Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Report from Del Prado Zoning Meeting

posted by Richard Gill

Return to Glory for
"The Finest Residential and Transient Hotel in the Middle West"?

There was a public meeting Monday evening (Feb. 23) to seek comments on MAC's request to change the zoning of the Del Prado, which MAC is rehabbing. The requested change is from B1-5 to B3-5 (the same change that was sought and approved for MAC's building on 55th Street, west of Cornell).

The change would allow restaurants in the building to serve liquor and to have a bar area, provided a restaurant applies for, and obtains, a liquor license.

The new zoning would not permit liquor stores or taverns unless special zoning revisions were to be approved through public process, aldermanic review and city council approval. It was agreed that such changes, while possible, are extremely unlikely to be approved. Ald. Hairston noted further that liquor licenses can be, and have been, revoked.

Some attendees expressed reservations about the change, but in general, the B3-5 rezoning was greeted favorably. My statement was that I believe the potential benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

Alderman Hairston and Peter Cassel of MAC hosted the meeting. Peter stated that the Del Prado is a landmarked building with grand ballrooms and public spaces inside, and that these will not be adequately utilized nor will they attract operators unless liquor can be served. He said MAC's hope is to have the Del Prado work in connection with other nearby buildings, to present an attractive 53rd Street gateway to Hyde Park, for people coming off Lake Shore Drive at the 53rd Street exit. He said this requires that the buildings be commercially attractive and viable.


Anonymous said...

Great old postcard. "Transient hotel" and "finest" = oxymoron city.

Elizabeth Fama said...

That was back in the days when the "transients" were wealthy people on their Grand Tour, who would stay for several weeks or months.

Richard Gill said...

Yes, "transient" did not carry the negative implication that it has today. Transients were people who booked in at a hotel for a temporary stay, as on a business trip or vacation, and as Beth says, they could be "upper crust". I'm not sure what the synonymous word is today - "traveler" maybe?

Years ago, transient also often meant checking into a hotel without a reservation... a common practice. There were no 800 numbers or hotels.com. If reservations were made, it was via US mail or telegram.

If I may once more digress to the railroad illustration: well into the 1950s, every Pullman car carried a rack holding a Hotel Red Book, which was almost entirely hotel ads, organized by city. Passengers on the train could use the Red Book to decide where to stay in their destination city. The rack also held blank Western Union telegraph forms. Should a passenger wish to notify a hotel of their pending arrival, they would write the message on the form and have it sent during a station stop. Almost all train stations had Western Union service. Then, at a station further down the line, a confirming telegram, addressed to the passenger, might be delivered to the train. The system worked.

Aaahh, those were the days!

David Farley said...

How did they build more buildings around it without ruining all the viewsheds?

Richard Gill said...

"How did they build more buildings around it without ruining all the viewsheds?"

It seems that, often, views to the front are jealously protected, but side and back views are expendable. I'm sure the Del Prado's developers built, knowing the property immediately to the east would be similarly built upon. I believe that building was the Hotel Sherry prior to its Hampton House incarnation. With residences, say along north Lake Shore Drive, high rises abut each other, but "lake views" are preserved.

David Farley's question alludes to a troublesome issue: the belief by occupants of one location that their mere occupancy thereof entitles them to limit what is built on someone else's property at another location. It's like claiming dibs. I saw that view first, so you can't have it.

The liquor zoning issue is somewhat the same. People don't want alcohol being sold nor outsiders coming into the building to use ballrooms and such. But they want low rent. If a building owner can't rent restaurant space at a rate that alcohol sales would support, then the owner will get it from somewhere else, e.g. higher apartment rents.

People have a right to ask for whatever they want, and it may make some sense if they ask for the improbable as a bargaining chip. But there are those other people--Hyde Park has a lot of them-- who really think they can have exclusivity and not have to pay for it.

Raymond said...

Dumb question...Is the Del Prado an official city landmark or was Peter Cassel speaking in more unofficial terms?

Peter Cassel said...

Misquoted is the correct term.

The Del Prado is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is also classified as Orange in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey.

Anonymous said...

Cool history lesson on the different meanings of "transient"! I didn't realize the meaning changed over time.

What was Del Prado called before it was Del Prado? I'm pretty sure it had a different name originally, and a large sign on the roof.

Christopher said...

Back in the early 1960s, the del Prado was still a quite nice hotel. The New York Yankees used on many occasions the team hotel when visiting the White Sox.

What puzzles me is the zoning change to prohibit alcohol sales. When did that occur? Both the Del Prado had a restaurant with liquor (House of Eng) and the 55th St building had a bar (The Sun Dial) into the 1970s.

Richard Gill said...

My apology for incorrectly writing the term "landmark" in the original post.

Regarding a former name for the hotel, the old photo in the original post says Del Prado, so if it had another name, it must've been way back when.

I had heard about American League visiting teams staying at the Del Prado. One story was that Ted Williams wanted to keep his legs in shape, so he would start walking from the Del Prado toward Comiskey Park, and the team bus would pick him up somewhere en route.

I vaguely recall a restaurant on top of the Del Prado prior to House of Eng. If this memory is correct, does anyone know the restaurant's name?

Anonymous said...

Hotel Del Prado began life as the Cooper-Carlton Hotel.


You can see the big sign on the roof here


Hampton House used to be called the Sisson Hotel.

Looks like they had plenty of free parking back in the day. :-)

Anonymous said...

FABULOUS website if you're as into this stuff as I am


TA said...

Great site Greg. I was fooling around with it and found this part as well: http://chicagopc.info/hotels__pz.htm.

There are some good postcards of the Shoreland exterior and lobby back in its glory days. Of course there is also a sketch of the Motor Lodge at 56th and S. Shore too back in its "Glory Days". Nice digging Greg!

Elizabeth Fama said...

I want Richard Gill to write novels about trains. What could be cooler and more romantic than sending a telegram to a hotel at one stop and receiving a reply at the next? Sigh. Cell phones do not cut it.

David Farley said...

Richard - my question was a facetious reference to the East Hyde Park Viewshed Protection Committee and Task Force that sprung into action a couple years ago to assure that the Vivekananda site remains an empty building.

Seitu said...

Me, my wife and kids lived in the Del Prado for over tens years before MAC took it over. I know the perception of the place in the surrounding area was low. I felt the same way prior to moving there from 1700 E. 56th street (the home of Bill Veeck). It wasn't a bad place at all. The management started out good, Baird and Warner initially and then Draper and Kramer but eroded shortly after that because the owner was unwilling to invest money in the maintenance of the building. Sure there were drug dealers in there, but the majority of the residents were good people. By the time we moved there the House of Eng was closed and relocated and I always wondered if there would be another restaurant in the building. I hope it works out and the Del Prado is brought back to being a quality residence again.

Richard Gill said...

You got me, David Farley; I missed the joke - and I'm such a kidder. I hadn't even heard the word "viewshed" until I saw your comment. Anyway, I guess the EHP Viewshed Protection Committee did keep the Vivekananda site low-rise and empty. No concern about density there. So, I suppose the area impacted by naysayers is a NIMBYshed? Or an area with malleable people (eg the 39th Precinct) is a toolshed?

Viewshed sounds rather like a term in Planningspeak, like Catchment Area, which actually relates to drainage, but has been corrupted to refer to commuting patterns. Well, anyway...

Elizabeth Fama said...

From the web site Greg found: here's the YMCA, Hyde Park District, that Hans Morsbach filed suit in 1981 to have demolished -- allowing the birth of the lovely 53rd Street Dorchester Commons strip mall. So much for preservation and re-use.