Hotel History

Take a trip down memory lane and get to know the historic W Chicago - City Center. Our luxury hotel is an icon on the downtown landscape, with a rich history that spans over 70 years.


Rewind to 1871. Bustling and on the cusp of rapid expansion, Chicago experienced a fire that burned nearly a third of it to the ground, claiming 300 lives, destroying 18,000 buildings and leaving countless residents homeless.

After the devastating fire, Chicago rose to the top. Literally. Home to the first skyscraper, downtown Chicago is considered the birthplace of modern architecture. Its reputation is attributed to the influx of famous architects that resurrected the city after the infamous fire - including Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It hosted many other events that transformed industries and ideas, including the most historic World Fair ever, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, where everything from the Ferris Wheel to the commercial movie theatre debuted.


Plans for our historic hotel were made beginning in 1928 by a group headed by an Italian Count, a member of the royal family. His concept was to build an luxury private club that would be attractive to people working in the Financial District. The club would occupy the lower portion of the building and the rest of it would be occupied by commercial tenants.


The building proceeded under construction with funds from the purchase of stocks and bonds by club members. Then came the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. The building had been completed up to the 18th floor at this point. The members realized there was no one to rent the office spaces - hence no opportunity to get a return on their investment. The developers decided not to continue construction and finished the building at the 22nd floor.

The club went bankrupt in 1931, as the members were unable to meet their obligations. By this time, the building had opened the lower floors for the Midland Club. The room that is now Great Room II was the library. Great Room I was originally the dining room.


Mr. V.H. Vitzthun was the original architect who fashioned the building in the Beaux-Arts style. By 1931, Beaux-Arts was out of fashion and was replaced with Art Deco and Contemporary style. This building, however, is one of the only two buildings in Chicago to have two main ballrooms on the Plateau level with no structural pillars yet support a 22-story building. Typically, most hotels have meeting rooms in separate wings or have structural pillars.

At this time, there were 90 guestrooms on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors. They were mostly used by out-of-town club members from New York who were in the stock and bond business. The original group to whom the club space was leased tried to run it as a hotel for a short time. They were unable to attract enough guests to make a profit so were evicted. The building was vacant for a short time.


Mr. Phil Pekow, an automobile engineer and his partner, Dr. Robert Levy, a dentist, had started investing in small residential hotels and signed a lease for the building. They arrived to start business in 1934 and realized the former owners took every knife, fork, piece of art and furniture with them. They bought used furniture and the Midland Hotel then started its new life.

Business improved and the new tenants gradually converted additional floors into guestrooms. A new architect, Edward Steinborn, designed the rooms. Over these early years, Pekow and Levy purchased all of the interests of the hotel, the bankruptcy was discharged and they became owners.


In 1998, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide purchased the historic Midland Hotel with plans to convert it to a W. The designer of the property was a company called Shopworks. Combining luxury with substance, W Chicago City Center had its grand opening in June 2001, showcasing 368 guest rooms and 14,000 square feet of meeting space.

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