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06.27.2012
Koo to the Rescue
Quirky Purple Hotel in suburban Chicago to get new life.
Courtesy Koo + Associates

Beloved, maligned, mold-infested, the Purple Hotel, for better or worse, is the most recognizable building in suburban Lincolnwood, Illinois. The defunct and distinctly colored mid-century modernist structure was slated for demolition last year. But the village recently turned a corner in its conflicted relationship with the hotel. Skokie-based Weiss Properties teamed up with North Capital Group to save the building, bringing architect Jackie Koo on board to rehabilitate the 8.5-acre property. Koo and Associates made a splash in the hospitality world with their design for downtown Chicago’s Wit Hotel.

Vacant since 2007, the Purple Hotel was in poor order when the developers convinced Lincolnwood to revoke its demolition order. “Anything that even looked like copper is gone,” said Jake Weiss, president of Weiss Properties. Lincolnwood sued previous owner Village Resorts in March 2010, seeking a remedy for numerous health code violations. The village established a tax-increment financing district to spur redevelopment, but apparently it wasn’t enough to overcome Village Resorts’ $25.8 million price tag.

The owners, father-and-son investors Kun Chae Bae and Donald Bae, filed for bankruptcy protection in December. The hotel has been a Hyatt, Radisson, and Ramada, only to officially adopt its longtime moniker “The Purple Hotel” in 2004 under independent management. Now its future as a hotel appears secure under the new team.

 
  

“I think this is the right project at the right time,” said Jackie Koo. Unable to attract a mixed-use condo development as it might have hoped to in a stronger economy, Koo said, Lincolnwood should embrace its roots as a mid-century modern community. The village may also benefit from property taxes sooner than if the hotel was demolished for new construction.

While stripped of its metal fixtures, the building has good bones. Among the original design’s features are a monumental wood wall and interior staircase. “We would restore a lot of those architectural features,” Koo said, “but it’s a hotel so we need to overlay some amount of appropriate decorative elements that bring it more into the current social context.”

Koo plans to maintain at least one other key element, too. “I’ve always liked the color,” she said. “It’s not often you see a purple building in town.”

That may be for a reason: the color is divisive. To alleviate some concerns about the hotel’s titular hue, Koo’s preliminary plans include sketches of a mesh or glass skin that could keep the color while changing the building’s overall appearance and texture. The original architect, John Macsai, designed the hotel for A. N. Pritzker’s Hyatt Corporation in the 1960s. Macsai, a former teacher of Koo’s, recently explained to The Chicago Sun-Times that Pritzker picked the “lively” color from a palette that the architect brought to him.

 

Before its recent rescue, the hotel had garnered somewhat of a cult following among preservationists and locals who remembered the Purple’s halcyon days, including memories of many banquets and bar mitzvahs.

More common still, however, are the property’s more sordid milestones. Teamsters leader Allen Dorfman—a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa—was murdered in the Purple Hotel parking lot in 1983. As the chief prosecution witness in the 2008 corruption trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine testified he had engaged in all-day, drug-fueled parties in the hotel with high-profile guests.

Though preliminary, Koo’s plans show a softer side of the storied hotel. The hotel structure will remain, she said, although it is a question of degree. One route would be strict historic preservation, while another might be to remove and repurpose some of the purple brick. Either way, the message seems clear: the Purple stays.

Christopher Bentley