Moore’s Postcard Museum (interior photos)
WORLD’S BIGGEST HOTEL.
Chicago is planning to build tho biggest hotel in tho world. This is the new La Salle Hotel, to be erected at La Salle and Madison streets. With tho furnishings, the hotel’ will represent an investment ot approximately £700,000, and with the land, which was leased on the hasis ot a value of £500,000, tho total will run up to £1,200,000. The building will be twenty two storeys high, with two basements, and will havo 1172 rooms.
Sunday TImes, Sun 8 Mar 1908
It is the most conspicuous hotel structure in Chicago, being twenty-two stories high, twenty of them being above ground. It is the tallest hotel in the world. Everything in it is of the finest and best. From the sidewalk to the copper cheneau, crowning the roof, the building measures 260 feet and it towers above all other skyscrapers the most conspicuous object in the downtown district. From the lake and surrounding country its shining top can be seen a long distance. It is fire-proof, and the steel frame rests on 105 concrete caissons which extend down to bed-rock 110 feet below the street line.
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It might be of interest to know that it cost $600,000 to furnish this hotel, and that there are 25,000 pieces of furniture in the house, and that it took eighty cars to transport it to Chicago, and that 4,700 pieces of this furniture are upholstered. All the furniture was made from special designs and the patterns destroyed after the pieces were completed. It might be stated that the general line of decoration throughout the hotel is of the Louis XV style, and that even the silverware and the linen were especially designed. The main dining-room, however, seventy-six feet long, fifty feet wide and twenty-five feet high, is finished in the sumptuous style of the Louis XIV period, the Corinthian order being used as the basis. The entablature is molded after the fashion then in vogue, and the capitals of the pilasters are foiled with acanthus leaves. The ceiling has richly molded ornaments and in the center is a large painting suggestive of sky and clouds.
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The laundry is on the twenty first floor, and has a capacity of 60,000 to 75,000 pieces a day. The kitchen, a marvel in its way, was opened August 25.
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The kitchen of the La Salle is equipped with the celebrated Cochrane Dish-washing machines, which wash, rinse, dry and thoroughly sterilize the dishes, with absolutely no chipping or breakage of the finest china. These machines have a capacity of from thirty-forty dozen pieces of china every two minutes and there is no lifting of the dishes during the process of being washed and rinsed, as the dishes stand stationery.
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The gentlemen’s cafe and bar is beautifully executed in oak, with a fumed finish, very heavily and elaborately carved. In the principal dining room on the first floor, the French style is carried out, set off by rich decorations. Among the restaurants in the basement may be mentioned the German restaurant. This room is done in oak, while the basement restaurant proper is done in gray maple with a very elaborate vaulted ceiling. The writing room on the first floor is executed in genuine English oak. The State Suite, one of the most beautiful apartments known to any hotel in the country, has an especially fine dining room done in oak with rich gilding. The parlor in this suite is in enamel in the style of Louis XVI. The Grand Ball Room, the Banquet Room, and the Palm Room, the Ladies’ Reception Room and the various parlors are all done by Hilger & Company, and will equal if not surpass that of any shown in this country or abroad.
Chicago Examiner, 5 September 1909, pp 12-13
Chicago’s luxury hotels evolved as part of the architectural revolution that found form as skyscrapers. The La Salle Hotel was built between 1908 and 1909 as a 23-story, 1,000-bedroom building in the Chicago Loop. The site, on the northwest corner of North LaSalle and West Madison Streets, had previously been occupied by the five-story La Salle Building from 1872 to 1908 and the adjacent Oriental Hall, a Masonic temple, from 1873. Known as the “Empire Block,” it housed the Metropolitan National Bank. . . . The hotel was planned, designed and built in the commercial district of Chicago as an upscale hotel for an elite and influential clientele, with luxurious and stately walnut-paneled rooms and lobbies. An elegant roof top garden was planned as a major attraction. When it was opened in 1909, it was hailed as the “largest, safest, and most modern hotel west of New York.” The Republican Party of Illinois had their offices located in the luxurious Blue Fountain Room of the hotel. During one of his long visits to Chicago, President William Howard Taft stayed in the presidential suite on the third floor of this hotel, converting it into de facto White House. A formal visit was also paid to the hotel by President Calvin Coolidge and his wife in 1925. Other visitors came as convention guests.
However, all this history ended with a disastrous fire in the hotel on June 5, 1946. . . . After the fire, the hotel was rebuilt and renamed, at a cost of US $2 million, reopening in July 1947 and flourishing for 29 more years until it was razed in 1976 to construct office towers.
The LaSalle Hotel was booked solid on June 5, 1946, and its guests were mostly asleep, when a sprinkling of night owls in the Silver Grill Cocktail Lounge noticed the smell of burning wood. A patron and several employees squirted seltzer water and poured sand on the flames that emerged from beneath the bar’s wood paneling, but it was in vain. Arriving in the lobby about 12:30 a.m., night manager W.H. Bradfield saw fire shooting out of the bar and asked if the Fire Department had been called. “‘We called them,’ they told me, ‘but we’ll call them again,'” Bradfield recalled afterward to a Tribune reporter from a bed in Illinois Masonic Hospital.
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By now the inferno, having fed on the two-story lobby’s highly varnished woodwork, was moving up through the hotel’s two staircases. Doors planned for each floor had never been installed, turning the stairwells from escape routes into chimneys, sucking smoke up into the corridors. Subsequent investigations raised, but didn’t answer, the question of how the hotel got away with such elementary safety violations. A police order had interrupted a 1935 remodeling of the Silver Lounge because combustible materials were being used. But the record showed the work had been resumed “by agreement.” As the inferno grew, Bradfield, the night manager, came across the hotel’s operator at the switchboard, alerting guests. He urged her to get out. “No. I’m going to stay at my station,” replied Julia C. Berry. There she died, having saved hundreds of lives, officials later said.
“Fire at the LaSalle Hotel in 1946 exposed safety hazards” (Chicago Tribune)