#966: The Indoor Border

August 13th, 2018

Through a door past the elevators of a luxury suburban hotel, there are bone-white, bone-shaped drywall sculptures that run the length from floor to ceiling.

There’s a foyer dangling with massive paper airplanes.

There’s the “Artist Coat Room” through that door.

Walking through that door, you’re crossing from hotel to art gallery meeting space, from rooms with names like #381 to rooms with names like The Cassatt Ballroom and Warhol.

You also crossed from Rosemont to Chicago. And here’s the story of how Chicago’s city limits run through the middle of a hotel. 

In 1947, the Chicago City Council picked the commercial airport, formerly Douglas Aircraft production facility, former farming community of Orchard Place, as the home of a new international airport. Midway, which saw its first commercial flights in 1926, was and is surrounded by city so couldn’t grow. Although work started on Meigs Field in 1922, the Depression put construction on hold until after WWII.

Also, until Richard M. Daley pulled what in municipal politics is known as a “dick move” in 2003, Meigs was on a dang island. No way to grow.

The land around the former Orchard Place was relatively set up for aviation, surrounded by farmland to grow into — and belonged to other people. Chicago didn’t care. They named it “O’Hare” and started clearing out everything but the old cemetery (which they got rid of in 2012). The city annexed the land in 1956, keeping all that sweet future tax revenue within grasp.

Here’s the thing: Cities gotta touch. You can’t just pick bits of noncontiguous land and say “This is mine now.” You’ve got to twist and turn and amoeba the heck out of those borders to annex real estate. So the borders connecting Chicago to O’Hare are somewhat… odd.

In addition to the random blips that tell tales of developers past, the twin villages of Norridge and Harwood Heights are entirely swallowed by Chicago, as is a section of unincorporated Norwood Park township that is completely surrounded by a city it’s no part of. (John Wayne Gacy did his killings in that blot of township, and since I found that out I can’t stop thinking about how many boys might not have died if the people who reported their early suspicions to the Chicago Police Department knew they should have called the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.)

Chilling, but back to airplanes.

To connect that soon-to-be-valuable airport land to the city’s tax base, the city also annexed an eensy-weensy, itty-bitty microsliver of a slip of a thread of a line around Higgins Road to get to the land. When the local villages complained, the city decided to shift their connector south, taking over a larger strip along Foster in 1961.

This larger strip of land is seven-tenths of a mile long and, at its thinnest point, about 200 feet wide. This rope tethering an airport to a city contains some warehouses, a taxi dispatcher, a Mexican restaurant my wife says is pretty good and half a hotel.

The InterContinental Chicago O’Hare hotel opened in Rosemont — entirely in Rosemont — in September 2008, just a week before Lehman Bros.’ bankruptcy helped collapse the world economy. The developer was in bankruptcy court less than a year later and New York-based Loews Hotels snapped up the property in 2014.

When Loews was looking to do an art-themed expansion with floor-to-ceiling bones, dangling paper airplanes and meeting rooms with names like Warhol, Cassatt and Pollock, there was no place to move but into Chicago. The hotel at 5300 River Road, Rosemont, expanded into 9420 Foster Avenue, Chicago.

Back on the suburban side of the door, I wait for an opening at the front desk. There’s a wall of flatscreen TVs in the lobby, Euro-designed furniture offering seats for the weary and another gallery piece that, try as I might, I can’t see as anything more artistic than “rocks hanging from string.”

My opening comes and a dapper man in a three-piece suit greets me. I ask about the Chicagoness of building’s other side. He confirms. I ask if there are any rules, regulations, any different ordinances or codes the staff must obey on one side of that magical border door but not the other.

“Probably,” he says, flicking me a grin.

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