Once facing a likely encounter with a wrecking ball, a Tudor-style home sitting in the middle of a Rosemont hotel redevelopment project now will be preserved by the developer.
The two-story stone building, partially covered in vines, is the last vestige of local architect Arthur Swanson's sprawling 10-acre family estate. Original plans for redevelopment of the former Wyndham O'Hare Hotel complex called for the small house to be demolished, making way for more parking, but now the developer plans to keep it for its historical charm.
"Our intent is to keep that preserved and get it back to shape," said Samir Lakhany, vice president of Superhost Enterprise, a Fort Wayne, Indiana-based hotel management firm involved in the redevelopment project. "It's pretty expensive, but we're gonna try to get it figured out.
"There's some culture behind the property."
What once was a rural farm -- where the Swansons grew and sold mushrooms and evergreen trees during the Great Depression -- is today a mix of concrete and construction vehicles where the old Wyndham O'Hare, which closed in January 2010, is getting new life.
The eight-story, 200-room Hyatt Place Hotel, at 6810 N. Mannheim Road, will open the first week of June, marking the completion of the first phase of renovations. Plans call for a rear four-story hotel building to be refurbished and converted into a 200-room La Quinta Inns & Suites. Those rooms look out on the Tudor home, which is also visible by thousands of drivers who pass by every day on the Jane Addams Tollway.
No one is quite sure exactly how old the building is, but Paul Swanson, Arthur's son, said he remembers it being there when he grew up on the family farm in the 1940s. Before that, he believes, it was his dad's "bachelor headquarters," until he met Paul's mother, Jean, and they moved to a neighboring one-floor gabled-roof house.
The Tudor building, which the family called a "gatehouse," sat perched above a stone wall complex hand-built by Arthur Swanson, who went on to become a prominent suburban architect in the 1960s.
Paul Swanson, an architect himself, describes the inside of the little home as "very cozy" -- with a built-in bed and cobblestone fireplace on the top floor, and dining room, small kitchen and mechanicals downstairs.
When the Swanson family moved to a new house in Park Ridge in the late 1950s, they sold their Rosemont property to a developer who built the original four-story hotel -- what now will be converted into the new La Quinta. The gatehouse was kept as a "honeymoon suite" that was eye level with the new hotel rooms, Paul Swanson said.
"What a mistake that was, with everyone spying on you," Swanson joked.
Few people have been inside since then, and it's fallen into disrepair over the years.
Jerry White, part of the Superhost development team, said the Tudor building needs a "significant amount of renovation" to make sure it's up to safety codes.
Even still, it won't be open to hotel guests or used for anything, just maintained as "more of an iconic figure," Lakhany said.
Hotels are being redeveloped today on what was Swanson's property, and coincidentally, Swanson was involved in the same business. In 1963 he was named Motel Architect of the Year by the Motel and Hotel Association of America, according to his obituary.
Swanson was one of the developers of the O'Hare Inn, what was the first airport-oriented hotel, in 1959 at Mannheim and Higgins roads -- next to his old farm. The hotel is still around today as the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chicago O'Hare Airport Hotel.
Paul Swanson recalls his dad as a workaholic -- both inside and outside the architect studio. The younger Swanson was often enlisted to help maintain the family's finely manicured property that often was mistaken as a public park, he says, with people sometimes picnicking there on Sundays.
The elder Swanson constructed a clay tennis court, a golf green and a moat around an island with a connecting bridge.
Inside the family's three-bedroom house -- a converted aquarium factory -- was a large room with a basketball hoop that became a quasi-neighborhood teen center, Paul Swanson said.
But the property soon became encapsulated by burgeoning development taking place around it.
Swanson remembers family parties when planes landing at next-door O'Hare International Airport "would come right down over." The airport opened to commercial air traffic in 1955.
A year later, construction of the tollway began, actually cutting off part of Swanson's property.
It was the same year Rosemont incorporated as a municipality, later annexing Swanson's land and an oft-flooded area where the Rosemont Horizon, now Allstate Arena, was built.
While much has changed in Rosemont -- which officially turned 60 years old this year -- Swanson wants to try to preserve a small piece of its history by lending an architectural hand to the hotel developer.
"It's obviously dear to my heart," he said.