Chicago Athletic Association Reemerges as Luxury Hotel

Restored ballroom

Travelers heading to the windy city (and local Chicagoans looking for a a place to throw a knockout event) will have a new place to stay starting May 27, when the storied Chicago Athletic Association reopens its doors as a 241-room luxury hotel.

Travelers heading to the windy city (and Chicagoans looking for a a place to throw a knockout event) will have a new place to play starting May 27 when the storied Chicago Athletic Association reopens its doors as a 241-room luxury hotel. The restoration, which involved a collaboration among design firm Roman and WilliamsHartshorne Plunkard Architecture, Geolo Capital, and Agman partners, took two years to complete.

The historic building and its gorgeous architectural details were brought to life in 1890 as a place for the storied families of Chicago — think names like Wrigley and Spalding — to socialize and enjoy sport. Roman and Williams preserved the details, which included bas-relief woodcarving fireplaces, 19th-century stained glass windows, and marble staircases, as part of their restorative process.

Beyond the guest rooms and suites, the luxury hotel will boast 17,000 square feet of event space, a rooftop bar, retail space in Madison Hall, and multiple restaurants, including a Shake Shack.

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Chicago Athletic Association

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A room at the restored hotel

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A suite at the restored hotel

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Chicago Athletic Association exterior

Images courtesy of Commune Hotels and Resorts

The Creators: Roman and Williams

Roman and Williams (Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch) photographed by Nigel Parry for BlackBook.

When you walk into a room that Roman and Williams has designed, you will feel something. You will discern texture, notice scale, and you may even feel warm or cool. “There’s an amateurism we love to maintain so we don’t end up too professional or too polished.… It’s a lot of emotion, a lot of passion,” says Stephen Alesch, half of the design duo (and husband to his counterpart, Robin Standefer). To them that’s more important than staying true to one particular aesthetic. It’s why visitors will develop an attachment to the glittering, Champagne-filled Boom Boom Room, and the casually bohemian Ace Hotel lobby, worlds apart and brimming with particulars. One is where you dance till dawn looking out at the city lights, and the other is where you take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and get your work done. Same goes for the spaces they’ve created at the Viceroy, Royalton, and Highline hotels, and restaurants like John Dory Oyster Bar and The Dutch.

“Our starting point is love: loving an object, loving a space, thinking of an experience we want to have,” Standefer says. It’s not just about what’s new or in fashion; the two have a humility that allows them to comb over memories and the familiar, searching for aesthetic details and ideas that will make you experience emotions. It’s just going to be a different emotion depending on where you are. Guests at the Freehand in Miami, Chicago, and soon Los Angeles will pick up more on the handcrafted, homey sparseness of the hostel/hotels, while the rarified Chicago Athletic Association, a historic landmark and soon-to-be-hotel, will attract a ritzier crowd. Each project inhabits its proper space. Filled with all the right particulars, they become fully developed worlds of their own.

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This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.