While Hyatt and Hilton hotels are pretty much anywhere you visit, there is a certain amount of charm to old, indie hotels and motels. Many of them aren’t historic properties like The Blackstone or Palmer House in Chicago with architectural details that make you want to order a drink and hang out in the lobby all day. Nonetheless, like the salesman who used to travel door to door, there is a nostalgic quality to old properties that remind you of a bygone era.
Growing up in Chicago, the Ohio House Motel was one of those hotels that you’d drive by and wonder ~ does anyone stay there when they visit Chicago? Occasionally I’d learn of a sales representative who loved staying there because it was so close to where he needed to be, inexpensive and reminded him of simpler times. Fair enough.
Turns out the hotel is more than 50 years old. In December 1960, a tiny notice in the Chicago Tribune announced the opening of the Ohio House Motel in western downtown Chicago, at LaSalle and Ohio.
Distinguished by its retro diamond motif, the Ohio House is a vintage slice of roadside Americana plopped down right in the middle of downtown Chicago that seems so out of place next to high rises and national chain restaurants. Apart from the diamond roofline, other points of interest include the matching suspended sign, held up by a geometric metal grid which is itself reflected in the pattern block fence that runs along Ohio Street. Rough-faced stone walls and a large stainless steel sign on the east facade add to its distinctly Chicago mid-century design.
According to Larry James, general manager of the Ohio House, planning for the motel began in 1959 when the Miller Development Company proposed a 48-room motel on a downtown lot owned by the Chicago Board of Education, which had previously held a school. The architect was Arthur Salk of Shayman and Salk, who also designed the Summit Motel on Lincoln Avenue and the LaSalle Motor Lodge at LaSalle & Superior (now a Howard Johnson). The firm’s stamp was also on many apartment buildings in the inner suburbs. Construction cost was $500,000. The development needed a zoning variance to build at the back of the lot (without a rear yard) and for its lack of off-street parking.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, as the neighborhood transitioned from seedy to gentrified, the motel’s owner planned to demolish the motel and replace it with a far larger chain franchise. The building’s demolition was announced as imminent in 2001. Yet the plans never went through, and the motel still offers clean and remarkably affordable rooms right in downtown Chicago.
These days the rooms come equipped with free Internet access and guests will be able to enjoy a coffee shop soon (I can already taste the awesome diner coffee.). If you’re not lucky enough to stay here, send an Ohio House Motel postcard via email.
Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com which is part of the USA Today Travel family and TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom among other print magazines and online media outlets.