting a new life, and if the older neighbors in the district are similarly revived, it would make for an interesting knot of culture and potentially a tourist draw.
- Address: 456-485 West Cermak Road
- Address: 2124-2230 South Grove Street
- Developer: Sky River, LLC
- Site area: 132,701 square feet
- Floor area ratio: 3.0
- Maximum height: 93 feet
- Roof height: 74 feet, four inches
- Maximum number of rooms: 300
- Automobile parking: 131 spaces (16 at the hotel, 115 across the street)
- Parking lot access: via South Grove Street
- Loading docks: two
- Loading dock access: via South Grove Street