Creative Endeavors,  Print Edition

Sophy serenade

In the early decades of the 1900s, Hyde Park, Chicago hospitality was illustrated by its hotels of grand, architectural statement. The Sherry, The Flamingo, The Shoreland, and Del Prado had reputations for not only welcoming local residents and visitors alike, but also for hosting renowned figures such as Duke Ellington, Amelia Earhart, Elvis Presley, Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, and Yogi Berra to imbibe in the cultural, artistic, and intellectual tour-de-force social epicenter along the shores of Lake Michigan.

It was—and remains—a South Side Chicago neighborhood whose soul is deeply rooted in diversity and a celebration for arts, music, literature, science, and knowledge. Its landscape is a rich fabric where the Museum of Science and Industry reminds of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago stands more than 200-feet-tall in lavish decoration, the Garden of the Phoenix at Jackson Park pays homage to United States-Japanese relations, the DuSable Museum of African American History and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House educate and inspire, and jazz notes can be heard echoing along streetscape and beaches.

Inspired and informed by the rich, continuing legacy of the neighborhood, the new 98-room, upscale, full-service hotel at the intersection of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue is a heartfelt serenade to Hyde Park, driven by an experiential and narrative approach to its design.

“We like to create thought-provoking experiences. We like to create spaces and places that people can interact with and in and have; every interaction has some sort of emotion about where they are,” said Greg Randall, managing principal at GREC Architects LLC in Chicago, Illinois.

GREC Architects has completed commercial, residential, mixed-use, institutional, and master planning projects across the United States and international borders, such as in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The architecture and design firm has also become known for its hospitality work in Chicago where Bauhaus-inspired Ace Hotel, European-style Talbott Hotel, and the art deco glamour of Hotel Allegro reflect responsiveness to their respective contexts.

It was the firm’s previous work in both Chicago and Los Angeles, paired with its approach to design and collaboration, that led to an initial conversation with the joint venture of SMART Hotels LLC and The Olympia Companies about a new project in the Illinois-based city. Randall noted while the co-developers and the firm had looked to pursue a different project at the time, the opportunity for collaboration ultimately came about with the Sophy Hotel, or Sophy Hyde Park, when the developer realized an unmet demand near the University of Chicago for travelers looking to stay in the neighborhoods rather than the downtown central business district.

“We really had an opportunity to research the soul of Hyde Park and 53rd and understand its residents as well as the current fabric of the neighborhood,” Randall said. “Every building on 53rd and Dorchester is of a different architectural character, different architectural style—mostly of earlier periods, turn-of-the-century to the 1940s—so we took it as an opportunity to do what we like to do: be contextual, but don’t mimic.”

While 53rd Street is primarily retail and commercial, Dorchester Avenue marks the onset of a more residential vernacular for the neighborhood. It informed the setback along the quieter street for the seven story hotel, which comprises six floors of guest rooms and ground floor complete with a full-service restaurant, bar, and lounge known as Mesler and an outdoor patio area referred to as the Sanctuary.

GREC Architects collaborated with New York City-based Stonehill & Taylor Architects PC in the design of the luxury, boutique hotel and built on the exterior architectural vocabulary to tell a story of well-known former residents of Hyde Park, such as Mahalia Jackson, Gospel singer; Enrico Fermi, architect of the nuclear age; and Gertrude Abercrombie, surrealist painter.

“As you walk through the space, you see those narratives of the various individuals unfold: record players in guest rooms with Gospel music, soul, and jazz; interesting splashes of color throughout that would go back to Gertrude Abercrombie’s approach to painting; and a number of books,” Randall said. “It is a really knit narrative; it has been a pretty fun project.”

Full text available in Great Lakes By Design: Crafted Lodging