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Stepping Back in Time at the 1928 Chicago Motor Club… Reborn as a Hampton Inn

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It wouldn’t be out-of-place if one where to arrive at 68 E. Wacker Place in a DeLorean. In fact, if I had access to one, that’s just how I would’ve liked to roll-up to the Hampton Inn Chicago – one of the Windy City’s newest downtown hotels, and one that fits perfectly with the high-octane spirit of adventure that I like to maintain. When you think of a Hampton Inn, you’re probably not thinking of a boutique hotel – nor one steeped in history, but that’s just what we have here – a property located just off of Michigan Ave., where classic-meets-modern in an impressive salute to Chicago’s long history of motoring tradition.

Serving as my home away from home during my annual coverage of the Chicago Auto Show (accommodations provided), stepping into the lobby is a trip back in time (minus the DeLorean). Built in 1928 as the home of the A.A.A. Chicago Motor Club (which called the building home from 1929-1986), the Art Deco landmark followed the same path that so many historic buildings do, changing hands multiple times, falling into disrepair as the use of the building became increasingly generic prior to vacancy. Then, a developer came along and restored it to its original glory, respecting, and holding onto the history.

Hampton Inn Chicago Motor Club
The giant map by John Warner Norton is a showcase of the lobby. Original details like the lighted route signage and letter chute have been restored, while an original building directory now features the names of the key players in the restoration.

Not a huge building by Chicago standards, the narrow, 17-floor structure opens into a two-story lobby that feels akin to a train station or an airport – a gathering place for drivers that we don’t really have today (unless you count the occasional highway rest stop), where families would once come for travel tips and advice prior to embarking on the Great American Road Trip.

Hampton Inn Chicago Motor Club

Now, this lobby serves as a welcoming center for hotel guests, as well as a gathering place complete with a small bar (Jack’s Place) and breakfast area that serves complimentary breakfast from 6-10am daily. On a mezzanine at the back sits a 1928 Ford Model A. During my stay, there was a real laid-back vibe at night, while morning brought a welcome bustle… that feeling that people were really “going places,” and there’s a lot of excitement in that.

Hampton Inn Chicago Motor Club
Comfortable rooms retain the classic styling of the building, while bringing modern features into the fold.

Keeping in-step with the building’s history, most of the rooms are on the smaller side when compared to new construction, my own room once serving as someone’s corner office – the view looking out onto both Wacker Place and the Michigan Ave. It was interesting to see how the modern amenities had been worked around the existing building to retain that classic feeling without feeling “old.” Even the decor reflects the automotive elements of the city, from room number plates bearing stoplights and traffic meters, to abstract visions of whitewall tires and roads running beneath Chicago’s famed “L”tracks. For someone that’s lived in Illinois, it feels like home – for those passing through, it’s a taste of what the City is. A fine place for both families and business travelers alike, and a hotel I look forward to visiting again with my own family.

As of this writing, the Hampton Inn Chicago is ranked #26 of 182 Chicago hotels on TripAdvisor. Do note that parking in this area is pricey, $62 for valet, or $58 at the Park1 across the street (which I used). Book rooms at HamptonChicago.com

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