Historic Landmark Hotel
Like Chicago itself, the site of The Allegro Royal Sonesta Hotel has a long, storied history. Founded as The Bismarck Hotel in 1894 by Emil and Karl Eitel, the hotel has lived several lives. It wasn’t until after a full demolition in 1924 that the art deco-inspired sensation that houses The Allegro Royal Sonesta Hotel today was constructed.
The Eitel brothers, Emil and Karl – and their siblings Robert, Max and Otto, who later followed them to Chicago – oversaw the hotel’s first rise to prominence at the turn of the 20th century. At its grand re-opening in 1926, it anchored the renowned "Eitel Block." By the 1930s and 40s, the hotel hosted stars of stage and screen as well as other influencers who helped shape the character of the city itself.
Take a look below at the timeline of this illustrious property, and learn the role the Eitel brothers played in the evolution of 171 W. Randolph Street.
Eitel Brothers Immigrate to Chicago
Two of the Eitel brothers (Emil & Karl) immigrate to Chicago from Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1890s. Emil is first in 1890, followed by Karl in 1891.
Fair Hotel Opens
Emil and Karl Eitel open the Fair Hotel, a guesthouse-turned-hotel on S. Cottage Grove Avenue and 63rd Street on Chicago's South Side, near the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The success they find here encourages them to fully pursue the hospitality industry.
Brothers Purchase Bismarck Hotel and Bismarck Gardens
The two Eitel brothers purchase the 4-story Germania Hotel at Randolph and Wells and rename it "The Bismarck," named after German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck. They also found the Bismarck Hotel Company, further extending their reach in Chicago's hotel and restaurant scene. They are joined by their brothers Robert (in 1898) and Max (in 1901) who help them run the hotel and various restaurants around the city throughout the first half of the 20th century.
In 1895 Emil and Karl also purchase a beer garden on the north side of the city and rename it Bismarck Gardens, extending the Bismarck brand. It is predominantly run by Max Eitel and renamed Marigold Gardens during World War II. Marigold Gardens is eventually sold during Prohibition.
Bismarck Renamed Randolph Hotel
During World War I, amid American anti-German sentiment, the Eitels change the hotel's name to The Randolph Hotel, changing it back after Armistice Day (November 11, 1919).
Eitels Purchase The Neighborhood
In 1924, six years after the end of World War I, the Eitels purchase the entire south side of the block of Randolph between La Salle & Wells. It is thereafter known as the "Eitel Block." In addition to hotel holdings, they oversee the building of the 22-story Metropolitan Office building and the 2,500-seat Palace Opera Theater adjacent to the hotel.
The existing Bismarck Hotel is demolished to make way for a grand rebuild. In its place, the Eitels build a 19-story hotel with 600 guest rooms and a striking marble staircase off the lobby. The rebuild is designed by renowned Chicago architectural firm Rapp and Rapp, with help from a fifth Eitel brother, Albert, who had remained in Stuttgart and pursued a career in architecture.
Bismarck Hotel Opens as Randolph
The "new" Bismarck reopens in 1926 with just as much fanfare as its predecessor.
The Palace Theater becomes a must-stop along the vaudeville circuit with stars like Mae West, Jimmy Durante, Lillian Russell, Richard Mansfield, John Mason, May Irwin, Ellen Terry, Nat Goodwin and Julia Marlowe, and Bob Hope performing there and staying at the adjacent Bismarck Hotel.
|Dec. 5, 1933||
The first post-Prohibition keg is tapped at The Bismarck's Walnut Room. Hundreds of revelers line up around the block and flood in immediately after midnight. The hotel goes down in history as the first place to legally sell alcohol again. Guests are even given paper hats in the shape of beer mugs with the phrase "Happy Days" printed on them.
|1940s & 50s||
Movies and Wartime
As vaudeville and big bands go out of fashion, the Palace Theater begins hosting traveling Broadway shows and eventually becomes the biggest movie theater in the city in the 1940s.
The Bismarck hosts events for local and nationally known movers, shakers, movie stars and the like.
During World War II, the brass lighting fixtures and sconces throughout the building are painted white, from fear that the government will claim them to make bullets for the war effort.
The Eitels sell the Bismarck Hotel to Arthur Wirtz for just over $2 million. Wirtz is a renowned local Chicagoan and owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team and Chicago Stadium.
|1960s - 1980s||
Thanks to its close proximity to City Hall, The Bismarck becomes the unofficial meeting spot (and home to much behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing) for the Cook County Democratic Party, led by famed Chicago Mayor J. Richard Daley. Daley had his own table in the Walnut Room with a private phone installed for his personal use.
The Green Orchid Room
On the 100th anniversary of the hotel, the Green Orchid Room opens, an intimate lounge and entertainment space described as an "art deco cabaret and cigar club." Between appearances by its own "Green Orchid Girls," vocalists like Jackie Allen, Frances Asher and Kurt Elling perform.
The Wirtz family sells the former "Eitel Block" to PalMet Venture, LLC. The Kimpton Hotel Group manages and designs the historic property.
The block undergoes a $31 million renovation and reopens in 1998 as the Hotel Allegro; operations are handled by Kimpton Hotels. The renovations bring out the dramatic theater district flair of the hotel's past. The grand marble staircase is refurbished and the original light fixtures that had been languishing in the hotel’s basement are brought back to life.
Kimpton Hotel Allegro
Hotel Allegro begins a 2-year, $15 million renovation meant to further honor the art deco history of the Bismarck Hotel’s post-Prohibition heyday.
More than 100 Years of History
Sonesta International Hotel Corporation purchases the hotel and celebrates the rich history of 171 W. Randolph Street.