I have an affinity for images like these. Long linear corridors studded with doors appear over and over again in my fiction, and they are reminiscent of the corridors of ships which is perhaps why I like them. When I took this picture on the third floor of the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago, where I stayed a couple of weeks ago for a history conference, I was intrigued not only by the visual–boxes receding into infinity, like a Kubrick film–but the utter silence of the place. It’s not the ordinary silence of a quiet room or building, but a sort of dramatic, eerie, end-of-the-universe silence, like the “beige corridor” through time in my book The Valley of Forever.
Though remodeled to keep pace with the times, there’s probably a surprising amount of this corridor that’s left over from the 1920s. The doors are probably newer, but the wainscoting and the cornices near the ceiling may be original, or at least are certainly reproductions of the original designs. The carpet stands out as ruining the effect. Why they chose a garish and gaudy design for the floor is beyond me. In 1920 the carpet was probably deep red with perhaps gold highlights. There may also have been wall sconce light fixtures.
The Drake Hotel is one of the grand old hotels that cropped up in various places in North America in the years after World War I, intimately connected with railroads and automobiles. The hotel opened its doors in 1920 and resembles, artistically and structurally, other hotels of the period, like Boston’s Park Plaza from 1927 or Toronto’s Royal York which opened in 1929. It’s located on the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. During the Prohibition era, mobster Frank Nitti, cousin of Al Capone, headed his criminal empire from a suite in the Drake Hotel. Famous guests have included Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, who came during their brief marriage in the 1950s and even carved their initials in a table; the future King Charles III; Prince Felix Yusupov, the assassin of Rasputin; and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As one of the grandest hotels in Chicago it was probably destined to attract a clientele like this.
With just a little bit of restoring, this corridor could easily be made to recapture its original appearance. I’m always fascinated by how little historic interiors really change even after nearly a century.