Somerset Place Apartments was originally built as Somerset Hotel in 1919 as one of many apartment hotels that sprung up in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. The building, which cost two million dollars to build, was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by owner and architect Samuel N. Crowen. When originally opened, the 205 suites were luxuriously furnished and advertised as an exclusive summer resort as well as a residential hotel for Chicago's middle and upper class. In the words of The Economist
, "The interior decorations and furnishings will be in the hands of artists... The furniture will follow period designs and individuality will dominate. The living rooms must express dignity and magnificence, the solarium comfort and ease."
Luxurious amenities ranging from maid and laundry service to a full-service dining room with twice-weekly dinner dances enticed potential residents. The apartment-hotel primarily catered to the middle and upper class of Chicago, particularly older, upper-income professionals and business owners, who ranged from retailers and life insurance salesmen to attorneys and investment bankers. Moreover, the building was just one block from the lake, with views of it from the solarium and rooftop garden which, according to The Hotel Monthly
, was "destined to be one of the most attractive features of the hotel." At the time, the hotel even had its own private beach, with alleyway access designed for privacy.
|Hotel Monthly (January, 1921)
Ground Floor Plan of the Hotel Somerset
|Hotel Monthly (January, 1921)
Residential Floor Plan of the Hotel Somerset
Somerset Hotel was one of the first apartment buildings in Chicago to use pre-cast ornamental concrete, an achievement that was much-heralded in the construction and architecture industries. Concrete Products wrote
"Any casual observer of the new Somerset hotel... would conclude, no doubt, that the sparkling lower walls, the exquisitely molded lintels, arches, spandrels, and panels, the glistening columns and other trim with which this magnificent building is adorned is of granite and marble, laboriously quarried, sawed, carved and sculptured. His error would be pardonable for the Hydro-Stone trim employed from sidewalk to coping has all of the beauty of natural stone and many advantages not possessed by any other material." This new methodology allowed for much of the construction work to be done in cold weather, allowing for speedy construction by Paschen Bros. Contractors, who completed the building in less than eight months. Moreover, it kept costs low for a remarkably ornate design, which continues to add beauty and sophistication to Somerset Place to this day.
In 1924, the building was renamed The Copeland, after restaurateur Mrs. Florilla M. Copeland leased the property. The Copeland was further enhanced by a large, self-serve eating area on the south end of the first floor, and became a meeting place and banquet hall for many groups, such as Hadassah and the Chicago Ladies Gmilas Chasodim Society. However in the 1950s, as its residents aged and young professionals began to flock to the suburbs, the Copeland's prestige began to fade.
In the late 1960s, the building was acquired by George E. Goldberg's Midwest Hotel Company and run as the Somerset House, but continued to deteriorate. By the 1970s, as many of the older apartment hotels were turned into sheltered care communities, the building owners decided to apply for their own zoning change. This provoked a strong backlash from residents and community leaders interested in protecting the venerable hotel, but the owners claimed they could no longer compete with newer apartments and Somerset House would otherwise face demolishment. After several rounds of heated hearings, the city approved the zoning change. The conversion included one million dollars in renovations, and the facility operated until 2010.
Zidan Management Group acquired the property in 2011, and after extensive renovations with the help of MacRostie Historic Advisors LLC, opened in 2014 as Somerset Place Apartments. These renovations focused on restoring the historic beauty of the building, including the volume, plan, and decorative elements that had previously characterized the building as one of Uptown's must luxurious apartment-hotels. This included the ornamented base and top with terra cotta detailing, which were carefully restored to match the original Renaissance Revival style, and the original arches from 1913, which were uncovered when removing the dated exterior facade and carefully restored. Inside, the ornate ceiling molding and the marble floors were carefully preserved and, as necessary, reproduced to restore its original splendor.
National Register of Historic Places Placard
During the restoration process, Somerset Place was certified to be included in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the West Argyle Street Historic District. The District includes 77 buildings built during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century and represent a variety of turn-of-the-century revival styles, including Somerset Place's Renaissance Revival style. The taller apartment hotels blended with the smaller residential buildings in the area by using similar materials: brick, terra cotta, and limestone; however, their lavishly ornamented primary facades still set them apart. At 8 stories with 441 rooms, Somerset Place further stands out as the largest building in the district, though not the tallest. Moreover, like other former apartment-hotels, it has commercial space on the ground floor making it visually distinct from the purely residential buildings which make up the majority of the district. Being a part of the National Register of Historic Places has solidified Somerset Place's historical status in Uptown, and allows us to continue to celebrate its historical significance.
Artistic Rendering of the Somerset Hotel
Jazz Age Chicago: Somerset Hotel
The Architectural Forum, Volume 34
The Architectural Record, Volume 51
Jeff Reuben: The Somerset at Sheridan & Argyle Timeline & Biography