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Inside The Shoreland: From Hotel to Dorm to Apartments (PHOTOS)

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The Del Prado is a gorgeous building, but The Shoreland has always hogged the spotlight in Hyde Park. Perhaps it's because people like Elvis, Hoffa and Amelia Earhart stayed there. Or maybe it's because, as one Curbed commenter put it, "there's something amazing about a bunch of brilliant 18-22 year olds living in a decaying but still grand hotel on the south side of Chicago." (The building served as a University of Chicago dorm from the mid-1970s until 2008.) Whatever it is, Hyde Parkers have reason to be excited about MAC Properties' acquisition of the building. Like the Del Prado, which is located just a few blocks away, MAC is set to give the 85-year-old hotel a complete gut-rehab, restoring the once-glamorous common areas and commercial space to glory. A couple weeks ago, we learned that interior demolition at The Shoreland is set to begin next month. So last week, we asked MAC director Peter Cassel if he'd be willing to take us through the empty building to document its current state, and so that we're able to do a before-and-after comparison once the renovation is complete. Ever the mensch, Cassel obliged us.

At this point I should break from the Curbed voice to say that several years ago, as a student at the U of C, I lived in The Shoreland. [A note on visiting derelict buildings you once lived in: It makes you feel old!] I don't want to wax nostalgic on my college days too much, but I will say that it was a pretty incredible building to live in as an undergrad — especially compared to some of the newer-construction residence halls the U of C has built in recent years. The building is about a mile from the main quad, giving it an off-campus vibe, and all of the corner units were 2BD, 2BA suites, with a full kitchen (+pantry), living room and dining room, which were suitable for throwing small parties. (If you're allergic to dust, though, you would've hated the place.)

A natural question that anyone viewing these photos might ask is, "How could the university do this to such a beautiful building?!" It's a fair question, considering that the U of C, which now has an endowment of roughly $5.67 billion, bought the place "for a song," in Blair Kamin's words, and allowed the building to slip into a state of utter disrepair. That question never occurred to me as a student, though. I sometimes wondered why the elevators were so spotty, or why the heating was always going full-blast, or why broken glass and puke remained in the stairwells for so long. But I never thought, "Hey, this is a real architectural treasure, and the university is letting the community down by leaving it to rot." Besides, when Studio Gang is done with it, the building will be just fine.

Our tour started in the main lobby, where snow had blown through open windows and melted on the floor, leaving pools of water in the once-grand reception area. Next, we entered the Louis XVI Ballroom, which had been used as storage space during the U of C years. Years ago, the ceiling to that room, which was supported by wires, collapsed. Jeanne Gang, the architect MAC hired for the rehab, expressed dismay in a recent Trib article at seeing this room stripped bare, and it is a pretty startling sight. MAC plans fix up the windows and open a restaurant in that room, and they plan to use the Crystal Ballroom and a couple of other second-floor rooms for private parties.

Even more than at the Del Prado, MAC will be able to market The Shoreland's views. Standing in front of a window on the building's southwest wing, Cassel looked over at the sprawling U of C campus and told me, "we're in a company town with a view of the factory." True, but nice as that view is, it probably won't be the one that renters will covet; located across from The Point, many of the units in The Shoreland will have unobstructed lake views.

After passing through a few floors of dorms, Cassel took me up to the 13th floor, which also served as storage space during the Shoreland's dorm days. A four-foot-tall man might feel at home on the 13th floor, but because pipes and wires hang from the ceiling, most regular-sized people have to stoop. Cassel says all of that stuff will be removed; the bricked-up windows will be opened up again, and there will be apartments on the top floor.

During orientation, there were two basic rules that RAs passed on to incoming freshmen: Don't set off the sprinkler system (for obvious reasons) and don't try to get up to the roof (to prevent students from throwing themselves off). So when Cassel took me out on the roof, it felt like we were breaking the rules. The view from up there is pretty nice (even when it's sleeting), but MAC has no plans to build a roof deck. In the mechanical rooms on the roof, Cassel showed me a cache of decorative terra cotta ornaments that had been taken off the building's exterior and stored. Those will later be fixed up and returned to their rightful place.

Cassel says that because of the Shoreland's historic status, the National Park Service has stipulated that they keep the extra-wide hallways (they have to work with NPS, because it's on the National Register of Historic Places). However, MAC is free to tear down walls between units, and they plan to knock down and rebuild all of them to convert the building to approximately 350 apartments. The other major bit of construction that MAC will undertake is excavating beneath the building to create below-grade parking for residents. That, of course, will be very expensive (Antheus chairman Eli Ungar estimated construction costs between $50 million and $60 million for the building), but MAC views it as essential. None of that work has started yet; only the carpets have been torn out so far. I can't wait to see the building once it's finished.
· Work on Shoreland Apartment Conversion To Begin Next Month [Curbed]
· Inside the Del Prado: Restoring a Hyde Park Hotel to Former Glory [Curbed]

Shoreland

5454 South Shore, Chicago, Illinois 60637