“The Drake, which was put up for sale Thursday, sits at a 90-degree angle to the lake, meaning that an arrival from the north allows for the full-frontal pleasure of Benjamin Marshall and Charles Fox’s 1920 building, built in the style of the Italian Renaissance. The eye takes in the skyscrapers on the vertical, sure, but the visually unencumbered Drake Hotel dominates the horizontal, rising up from blue water, beach and shady trees like it was in Acapulco or St. Tropez.
“The Drake cost a fortune to build. But the founding partners, which included Palmers, McCormicks and most of the prominent Chicago names of the day, knew that its position was unrivaled in the city. A century later, it faces north but also directly out at the water, thanks to Lake Shore Drive’s judiciously placed curve. It’s the closest Chicago has to an Arc de Triomphe. And you can’t get a drink there. No wonder weddings take place out front.
“Right from the 1920s, the 535-room Drake functioned as a transitional conduit from the grand old residential real estate to its east (perhaps the most sought-after clutch of residences in the Midwest) to the retail and commerce found to the west and south. And because of its block-long frontage on Michigan Avenue, the hotel building also holds numerous jewel-box retail spaces, all of which are gateways in themselves to the boutiques of Oak Street. They’ve long housed fashionable tenants like Chanel. To a large extent, the Drake made Oak Street happen.
“The Drake, operated of late as a Hilton-affiliated property, has not been at the top of its game for several years. Some investment has been forthcoming, but not enough to reflect its potential. Although many staffers have been widely admired, the Drake has remained too stuffy, too closed off to its city, when similar hotels in other cities have opened up and spilled outdoors. And during the pandemic, the Drake suffered mightily like all hotels, closing for a time. During the last summer of protest, its retail emporiums were boarded up, signaling the scale of the problems faced on Michigan Avenue. Across the street from the Drake, tenants have been fleeing.
“The issue here is one of economic and visual centrality and the ability of this particular building to fuse a crucial residential area that puts people on the streets day and night with the commerce that needs their support. That’s the key to future development of the hotel. And all the surrounding blocks.
“The Drake is controlled by the Brashears family and Acore Capital. Edwin L. Brashears Sr. was in a partnership that acquired the Drake Hotel from the Drake family in 1930, a decade after it was built. His son, Charles “Chick” Brashears, died in 2008 after a lifetime spent mostly working there. According to Bloomberg, the brokerage JLL thinks the hotel could fetch $250 million or more.
“We hope attention is paid by the Brashears to more than the bottom line. We hope humans continue to live or stay at the Drake and that the hotel is requalified as captain of North Michigan Avenue. We hope the old ballrooms will still join hands in marriage, that neighbors of a certain age will still be welcome to go there for a discreet cocktail, that the Palm Court gossip will continue and new life will be found and more diverse guests welcomed.
“Especially as the great road outside the Drake’s doors gets rethought and rebuilt.
“And may the Drake’s retail frontage thrive with blingy window displays that give pedestrians reasons to keep walking, under Lake Shore Drive and out to the water. Where you can breathe.
“The Drake is crucial to Chicago. It needs a caring new steward. (Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, 8/12/21)
After a century, dowager Drake in line for new ownership, makeover; The century-old hotel that’s attracted guests from Bing Crosby to Walt Disney has hit the market, and a new owner could bring some big changes, Steven R. Strahler, Crain’s Chicago Business, 8/11/21