News / 12.17.14

Throwback Thursday – Essex Inn

Featured a rooftop garden & pool atop a 4-story, 200-car parking garage

This week our Epstein ‘Throwback Thursday’ takes us back to Chicago 1961 for the opening of the Essex Inn, a building that has generated news and renewed interest in Chicago in the last couple of months. (more on that shortly, first off, here’s some info on the building)

Located at the southwest corner of 8th and Michigan Avenue, the 14-story, 254-room glass & aluminum Essex Inn, which was constructed for $6M ($46M in 2014), was part of the Aristocrat Inns of America chain, which also included the Epstein designed Ascot Inn (which was located at 11th & Michigan). In addition to hotel rooms the Essex Inn also featured a rooftop garden & pool atop a 4-story, 200-car parking garage.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Essex, which took place on March 14, 1960, featured a massive cake shaped like the Essex. In one of the photos on display here you can see former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley as well as the Epstein’s (Ralph, Ray and Sid) along with one of the owners of the building, Barney Weissbourd, carving up the cake’s icing-filled swimming pool.

The developers of the Essex Inn, Martin Gecht (a former physician) and Eugene Heytow believed that the Essex as well as the Ascot, presented a ‘newness and informal atmosphere to travelers’ and that these motor hotels were just what the ‘modern’ traveler, car in tow, desired. And, it turns out, Gecht and Heytow, were correct. The Essex was a huge success upon opening, in fact, grossing a millions dollars in the second half of ‘61 alone, which was aided in many ways by the visitors to Chicago-based conventions.

Since ’61 The Essex has had an iconic presence on Michigan Avenue, much of which can be attributed to its unique roof signage. Now The Essex has been purchased by Oxford Capital and they are planning to convert the hotel into an ‘upscale lifestyle hotel’ and increase the number of rooms to 450. I’m sure we’re not alone in being curious to see what Oxford and their design team comes up with for The Essex 2.0!