The construction of the Blackstone Hotel began on the site of Timothy B. Blackstone’s home on South Michigan Avenue facing Grant Park in 1909. The Hotel’s namesake Timothy B. Blackstone was the founding president of the Union Stock Yards, president of the Chicago and Alton Railway, and the former business partner of Chicago hotel tycoon, John Drake. Drake’s sons, Tracy C. and John B. Drake of the Drake Hotel Company, provided the $3 million for the new Blackstone Hotel, which was designed by Benjamin H. Marshall from the Marshall and Fox architectural firm. Inspired by a trip to Paris, Marshall completed the 22-story building in the Second Empire Style for its rich and lavish appearance. A façade of pink granite, red brick, and white terra cotta adornments encased 16-floors of guest rooms, a ballroom, restaurants, and the Presidential Suite. On May 8, 1986, the Blackstone Hotel was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Because of its efficient organization and proximity to the local trains, the Blackstone Hotel became a popular gathering place for prominent Chicagoans, politicians, celebrities, and even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It hosted numerous elegant balls and parties for its wealthy patrons for decades. The Presidential Suite also attracted every U.S. president from Theodore Roosevelt to Richard Nixon. With its prime location, the Hotel served as the premier choice for every national political convention held in Chicago by both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Due to its association with prestige and politics, the adjacent Blackstone Theatre drew the same fanfare. The Blackstone Theatre opened on December 31, 1910, one year after the Hotel, increasing the Theatre’s chances of success as another attraction for hotel guests. An opening night program claimed that the Blackstone was the safest theatre ever built and could be emptied in under three minutes even with each of its 1,400 seats filled. Completed in the extravagant Beaux-Arts style, the Theatre stood six stories tall. Gray sandstone covered the exterior, while green and gold carpets and tapestries adorned the auditorium and French walnut walls of the lobby. DePaul University purchased the Blackstone Theatre in 1985 and renamed it after Merle Reskin in 1992 after completing renovations. Much like the Hotel, the Blackstone Theatre attracted attention from prominent members of American society, especially for political events.
In June 1916, the Republican Party hosted its National Convention in Chicago, drawing women suffragists from across the country. The two major suffrage organizations—the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)—also gathered in Chicago to hold national conventions to rally voters and garner support for the women’s suffrage movement among political candidates and delegates. While both organizations supported woman suffrage, their methods and goals differed. The Blackstone Theatre served as convention headquarters for the more “militant” and “aggressive” CU. Between June 5 and 6, the CU formed committees, elected a permanent convention and committee officers, and delivered reports. Suffragists gave speeches and passed resolutions promoting a national amendment as the most effective way to enfranchise women. The convention also formally called for the active opposition to any political party that chose not to support women’s suffrage. An article in the Santa Fe New Mexican about the event depicted several prominent CU national organizers and recognized Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren, the Santa Fe County superintendent of Public Instruction, for her local leadership. Nina advocated for the printing of suffrage materials in both Spanish and English to reflect New Mexico’s diverse population and include as many supporters as possible.
Meanwhile, at the Congress Hotel and Princess Theater, NAWSA hosted its own convention, voicing opposition to a federal suffrage amendment through speeches and resolutions. On June 7, more than 9,000 women from both organizations participated in a women’s suffrage parade in the pouring rain. An article in the New York Times reported: “The politicians and other visitors were calling it the pluckiest thing they ever knew women to do.” Despite their differences, NAWSA and the CU joined forces to “demand more undivided attention on this opening day of the conventions” and motivate the Republican Party to formally incorporate women’s suffrage into its platform.
The Blackstone Hotel is a Chicago Landmark. The City of Chicago is a Certified Local Government.
The content for this article was researched and written by Jade Ryerson, an intern with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.
Albuquerque Morning Journal. “Rival Suffrage Meetings Being Held in Chicago: One Camp Wants Constitutional Amendment, the Other Opposes It; Big Parade Today.” June 7, 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.
Barton, Timothy, James Peters, Margy Sweeney, Donna Gilman, Alix Stayton, and Thomas R. Samuels. Blackstone Hotel 636 S. Michigan Avenue: Designation Report. Chicago, IL: Department of Planning and Development, City of Chicago, February 4, 1988.
Blackstone, The. “A Historic Chicago Hotel.” Our Story. Accessed January 22, 2020.
Illinois SP Blackstone Hotel (28892468); National Register of Historic Places and National Landmarks Program Records: Illinois; National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013-2017; Records of the National Park Service, 1785-2006, Record Group 79; Cook County, IL. Accessed January 22, 2020.
Martin, Anne. “Woman’s Party Scope and Aims Told by Leader: Not a Suffrage but a Political Body—Backs Up Its Demands with Votes.” Chicago Daily Tribune. October 21, 1916. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune.
Miller + Miller Architectural Photography. “The Blackstone Chicago Autograph Collection Restored Hotel.” Portfolio. Accessed January 22, 2020.
Theatre School at DePaul University, The. “Merle Reskin Theatre.” Facilities. Accessed January 22, 2020.
Theatre School DePaul University, The. “A History of the Merle Reskin Theatre.” About Us. Captured May 29, 2011, Internet Archive. Accessed January 22, 2020.