Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

Chicago, Illinois / United States of America

The Chicago Athletic Association building by Henry Ives Cobb is a stunning example of Venetian Gothic architecture, and an iconic figure along the Historic Michigan Boulevard District.  Designed contemporaneously with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the building was a testament to modern conveniences, including early use of the electric light bulb that figures significantly in the original and restored design.  Vacated in 2007 and threatened with demolition, its transformation into a 241-key boutique hotel was an extraordinary undertaking that preserves the building’s design legacy within a contemporary hospitality environment. 

Originally designed to accommodate an “Upstairs, Downstairs” style of circulation, the building had large areas devoted to service staff that were inaccessible from the major public spaces.  Further, nearly continuous additions and modernizations resulted in a clash of period styles dating from the 1890’s to the 1960’s.   To create the new branded interior environment, a common language had to be designed using color, texture and millwork to create a stylistically unified interior from the surviving finishes.  This new “kit of parts” allowed the architect to rebuild and reconnect the disconnected floors to make the building work for a modern hospitality interior.  The palette of new insertions continues rises through the building, terminating in the new glass-enclosed rooftop venue whose design recalls the early train platforms that once filled the area now occupied by the Art Institute and Millennium Park. 

Extensive research of period styles and the craftwork of the building’s original era informed the extensive rehabilitation of over 18,000 SF of ornamental plaster; 32,000 SF of intricately carved mahogany paneling; 50,000 SF of Carrera marble walls, floors and bannisters; and the stunning White City Ballroom plaster ceiling composed of light bulb-tipped “stalactites.”  The design team had to route and coordinate entirely new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems behind these meticulously restored surfaces. 

The rich masculine palette of the original interior design, seamlessly augmented and illuminated with new fixtures modeled on historic photographs, was restored to its original sense of wonder and illumination.  The new rooftop venue floats over the original roof, supported on exposed cantilevered trusses and gracefully arched beams, celebrating the City and lakefront beyond.

Architect of Record

Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture


CAA Hotel Owner, LLC

General Contractor

Bulley & Andrews, LLC


  • Jones Lang LaSalle
  • Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors
  • Forefront Structural Engineers, Inc.