Cool Building Wednesday: A second act for a faded Art Deco beauty

January 20, 2010

The Viceroy Hotel (photo by Lee Bey)
The Viceroy Hotel (photo by Lee Bey)

For decades, whatever happened in the Viceroy, stayed in the Viceroy. At least until somebody called the cops.

The now-shuttered six-story hotel at 1519 W. Warren Blvd., was the site of the kind of vices that typically occur in down-and-out hostelry: crime, loitering, disturbances and an occasional room fire.‚  All behind (and in front) that glorious Art Deco brick and terra-cotta face.

"It's comforting to know that if I ever really [screw] up and even my parents wont let me crash on the couch that I've still got the Viceroy to fall back on!!" a tongue-in-cheek Yelp user wrote in 2006 when the place was still open. "Cuz you know, transients welcome. It says so."

Heartland Housing and nearby First Baptist Congregational Church want to get the‚  Viceroy noticed again, but in a different way.‚  The team last year was picked by the city to redevelop the property into a 90-unit, LEED-certified development for the homeless and unemployed.‚  On Tuesday, city officials‚  said the group is still working to line up financing--which means the building will sit idle for now.‚  So I decided to pay the Viceroy a visit.

Viceroy Hotel Entrance (photo by Lee Bey)
Viceroy Hotel Entrance (photo by Lee Bey)

Originally the Union Park Hotel, construction on the $500,000, 175-room building began in 1929.‚  It was designed by 32-year-old architect B. Albert Comm, who specialized in residential architecture with modern cues. The new hotel, with abstracted Art Deco floral detailing and geometry was a minor dazzler in its day: a natty boulevardier strolling onto a‚  sober tableau of brick and limestone buildings. A peacock among the pigeons. Even after years of decline, the hotel's beauty is evident:

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

Look at this:

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

Once rehabbed, rooms at the Viceroy will have kitchens and private baths. Rain gardens, a green roof, natural plantings and permeable pavers are also planned. St. Leonard's Ministries, which helps ex-offenders, wants to open a coffee shop on the ground floor. The organization also seeks lease a floor of residences for its constituents--a move that hasn't made some nearby residents entirely happy.

One Last Word:‚  Until now, I'd never heard of Viceroy architect Benjamin Albert Conn. A quick search shows he designed apartment buildings and homes in South Shore, Evanston, Markham, Norwood Park and other nearby locales. He designed an all-electric house in Winnetka in 1935 and cedar and Lannon Stone-clad home in the Beverly neighborhhood at 93rd and Bell in 1951.