Hotel Guyon makes statewide endangered list

Capone-link building in and out of demolition courts for years

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By LA RISA LYNCH

West Garfield Park building with a connection to Al Capone may be demolished unless developers can come up with a plan to save the historic Hotel Guyon, 4000 W. Washington Blvd.

Landmarks Illinois last month placed the 10-story hotel on its "Ten Most Endangered" list. The group's annual list notes historic buildings threatened by deterioration, lack of maintenance or inappropriate development. The hotel is one of 10 architecturally significant buildings in Illinois placed on this year's lists.

The building has cycled in and out of demolition court for years for various code violations and has changed ownership just as frequently in several attempts to redevelopment the building.

"This is a building that we had our eyes on for a while," said Lisa DiChiera, Landmarks Illinois' director of advocacy. The nonprofit works to preserve historic places.

"The reason to include a building like this on our endangered list is because it is a very important building," DiChiera added, noting that the hotel has both architectural significance and a very interesting history.

Built in 1928, the 289-room edifice was constructed as residential hotel by architect Jens J. Jensen - not be confused with the landscape architect who designed Garfield Park Conservatory. Big-band promoter J. Louis Guyon commissioned Jensen to design the hotel.

The red trim brick and cream building was designed in the Moorish style and decked out with ornamental terracotta tiles and gargoyles. The hotel included a ballroom and two penthouses, one of which Guyon made his home. Guyon, who also owned the nearby Paradise Ballroom, operated a radio station in the hotel to promote big bands playing at his ballroom.

DiChiera said Jensen took the hotel's design from the "exotica theme" of silent movie palaces of the early 20th century.

"It is definitely one that he wanted to stand out," DiChiera said.

Hotel Guyon stands out for another reason. The same year the hotel opened, police raided the apartment of Capone gunman, Jack McGurn, according to an article on chicagomag.com.

DiChiera noted that massive structure would be a challenge to refurbish. In the 1980s Bethel New Life renovated the hotel into low-income housing. But DiChiera said the "rent didn't cover the annual maintenance cost, and the building continued to deteriorate."

DiChiera hopes that placing the building on its endangered list will help find the right developer with the right financing and the right plan. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is eligible for tax credits to help redevelop it.

"It is not going to be cheap, but it is definitely not a throw-away building," DiChiera said. "This is a building that really needs to find the right owner who has the wherewithal."

Ryan Spokas, a consultant for Hotel Guyon's current owners, is optimistic about the building's future. The owners, Kurzac LLC, acquired the building in 2011.

Spokas believes the owners have "assembled a skilled veteran team of investors, architects, engineers, public and private dollars in order to bring this back to functionally use."

The owners, he added, definitely do not want to see the building demolished, but haven't determined an end use for it. Spokas welcomes Landmarks Illinois designations and hopes it brings further visibility to the project to secure additional public money.

When reached for comment, Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th) said that his office has been approached by several parties wanting to invest in the building. And while he would like to see the facility "restored to its glory," safety is paramount.

"As potential investors inquire about the property, they also see the condition of a building which has been left vacant for over a decade," Ervin said.

Hotel Guyon is "orange rated" by the city's Commission on Landmarks. While not a city landmark, the rating means the building has some architectural feature and historical association significant to the surrounding the community, said Peter Strazzabosco, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development. A demolition order is automatically delayed on any orange rated building, allowing the city and community stakeholders time to seek alternatives to tearing the building down, Strazzabosco added.

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