The $140 million redevelopment of the old Cook County Hospital, a once-imperiled 1914 Beaux Arts edifice that once housed a hospital often described as “Chicago’s Ellis Island” due to its open-door policy of treating patients of all nationalities from all walks of life, is partially complete.
AN has followed the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)-led adaptive reuse project since it was first announced in 2016 and broke ground two years later. The 342,000 square foot complex includes two Hyatt-branded hotels with a combined 210 rooms, in addition to a large suite of medical offices, a museum dedicated to the legacy of the building, a daycare center, a 24-hour fitness facility, and what’s perhaps the country’s only food hall named in honor of a long-dead abdominal surgeon. A buzzy 12-stall food court, populated largely by BIPOC-owned vendors and spread across 10,000 square feet is operational although with some safety-related tweaks and additional outdoor seating prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. The hotels are also open, though not all of the rest of the project is done.
The rehabbing and reuse of the 106-year-old brick and terra-cotta-faced hospital, spearheaded by a consortium of developers and builders known as the Civic Health Development Group, is part of a larger, multiphase $1 billion Harrison Square redevelopment scheme that will transform—and, eventually, bring new housing, retail, commercial office space, and even more hotels to—over 13 mostly vacant acres of the Illinois Medical District on Chicago’s Near West Side. The district is the largest urban medical and research quarter of its kind in the United States.
The restored Cook County Hospital will anchor the redeveloped areas, as reported by Block Club Chicago, which also noted that facade restoration work on the masonry building, which was completely gutted save for its old surgical theaters, cost $18 million alone. Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. worked alongside SOM in revamping the storied property.
“This profile of architecture is very important to the history of Chicago,” lead developer John Murphy told WGN9 in 2018. “We’re going to carry it forward for as long as we can in order to not only recognize the past but also to inspire others going forward as to what they build and weave into the fabric of Chicago.”
Although the Paul Gerhardt–designed building, added to the National Register of Historic Place in 2006, sat vacant in an increasingly advanced state of dilapidation for nearly two decades beginning in the early aughts when a new modern facility was built nearby and the teaching hospital was relocated, it remains the district’s cornerstone structure and a fabled part of Chicago history. It also has some serious popular culture credentials, to boot. In addition to loosely serving as the inspiration for the television show ER, the building has been featured in numerous films and shows. And in 1996, Princess Diana visited the hospital’s pioneering AIDS ward while touring Chicago.
Shortly after the new Cook County Hospital—now known as the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County—opened, the building was threatened with demolition in an effort led by then-president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, John Stroger. (The new hospital was renamed in honor of Stroger, the first African-American person to serve as board president, several years before his death in 2008 in a somewhat unusual move.)
Thanks in part to a tireless campaign to save the historic teaching hospital led by Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois complete with multiple placements on the latter nonprofit preservation group’s annual Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list, the board overruled Stroger’s decision to raze the old hospital and the building was saved.
The start of its official rebirth, however, didn’t come until this year.
Now, in a building that played a vital role in the lives of countless Chicagoan families throughout the decades, one can crash for the night in a bed of the non-hospital variety and dine on banh mi or brown walnut pie in the Windy City’s newest food hall.
Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that the building’s conversion was complete, but it is only partially complete.