The Congress Plaza Hotel is located on South Michigan Avenue across from Grant Park in Chicago at 520 South Michigan Avenue. Its eleven story edifice was originally designed by architect Clinton J. Warren as an annex to the Auditorium Theater across the street. The two buildings were linked by a marble-lined underground passage called Peacock Alley. After opening for business in 1893, for the World's Columbian Exposition, the hotel underwent two major expansions and renovations, first in 1902 and then again in 1907 which brought the total complex up to 1 million square feet (93,000 m2). The design and construction of these two additions were overseen by the firm of Holabird & Roche. The hotel now features 871 guest rooms and suites.
Through the 1930s the hotel was run by hotel industry pioneer Ralph Hitz's National Hotel Management Company. At this same time, part of the hotel was used as the location for a Benny Goodman NBC Radio Show. Following the outbreak of World War II, the Government purchased the Congress Hotel and used it as a training school for U.S. Army Air Forces.
It reopened for civilian use in time for the summer political conventions of 1944. At this time, John J. Mack was president of the Michigan-Congress Hotel Corporation.
In 1950, the Pick Hotel Corporation bought the hotel and oversaw a major renovation of the entire hotel, which included new suites and restaurants.
Another modernization project began in the 1960s, which added a ballroom and escalators.
The hotel is frequently noted as one of the most haunted buildings in Chicago. The podcast "And That's Why We Drink" used stories of the haunted activity of the hotel as a topic in their February 19, 2018 episode (episode #55).
Hosting Presidents and Major Events
Over the years the Congress has welcomed many presidents as well as hosted major events.
Presidents who have stayed at or visited the Congress include Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt.
In June, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the Congress Plaza when the 1912 Republican National Convention was held in Chicago. Roosevelt, who at that time was seeking the Republican nomination for President, spoke from the balcony of his room at the hotel to a crowd assembled across the street in Grant Park.
In October 1916, US President Woodrow Wilson passed the hotel as part of his visit to the city. Over a hundred protestors from the National Women's Party demonstrated in favor of women's suffrage with a silent protest. Holding banners such as "Wilson is Against Women," the demonstrators were attacked by a mob and their banners destroyed while police looked on and, in some cases, laughed, according to newspaper reports.
On 15 June 2003, about 130 members of UNITE HERE Local 1 went on strike to protest a proposed seven percent wage cut. On 16 June 2007, Barack Obama, then running for the presidency, briefly stood by the picket line and promised to return as president, but he did not. The strike, one of the world's longest, ended May 30, 2013 after nearly 10 years. No concessions were given by management.
Taos Society of Artists painter, E. Martin Hennings painted the ceiling murals inside the Florentine Room around 1918.
In 1940, Louis Grell (1887–1960), a Chicago-based artist, was commissioned to paint thirteen murals for the lunettes that are an architectural feature surrounding the grand lobby. The murals were various popular scenes around Chicago at the time. Under the Albert Pick Jr ownership in 1952, Grell was again commissioned to paint the same architectural lunettes, this time Grell incorporated Chicago figures into the scenes depicting important trades significant to Chicago's growth and symbolism. Lady Liberty was found in one mural holding the Chicago River "Y" on her lap. Additionally, in 1955 Pick commissioned Grell once again, during one of the many renovations, to paint three walls for the newly decorated Pompeian Room which also had a magnificent Louis Comfort Tiffany glass fountain in the center of the vast room. Today glass covers the thirteen lunettes where the murals could be hiding. Grell also painted a large white Peacock that was mounted above the bar next to Peacock Alley. Each wall had a main central Greek/Roman mural, however, Grell decorated the entire wall with various patterns of flora and custom design.
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- Congress Hotel History;http://www.congressplazahotel.com/history-en.html
- Associated Press, "Reopen Big Hotel", The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, Wednesday 19 January 1944, Volume 61, Number 250, page 3.
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- "Women Riot in Chicago Streets". San Francisco Chronicle. 20 October 1916.
- "Chicago Crowds in Riot to Seize Suffragists' Anti-Wilson Banners". Washington Post. 20 October 1916.
- Bonnie, K. Goodman. "OVERVIEWS & CHRONOLOGIES: 1964". presidentialcampaignselectionsreference.wordpress.com. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
August 27, 1963: Prohibition Party Convention convenes at the Pick Congress Hotel in Chicago Illinois with 72 delegates representing 19 states. The convention nominates E. Harold Munn (Mississippi) for President and Mark Shaw (Massachusetts) for Vice President.
- "Strike hits 3,000 days, not giving up the fight". Daily Kos. 2011-01-09. Retrieved 2011-09-04.
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- Hennings, E. Martin (24 August 1984). "E. Martin Hennings papers". Archives of American Art.
- Grell, Louis (2012) . "Louis Grell artist file". Marquis Who's Who in AMerican on Demand.
- Pick, Albert (May 1948). "Meet Mr. Grell". Pick Topicks. 6 (10): 6,7.
- Pick, Albert (September–October 1952). "Mural Masterpieces". Pick Topicks. Congress Hotel Special Edition. 10 (9, 10): 6, 7, 8.