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Purple Hotel fades to black: Wrecking ball tears through notorious landmark

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Updated: September 29, 2013 6:43AM

Lincolnwood’s old Purple Hotel, which started life as a Hyatt before sliding down the scale of respectability, met its date with the wrecking ball Tuesday. Local officials celebrated the occasion as the end of an eyesore even as they looked back wistfully at its days as an icon.

The hotel, an investment of the Pritzker family when it opened in 1962, is being torn down to make way for a hotel-anchored project at 4500 W. Touhy, a 10-acre site imagined as a town center for Lincolnwood. It was the northwest suburb’s best-known building and took its name from the color of its bricks.

Opinion about the color always was divided, but it made the hotel distinctive. It went through several brand affiliations, but in its final years a prior owner who didn’t want to pay franchise fees just renamed it the Purple Hotel, which locals had called it for years.

Recollections of weddings, graduations and bar mitzvahs were shared over lox and bagels at an event marking the demolition. The hotel used to be the place North Side and North Shore residents might catch Perry Como or Barry Manilow. But others remembered the property’s later years as a host for sex parties. When other guests complained, a former manager blamed them for using the wrong elevators.

“It was disconcerting to see what happened to the hotel,” said Lincolnwood Mayor Gerald Turry, who estimated that 30 development proposals for the site crossed village officials’ desks over the years. Despite some calls that the structure be saved, Turry said it had to go to make room for a better design on the property.

“There were all kinds of tawdry things over there,” Turry said. “We don’t like to think about that and just look forward to something that will create new memories for people. Whatever gets built, people still will be calling it the Purple Hotel site.”

The hotel starred in convicted political fixer Stuart Levine’s account of drug parties. Police frequently were called to the hotel and the place accumulated dozens of code violations by the time it closed in 2007, ahead of village threats to shut it down forcibly.

Following a few speeches, a ball swung by National Wrecking Co. tore into a third-floor room on the hotel’s west side. Glass and bricks fell away, revealing an armoire still inside.

Even in its better days as a Hyatt, the hotel became famous as the site of mobster Allen Dorfman’s murder. He was gunned down in the parking lot in 1983 and the crime was never solved.

Despite all that, the hotel still was “a great place of joy and memories for so many people over so long and it’s hard to say goodbye,” said developer Neal Stein, principal of North Capital Group. Stein said he attended several functions there. “One was the first time I ever wore a tie,” he said.

Details of the development are still in discussion with Lincolnwood officials and the work probably will get a subsidy from a tax-increment financing district. Stein said he’s considering a roughly 230-room hotel and banquet facility along with restaurants and stores, with a residential component perhaps coming later.

His partners include Urban Retail Properties and hotel management company First Hospitality Group. A highly regarded Chicago architect, Joseph Antunovich, was hired for the work.

Stein assumed control of the project from another developer, Jake Weiss, who had floated ideas for preserving the building.

An honored guest at the event was architect John Macsai, 87, who designed the Purple Hotel. He had a long career designing Lake Shore Drive high-rises.

The Evanston resident noted the irony of being invited to the demolition, “almost like being invited to your own funeral,” but he offered qualified backing for the decision to raze his work.

So-called “modern” architecture from the 1960s isn’t old enough to get respect, Macsai said. While he considers the hotel as among his best works, he said, “Unfortunately, it couldn’t be saved. It was in the wrong location. It had to be torn down.”

Asked if he’ll follow the progress of the development, Macsai shook his head no. “If I watched it, I’d start to be critical.”


Twitter: @RoederDavid

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