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From 'Chicago's Ellis Island' To Stylish Hotel: The Rebirth Of The Old Cook County Hospital

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's birth place for tens of thousands of Chicagoans.

A building so famous, it was even home to a hit TV show. But now, the old Cook County Hospital has been repurposed as a hotel.

CBS 2's Vince Gerasole got a first look inside.

How many people can proudly say they were born at Cook County Hospital?  Thousands. The building was falling apart. Its roof famously leaking, squatters broke in. Today,  it's impressive on the inside, but it's on the outside where it really shines.

Its nickname was Chicago's Ellis Island, providing medical care often to citizens without means, but by the early 2000's Cook County Hospital was a historic, but empty, aging structure.

From the street it's easy to see how the elegant 106-year-old Beau Arts building now shines in its rebirth, part of a $1 billion multi phase project that opened Tuesday with a 210-room Hyatt Hotel.

"We have preserved a lot of the work on the building," said General Manager Milesh Pandey.

The gentile terracotta flourishes were decaying, but today they look majestically out on the street below.

"We had to recreate the terracotta," Pandey said.

Over 4,000 pieces in all, restored and recommissioned. Combined with preserving the wooden framed windows, that price tag alone was $18 million. Step through what were once emergency doors and you'll be surrounded by a towering lobby. Its gleaming stone terrazzo floors dating back to 1914 continue throughout the hotel.

The hallways are about 11 feet wide --- for a reason.

"The hallways are super wide because they were meant to have hospital beds move through it," Pandey said.

The facade famously served as an inspiration for the television drama "ER." Not all of the hotel space has been restored. The top floor surgical theater where thousands of med students observed procedures over the years, remains marred by taggers.

But from the polished marble staircases, to the clubby second floor lounge a storied hospital and historic landmark seems to have recovered.

It may seem like a difficult time to open a hotel, but the primary market for clients is the surrounding medical district and hospitals, which in normal times, attracts about 50,000 visitors daily.

There's about 342,000 square-feet being redeveloped. The Hyatt Hotel is only a portion of that. A food court, daycare, hospital museum and Cook County health offices are also about to debut.


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