New York Life Insurance Building (Kimpton Gray)

One of Chicago’s oddities is that its passion for celebrating and preserving its past is often surpassed by its desire to build something new. Since the city’s beginnings there’s been a cycle of construction, destruction, and construction again. Some of that destruction was unintentional, but even structures that survived the Great Chicago Fire didn’t escape the wrecking ball: Mahlon Ogden’s home was razed for the Newberry Library, and the Nixon Building, one of the few buildings in the Loop to survive the conflagration, was replaced by the New York Life Insurance Building. Built in 1894, this seminal structure is now the Kimpton Gray Hotel.

The Kimpton Group is known for renovating and preserving historic buildings, and it’s a good thing they took an interest in this particular one at the corner of LaSalle and Monroe. Preservation Chicago fought for years to protect the gray lady, but even though the building had received preliminary Chicago Landmark status in 2002, it was still in danger. In 2006, the group declared the New York Life Insurance Building one of the city’s most threatened. That same year there was a proposal to tear down half of the skyscraper to erect a fifty-one story high rise.

Fortunately, the hoteliers stepped in and averted this blasphemy. The building at the corner of LaSalle and Monroe wasn’t just old; it was one of the last remaining examples of William Le Baron Jenney’s steel frame construction, and the closest link to the first skyscraper in the world.

Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.

Completed: 1894
Architect: William Le Baron Jenney
Address: 122 W. Monroe St.

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Sources for Kimpton Gray

This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.

  • Autobiography of William Le Baron Jenney. The Western Architect. Minneapolis: The Western Architect. 1906.
  • Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. United States, Artisan, 2016.
  • City of Chicago Landmark Designation Report
  • Ericsson, Henry, 1861-, John M. Van Osdel, and Lewis Edward Myers. Sixty Years a Builder: the Autobiography of Henry Ericsson. Chicago: A. Kroch and son, 1942.
  • Loring, Sanford E, and W. L. B. (William Le Baron) Jenney. Principles And Practice of Architecture. Chicago: Cobb, Pritchard & co., 1869.
  • The Spectator. United States, Chilton Company, 1904.