As I was wrapping up my Christmas shopping, I noticed a demolition crew destroying this building on East Ontario, just off Michigan Avenue. Not long ago, two or three buildings of just a few stories in height had taken up most of this block. Since I last noticed, they had quietly vanished. Now, this last small building was going, too.
Offhand, I couldn’t recall what had been here for so many years; I had to look online to refresh my memory. On the vacant space to the left stood Bice Ristorante—one of the first “New Italian” restaurants to hit it big in Chicago in the 1990s, attracting the famous and fashionable in droves.
The fine old residence being demolished was more obscure. Its tall windows, deep bays, and elegant stonework show it to have been a proud product of the Gilded Age, an urban mansion once the epitome of luxury and grandeur, later dwarfed by the neighboring hotel and eventually cut up inside into flats, with perhaps a tarot gallery or dry-cleaner on the ground floor. Despite the vicissitudes of time, it had contributed its mite to the character of a thriving yet exclusive urban block.
Certainly, its charm was greater than what will replace it. Therein lies the sadness of the scene. Gradually, the idiosyncratic old buildings near the Magnificent Mile are vanishing. As they go, the special character of the area is going, their modest and hospitable air giving way to one of commercial efficiency.
Developers, biding their time, bought up these several small properties, dreaming of putting something bigger and more profitable on the now-vacant land stretching from Orvis, at 150 East Ontario, to the Red Roof Inn, at 162. The press reports that another enormous luxury hotel complex may be coming.
How tall might the new building be? The Chicago Architecture Blog surmises that, if an old plan for the site is resurrected, it could be as high as 50 stories.