Block Electric recently celebrated the completion of a major two-year renovation of the Chicago Athletic Association building, which is located at 12 S. Michigan Avenue in the heart of downtown Chicago. Now named the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, the newly renovated 120-year-old historic building has 241 guest rooms, three restaurants, two large banquet rooms, retail shops, a game room, a basketball court, a shuffle board court and a fencing court. “I believe most people thought it would be better to level the existing 120 year old building and build a new structure,” Block Electric Project Manager Jerry Hughes said. “But, two years later, the result was an extremely beautiful andoriginal hotel.”
While many of the building’s historic details, including fireplaces with intricate carvings, stained-glass windows and grand marble staircases, have been preserved, other modern touches such as beautiful benches and lacquer armoires have been added. According to the company’s website, “The courts are polished. The trophy cases dusted off. But it’s more than a simple restoration—it’s a revelation. Inspired by the nineteenth century train sheds that were our neighbors, we’ve built a terrace in the sky overlooking Millennium Park and the greatest of the Great Lakes and a Game Room designed to amaze and amuse.” Block Electric began working on the project in June of 2013 and it was not without it’s challenges. “Bill Kuta was our lead foreman on this project,” Hughes said. “He encountered numerous obstacles from floors collapsing, walls caving and rain water dripping on multiple floors Still, at the end, Bill came out on top and the building was finished with an extremely satisfied customer.”
According to Hughes, the project was unique in many ways. “Block Electric worked closely with the Landmark Association to restore original light fixtures to their exact condition from when they were built more than a century ago,” Hughes said. “This allowed us to work with different subcontractors, such as Arc Historic Products, who assisted in the restoration of these fixtures. We also assisted with recreating an original plaster cone shaped stalactite light fixture which was located in the Michigan Avenue Ballroom. This process took numerous meetings and design changes before the final replicated fixture was approved and put into production.”
The hotel includes many amenities. Located on the second floor with a private alleyway entry that resembles something out of the speakeasy era, The Game Room’s deep cocktail culture complements the gamesmanship you’ll find on the built-in bocce bay, which is an authentic indoor seashell based bocce ball court. The Game Room also contains billiard and shuffleboard tables, as well as chess and checkers. “It is truly the most interesting hotel I have ever seen in my life,” Hughes said. The fourth floor has the Athletic Club’s original basketball court, a shuffle board court and even a fencing court.
Dining choices are unique and abundant. Cindy’s is the rooftop restaurant and open-air terrace that overlooks Millennium Park, the Art Institute and Lake Michigan and beyond. Land and Sea Dept. is in charge of the fully reimagined Cherry Circle Room, the historic, iconic restaurant space that has serviced the building for generations, with a food and drink program inspired by Chicago Athletic Association menus dating as far back as the 1890s. And the hotel’s Shake Shack is the first Shake Shack designed around a historic landmark. The hotel also is home to The Milk Room, a prohibition-era whiskey bar.
“This project was unlike any one I’ve ever worked on in my 35 years as an electrician,” Hughes said. “It was a new adventure every day. The joint effort between Bulley & Andrews, HPA Architecture, KJWW Engineering and Jones Lang LaSalle Property Management Company, made this a fun, interesting and extremely challenging project which we were very proud to be a part of.”
According to the company’s website, “Chicago Athletic Association is an historic 1890’s monument to the big-shouldered, can-do spirit that defines our city, transformed into an incomparable Chicago boutique hotel with commanding views across Millennium and Maggie Daley Parks to Lake Michigan. This long-vacant Venetian Gothic landmark springs back to life as a hotel mecca for inspired recreation—where the spirit of play reigns supreme, and food and drink are served up by some of Chicago’s finest talent. It’s personal here, because the soul of Chicago is a kind of club—and on our team, everyone belongs.”