Future Reflections Winter/Spring, Vol. 14 No. 1
[PICTURE] The 1995 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be held in Chicago at the Hilton and Towers Hotel, formerly the Conrad Hilton adn today the flagship of the worldwide Hilton chain. Shown here is the hotel's columned Great Hall with its exquisitely restored ceiling fresco, one of the most beautiful hotel public areas in the world.
Reprinted from the December, 1994, issue of the Braille Monitor.
From the Editor: Steve Benson is not only a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind but also the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. Moreover he is a resident of Chicago, so he knows whereof he speaks when he talks about the host city for the 1995 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This is what he has to say about the Hilton and Towers and the city that surrounds our convention hotel:
Chicago was incorporated in 1837. In 1840 little more than 4,000 people called it home. By 1860 it had swelled to more than 112,000. The city's history, political and economic climate, energy, spirit, and character are captured in its nicknames: Mudtown, City on the Lake, City of Big Shoulders, Hogopolis, Hog Butcher for the World, Railroad Hub of the Nation, Gem of the Prairies, City of Churches, Financial Capital of the Midwest, Windy City, and Convention Capital of the World. This latter claim is not made frivolously, for Chicago is equipped to play host to the worldþand the people come. Chicago has 25,746 hotel rooms. An additional 41,000 rooms may be found in the surrounding, collar counties. The largest convention Chicago hosts, the International Machine Tool Association, meets every two years and attracts more than 115,000 people. By the end of 1994 more than 3.8 million people will have attended conventions in the Windy City. The anchor for all this activity, McCormick Place, offers 1.3 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space.
Chicago hosted its first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in 1950. The first political convention to meet here was the Republican National Convention of 1860, at which Abraham Lincoln was selected to carry the party's banner to the White House. Many political conventions have woven strands into the rich and varied fabric of Chicago's history, but none has made more impact on the lives of blind Americans than the five NFB conventions previously held here. So our 1995 national convention in Chicago, the sixth, makes this city our "Sweet Home." Taking nothing at all away from the splendid conventions of recent years, 1995 will be the biggest and best by far. It is fitting, then, that the site of next year's convention should be one of the most spectacular hotels in the world.
The Chicago Hilton and Towers, 720 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60605, (312) 922-4400, is a Chicago landmark and the flagship property of the Hilton chain. To the east of the hotel, across Michigan Avenue, sprawls Grant Park with its beautiful formal gardens, its wildflower garden, Buckingham Fountain, museum campus, the Patrillo Bandshell, Columbia and Chicago Yacht Clubs, Burnham Harbor and athletic fields. This is a magnificent and proper setting for a hotel that received the 1994 Mobil Travel Guide's Four Star Award.
When built in 1927 at a cost of thirty million dollars as the Stevens Hotel, it was the largest in the world with 3,000 guest rooms. It had a rooftop eighteen-hole golf course with real grass; a 25,000-volume private library; an art gallery; a five-lane bowling alley; a swimming pool; and its own hospital, police force, fire department, and three-story industrial laundry still in operation. To say that it was roaring-twenties opulent is an understatement.
In 1945 Conrad Hilton acquired the property, and in 1951 the hotel was renamed after its owner. In 1984 the hotel was renovated with major structural changes, including the reduction of guest rooms to 1,543 at a cost of 185 million dollars. Other changes included converting two private ballrooms to a 5,000-square-foot grand luxury suite, which rents for $4,000 per night and which, I'm sad to say, none of us will occupy. The project not only restored the hotel to its 1927 grandeur, it surpassed it in many ways and placed the Hilton and Towers in a more competitive position for today's business climate.
The Hilton and Towers is a majestic structure that occupies a full city block north to south and more than half a city block east to west. The hotel boasts 120,000 square feet of exhibit space, more than fifty meeting rooms, a 510-car attached garage, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a full-service business center, the Stevens Art Gallery, four excellent restaurants, three lounges, a unisex hair salon, a shopping area, and twenty-four-hour room serviceþand that doesn't begin to tell the story of this very special facility.
As you step through the Hilton and Towers front doors on Michigan Avenue, you enter the spectacular Great Hall with its restored gold leaf frescoes and elegant, graceful curving staircases leading to the Grand Ballroom and other meeting space on the second floor. Immediately to the right is Lake Side Green, a two-story atrium lounge that features entertainment, billiards, and light refreshment. Immediately to the left is a corridor leading to the shopping area and escalators to the lower level exhibit area. Continuing through the Great Hall, you come to the central (north to south) corridor. Across this corridor, directly in front of you, is the elevator lobby with fourteen elevators on the north, west, and south sides. The east side of the elevator lobby is the open side. If you turn right (north) in the main corridor, you will find on the right side the assistant manager's desk, the hotel's registration desk, and the bell stand. Across the corridor from the hotel's registration desk is the Pavilion Restaurant. At the end of the corridor is the Concierge. If you turn left, there are rest-rooms for men and women on the right side. Straight ahead is the carport.
The Pavilion is a French country cafe surrounded by a spacious veranda dotted with colorful flowering plants. Contemporary and impressionist art adorn the area. The menu features sumptuous breakfasts and lunch and dinner buffets, plus a wide selection of burgers, pasta salads, sandwiches, and many daily specials. The 275-seat restaurant is open from 5:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. If you turn left from the Great Hall (south) you will find on the right side of the corridor Buckingham's, the hotel's fine dining signature restaurant. This warm, club-like space seats 165 guests. It is decorated in high-lacquered mahogany woods, gray and white marble, beveled mirrors, and upholstered walls with brass accents. Watercolors, line drawings, and paintings of Chicago's Buckingham Fountain by local artists hang throughout the room. Buckingham's features steak, chops, and seafood. It is open from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. and requires reservations. For those interested, Buckinghams claims the largest selection of single malt scotch whiskeys in the city, a total of 106.
Continuing south through the main corridor, on the left side are Ciro's Jewelry; Parnell's Irish Shop; a flower shop; and W.H. Smith's Store, featuring newspapers, magazines, toiletries, and so on. On the right side are men's and women's rest-rooms. Kitty O'Shea's Irish Pub and Restaurant is next on the left side. At the end of the corridor, straight ahead, is Accent Chicago, featuring souvenirs and gifts. Make a right turn, and on the right is Chicago's own world-class Fanny Mae Candy. Here are treats unequaled anywhere. Next on the right are escalators leading up to the International Ballroom. Straight ahead and down several steps is the newly renovated Continental Ballroom.
The southeast corner of the Hilton and Towers is an extraordinary area. If you pause there for a bit of refreshment, you may hear echoes of William Butler Yeats, Brendan Behan, Sean O'Casey, James Joyce; or you may detect just a hint of the little people. You are certain to hear the cadence and lilt of English as spoken on the Emerald Isle. The place is Kitty O'Shea's Irish Pub and Restaurant. The 150-seat pub is an authentic Irish tavern reminiscent of centuries-old establishments in Ireland.
Hilton sent a design team to Dublin and gave them the dirty, thankless job of visiting some forty pubs to study floor plans, decor, menus, and other little touches that could carry the ambiance of those legendary gathering spots to Chicago. The Hilton and Towers has done the job just right. The oak plank flooring and ceramic floor tiles in green, orange, black, and white; the hand-carved mahogany and marble bar; the glass shelving; and ceramic mugs are imported from Ireland. The antique beer taps were donated by the Guiness Brewery in Dublin. The food is authentic, and the chef, bar men, and wait staff are Irish natives working here on a culinary hotel exchange program. Tradition and hospitality abound in this warm and merry place. True to Irish custom, according to manager Eamon Brady, "Loyal customers are honored by personalized mugs. You may have a ceramic Guiness mug registered for your use and hung from the ceiling above the bar."
Distinguished Irishmen of Chicago have added a special touch to Kitty O'Shea's. Past presidents and officers of the Irish Fellowship Club have donated shillelaghs that have been carried in the city's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. The black thorn staffs hang in Shillelagh Corner.
And then there's the entertainment. Nightly from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., you can hear Irish balladeers sing the songs of the Old Sod. Better than that, there are sing-alongs. You can lift your voices in the singing of "Johnny McAdoo," "Whistling Gypsy," "Jug of Punch," "Jolly Tinker," and many more rowdy and sweet aires. Kitty O'Shea's is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., with food served until 9:00 p.m. Partake of Irish lamb stew; shepherds pie; potato and leek soup; and, if you like, Blarney Burgers. Don't miss Kitty O'Shea's.
For a moment let us revisit the magnificent Continental Ballroom, which was recently renovated at a cost of two million dollars. From its stunning 3,700-square-foot foyer to the state-of-the-art sound system, to the twenty-three glittering chandeliers and thirty-six wall sconces, this 10,000-square-foot room, decorated in green, mauve, and violet, is well coordinated with the decor of the hotel.
The second floor of the hotel features the Versailles-inspired 16,600-square-foot Grand Ballroom with its twenty-two-karat gold frescoes and crystal chandeliers and the nearly 22,000-square-foot International Ballroom. In addition, the second floor houses the Normandy Lounge, site of the Buckinghams-hosted Sunday brunch with a 120-foot buffet. The elegant Normandy Lounge overlooks Grant Park and is graced by chairs from the ocean-liner, S. S. Normandy. In addition, north of the elevator lobby is the Boulevard Room. It is worth noting that this was once a nightclub that featured a floor show on ice.
The Hilton and Towers has hosted every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt and heads of state from Japan, England, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, and Ireland. In addition, such notables as Charles Lindbergh; Maria Callas; Frank Sinatra; Richard Burton; Walter Payton; Michael Jordan; Babe Ruth; Ray Charles; and many, many more have stayed at this hotel. Next year the Hilton and Towers will welcome us, the National Federation of the Blind. Large and elegant as it is, the hotel definitely has the warmth and feeling of a fine home. Much of the credit for that goes to the outstanding, well-trained staff. The Chicago Hilton and Towers will be our home for a week in 1995. As we add a chapter to our history, so too we will add a chapter to the history of this magnificent hotel and to the history of Chicago. The Illinois affiliate looks forward to being your host and to continuing the positive work of the National Federation of the Blind. Welcome to Chicago!