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The Chicago Traveler

The Blackstone Hotel and the Original "Smoke-Filled Room"

by Matt B on June 16th, 2008

blackstone hotel chicago

If you are familiar with U.S. politics, you may have heard about decisions being made in a “smoke-filled room.” This usually refers to a secret political gathering, suggesting that a group of economically- or politically-powerful individuals are meeting privately (perhaps while smoking cigars?) to make an impacting decision without regard to the public's wants. That term actually originated right here in Chicago in 1920 at the Blackstone Hotel.

The 290-foot (88 m), 21-story building was completed in 1910 and is considered a Chicago Landmark and a National Historic Place. It is named after Timothy Blackstone, the founding president of the Union Stock Yards and president of the Chicago and Alton Railroad, who built the hotel primarily to serve passengers of his trains. However, the hotel became famous for its celebrity guests, including 12 U.S. Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.[1] For obvious reasons, the Blackstone was also known as the “Hotel of Presidents.”

The Blackstone Hotel has also been witness to several of the United States' historic moments. During Kennedy's visit in October of 1962, he was informed of the installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba.[2] This eventually led to one of the scariest global moments in history, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In June of 1920, a group of Republican leaders met at the Blackstone, away from the Republican National Convention at the Chicago Coliseum. According to an Associated Press reporter, the decision to make Warren Harding (a relatively unknown Senator and unlikely contender) the Presidential candidate was made “in a smoke-filled room.”[3] Ever since then, the term has referred to any political process that is not open to public scrutiny.

The hotel was closed in 2000, renovated, and eventually reopened in 2008. However, the original ninth-floor 'smoked-filled room' was preserved.

Finally, the Blackstone has a place in pop culture as well. The television series Early Edition was about a man who received a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times one day before it was officially published and lived in this very building.[4]

blackstone hotel chicagoblackstone hotel chicago

Photo credit: (c/o Flickr) lazytom, lawrencechernin (1, 2)

Blackstone Hotel: 636 S Michigan Ave; 312-447-0955
Public trans: Bus # 1, 2, 3, 4, X4, 6, 7, 10, 14, 26, X28, 29, 36, 62, 126, 127, 146 or Red Line (Harrison)

[1] (n.d.). The Blackstone, Chicago. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from Emporis.com. Web site: http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=streetblackst1-chicago-il-usa.
[2] Jeffers, Glenn. (2008). A first look: The Blackstone. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from chicagotribune.com. Web site: http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/chicagotribune/.
[3] Thale, Christopher. (n.d.). Smoke-Filled Room. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from Encyclopedia of Chicago. Web site: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/3217.html.
[4] Carlton, Hayley. (n.d.). Grant Park street wall, surrounding buildings examined at GPAC meeting. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from Gazette Newspaper. Web site: http://www.nearwestgazette.com/Archive/2008/0308/News0308e.htm.

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POSTED IN: Architecture & Attractions, Hotels

5 opinions for The Blackstone Hotel and the Original "Smoke-Filled Room"

  • delk
    Jun 16, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    The back bar by the pool tables at The North End is the main bar from the Blackstone. Bought during that renovation.

  • Matt B
    Jun 17, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Really? Interesting… Quite the change of venue.

  • Alex-Sirened
    Jun 19, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Really interesting piece of history there Matt.

    Very hard to imagine a modern day “smoke filled room” huh? The internets would be buzzing just a wee bit, haha.

  • Rachel
    Sep 12, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I work here in the front office staff:) I love what you have written- guests usually ask for a brief flyer on the history of the hotel! Maybe we should discuss usage…:)

  • WGN-TV Is Chicago’s Very Own
    Oct 6, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    […] like a boring office building. That's because it was constructed in 1963, in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the threat of attack was a serious concern. In light of this, many TV and radio stations were […]

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