Lincoln Park’s Belden-Stratford basks in a billionaire’s love

Formerly an apartment hotel, the building is getting a complete makeover backed by a former resident, Chicago business executive Joe Mansueto.

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The renovated Belden-Stratford, due to have apartment tenants back starting in January, is at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West.

The renovated Belden-Stratford, due to have apartment tenants back starting in January, is at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

From its creation in 1923, the Belden-Stratford apartment building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park community was designed for an elite crowd. Over the years, its status slipped. But now, courtesy of a top-to-bottom renovation backed by billionaire Joe Mansueto, it soon will have a new introduction in high society.

It began as an apartment hotel, a type of housing that flourished around World War I. They were designed for long-term or permanent residences, with the option of combining apartments into a suite. The Belden-Stratford, called the Belden at first for its cross street, set out its appeal in an early brochure that targeted wealthy businessmen — gender distinction intended.

“He is entirely rid of the servant problem,” the brochure said, “of all the petty details and annoyances incident to the operation of one’s own home, and yet he has all the comforts of the individual home and all the delightful service of our best hotels at a total cost less than it would require to operate a separate home of his own.”

Those servant problems will get you every time.

Chicago Enterprise bug

Chicago Enterprise

Keeping up appearances was hard. The Belden-Stratford became more apartment and less hotel, but its location stayed in its favor — 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, overlooking the lake and the park’s conservatory and zoo.

To live in that neighborhood, you have to afford it, so the revived Belden-Stratford should fit right in. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992. City officials submitted a well-researched nomination that led to that listing. Their material included text from that early brochure.

Mansueto’s investment firm, Mansueto Office, acquired it in late 2018, paying $106 million. The renovation began in earnest last year, and the plan is to have new tenants arrive beginning in January. Rents start around $3,000 a month for a studio and go up to almost $8,000 for three bedrooms.

The makeover gives the building 209 units, compared with up to 650 units it had in its hotel days. Ari Glass, head of real estate at Mansueto Office, said the work restores the original distinction of a beaux-arts design that mimicked the palaces of France’s Louis XIV. The architect was Meyer Fridstein, whose other works include Chicago’s Congress Theater and Shoreland Hotel, now a rental building in Hyde Park.

The restoration also brings in amenities for today’s tastes. A ballroom has been converted into a fitness center. Residents will get a wine-tasting space, a lounge with billiards and a rooftop sundeck. An on-call Tesla rental service is due when you need wheels to show off.

Besides replacing all mechanical systems, the renovation had to deal with prior fix-up attempts, especially one from the late 1980s. “We created kind of a new floor plate,” Glass said. Past renovations of the apartments “didn’t make for the most functional layout for a resident. It made for an effective repositioning for the owner,” he said.

Alexander Krikhaar, principal at Vinci Hamp Architects, said in the past, somebody ran ductwork through steel beams, so structural repairs were in order, one of the endless surprises a century-old, 16-story building might contain. But he said the structure itself was bedrock-solid. Vinci Hamp is handling preservation aspects of the Belden-Stratford, while Solomon Cordwell Buenz is the architectural firm of record.

Glass declined to disclose how much Mansueto, founder and executive chairman of investment research firm Morningstar, is paying for the work. On that point, Krikhaar added, “It’s more than most developers would spend on a project like this because of his love for this building.” Glass said Mansueto lived in the building during the 1980s; he’s still in the neighborhood, in a well-known modern mansion, but he likes the old styles, too.

Mansueto owns the Wrigley Building, which he carefully restored, and the Waldorf Astoria Chicago. He also owns the Chicago Fire and a speculative industrial site that’s trying to bring jobs to West Humboldt Park. He was an investor in the Chicago Sun-Times, and the newspaper receives funding from the Mansueto Foundation.

He provided this statement about the Belden-Stratford: “As a former resident, my desire to invest in this property came from my personal love of this city, neighborhood and preserving great architecture. So returning The Belden to its former glory was an easy decision — especially as the building approaches its 100th anniversary. It’s wonderful to preserve an iconic building for many generations to come.”

The place acquired the Stratford name when somebody years ago felt it needed a Shakespeare tie-in, the Bard’s seated statue being just steps from the building in Lincoln Park.

Old accounts say Gloria Swanson and Louis Armstrong were among the celebrities at the hotel. The building has long had a connection to Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. The company’s Mon Ami Gabi has stayed open there throughout the renovation.

A polished up Belden-Stratford may not make the celebrity circuit. But watch for servants, problems and all.

A rendering of the restored lobby planned at the Belden-Stratford.

A rendering of the restored lobby planned at the Belden-Stratford.

Provided

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