The Intercontinental Chicago Is A Tourist Destination
We came home from our big fall trip to the Baltic coast and had no travel booked for a few months. To get a quick break, we decided to do a short road trip from Toronto and we visited Chicago for 3 days. We have had the most awesome customer service staying at Intercontinental Hotels. So the Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile was the first hotel we looked at when we reviewed our IHG Reward Club choices. When we looked at reviews and a YouTube video, it was obvious that this was not an ordinary Intercontinental. Part of the hotel used to be the Medinah Athletic Club. We were intrigued and couldn’t wait to tour the Intercontinental Chicago Medinah heritage. Spending time in our hotel would be a tourist stop on our Chicago visit.
We pulled up to the Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile and at first glance, it looked like many others we have visited. But when we looked up, we saw the new tower beside the historic building that used to house the Medinah Athletic Club. The intricate detail we saw on the outside of the building was a sure sign that there would be much more of the Chicago Medinah heritage to explore inside.
The Medinah Athletic Club was commissioned by the Shriners in 1929 to be built by noted architect Walter W. Ahlschlager. The building is a mix of many multicultural styles and was opened as a private men’s club. In 1934 after the stock market crash, financial disaster forced the sale of the clubhouse. Through its history the building has served different functions. In 1983 the building was closed for major renovations before it re-opened as the Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile. Historians continue to work on the history of this building. A small museum is located off the lobby that houses historical pieces as they are discovered.
We Discovered A Treasure As We Explored the Intercontinental Chicago
One morning after breakfast, we set out to wander through the older building in the hotel. We looked to discover some of the Chicago Medinah heritage on our own.
We left the second level of Michael Jordon’s Steak House in the hotel and crossed the neon walkway on the floor. When we looked up, we saw that the ceiling was a sharp contrast to the neon at eye level.
In no time at all, we entered another era. Everywhere we looked we saw ancient detail. We later learned that the lion carving in this Hall of Lions had been recovered during major restoration work done in the hotel.
When we looked up we saw decorative beams over a blue ceiling. Only later would we learn that areas with blue ceilings used to be the only areas in the Medinah Athletic Club where women were allowed! This would not stop me as I explored more of this great space.
The elevator lobby provided us with another amazing sight. Each elevator was decorated with a colourful fresco. The wall decorative coverings went up and over the ceiling.
We tried the doors to several of the ballrooms to find more discoveries but all were locked. When we returned to the room, we made contact with the hotel General Manager Ronald Hoogerbrugge. He agreed to take us for a tour to see more of this magnificent Chicago Medinah heritage.
The Grand Ballrooms
We had not been able to get into the ballrooms when we wandered in our own. So we were delighted that the rooms were empty and just being set up for meetings when we did our tour. We moved from delight to delight as we explored the ballrooms and the Chicago Medinah heritage. All of the rooms have been fully restored to their original designs. And each room was so very different.
Our first stop was the Grand Ballroom. This large space has a balcony with stairs that descend to the main level. This is a favourite venue for weddings. I could just imagine a bride coming down the stairs. Hanging in the centre of this room is a 12,000 pound Baccaret crystal chandelier. It is one of the largest in the world. Around the chandeliers there were artistic ceiling paintings.
The second stop was in the Renaissance Ballroom. This was very different in design from the Grand Ballroom. It was an ornate French design of the era of Louis XVI. Crystal chandeliers and wall sconces lit the room. Wood carvings and ceiling panels were decorative. Gilded carved panels ran around the ceiling.
The final ballroom space we visited was the King Arthur Court. This was originally built to be a men’s smoking room. When we arrived outside this room, we knew we would see yet another style of decoration. The elevator space to the room had an ornately painted ceiling and cast iron chandeliers.
When we entered this room, we were immediately drawn to the large stained glass panels that decorated this room. When we looked at the ceiling, we found detailed painted murals and carvings.
The ballrooms at the Intercontinental Chicago are a tribute to the Chicago Medinah heritage!
Heading For The Roof
We were delighted to get a guided tour up to the roof with Ronald. This would give us another view of the Chicago Medinah heritage in this great building. We headed to the elevators that took us to the 42nd floor. With a master key, the wooden door covering the elevator door was opened.
The small room on this top floor was a former smoking room. It had comfortable leather chairs and is still used for private events. When we stepped outside on this level, we found a patio with high tables. This would be a great spot for entertaining.
From this level we walked around to see the views in all directions. It was a clear day and we had such a great view of Chicago from on high. It was a bit different from the view we got when we went to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building. We caught sight of a great many of the distinctive architectural delights we would explore further when we did an architectural boat tour.
We Climbed To The Decorative Docking Dome For Dirigibles
But we were not yet done for Chicago Medinah heritage treats. Ronald unlocked another door and we climbed up the circular staircase to the dome level.
When we toured around Chicago, we saw the decorative dome on the top of the Intercontinental Chicago from many angles. The gold Moorish dome on the top of the building was built to be a decorative docking point for dirigibles (blimp). Say that a few times very quickly! People with enough money to travel by dirigible would be let off on top of the building on the chimney. The Hindenburg disaster resulted in the docking port never being used.
The golden dome was distinctive on a skyline of most interesting buildings. At night, the dome was lit with pink lights. When we went to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building, we got another angle far off in the distance.
With a zoom lens, we could see yet more decorative carvings on the top of this amazing building.
When we climbed to the top, we came out just below the dome. The chimney and the staircase would have been used to come down from the dirigible.
The skyline of Chicago could be seen through the dome support beams.
A tour of the golden decorative docking point for dirigibles on the Intercontinental Chicago gave us a great view into the Chicago Medinah heritage.
And Then We Found The Pool
We knew there was a full gym and pool in the hotel. When we entered through the modern exercise rooms, we were not prepared for what we found.
On the 14th floor of the hotel we found a junior Olympic size swimming pool. Blue Spanish majolica tiles decorated the walls and the pool deck housed a large fountain of Neptune. There was a large spectator gallery.
The pool itself was deep and roped off for swimming and laps. David had to get in to try the pool.
This pool was installed in the original facility. At that time, the building also included a miniature golf course, an archery range, a bowling alley and a two storey boxing ring. The sports facilities at this hotel certainly spoke to the Chicago Medinah heritage.
We Will Never Forget Our View Of The Intercontinental Chicago Medinah Heritage
The Intercontinental Chicago was a delight to explore. It was a great tourist stop on our busy three days in Chicago. The Chicago Medinah Heritage was evident in so many places we visited in the building. The building’s history showed in the outside facade, the large olympic size pool, elevator lobbies, ballrooms and the roof dome. I am sure there are many other treasures to be found in this building.
We were so happy that Ronald Hoogerbrugge the GM at Intercontinental Chicago was willing to give us a guided tour. We explored much of the building delights on our own. But we saw so much more with a guided tour. This was just the icing on our great customer service experience at the Intercontinental Chicago during our three day visit to Chicago!
Have you explored the Intercontinental Chicago Medinah Heritage? What did you think of this amazing building?
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Impressive, I have lived in Chicago for years and have never been to the Intercontinental. Need to do a tour as well. Thank you for posting.
Joe, I am glad you liked our view of the treasures of the Intercontinental Chicago. We were so happy to be given a tour to see the less public spots. We were fascinated with the thought that there was a dirigible dock on the top. Even if it was never used. Thanks for following our adventures. Linda