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HI-Chicago History

Great History and Renovation = A Great Experience in Chicago!

Hostelling International – Chicago, the
J. Ira & Nicki Harris Family Hostel
stands as a symbol
of Chicago’s commitment to international exchange and understanding.
Drawing visitors from around the globe, it serves the international
and domestic travel community through affordable accommodations
and programs that help visitors truly experience the city.


Lobby, 2nd Floor

Through renovation, Hostelling International has
preserved and showcased the historic 1886 George F. Kimball
building for future generations to use and appreciate. The handsome,
brick-clad, Queen Anne-style structure is 87,800 square feet,
seven stories tall, and typifies the heavy timber loft construction
used extensively in rebuilding downtown Chicago after the 1871
fire. By 1915, timber construction had become obsolete at this
scale, replaced by steel and concrete. As a result, this type
of 19th century loft building is increasingly rare in the Loop,
Chicago’s central business district.

The Chicago hostel is a recognized feature of
the Loop Retail Historic District, identified in 1998 by the
National Trust for Historic Preservation as "one of the
most important and intact turn-of-the-century downtown commercial
districts in the country." Initially designed for industrial
use, the property housed manufacturers and wholesalers of plate
glass, carpet and lithography, including at one time, the presses
for the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Changes to the building through the years include
a seventh floor (added in 1908), updated entrance and elevators
and a pedestrian arcade added to the south façade of
the building to accommodate the widening of Congress Parkway
in the 1950’s.

The new incarnation echoes Chicago of the late
19th century. As in those days of mass immigration, the sound
of many languages will be heard from those who have come from
near and far to experience one of the world’s great cities.

Wide Support for Hostelling in Chicago
Chicagoans came out in force to support the hostel’s capital
campaign lead by Neil Hartigan. The City of Chicago provided
a TIF grant of $3.5 million, and Mayor Daley, Lois Weisberg
and Bruce Newman were strong early supporters of the project.
The State of Illinois made a $1 million grant from its international
tourism fund.

Major philanthropic support was received from
the Chicago Community Trust, the Elizabeth Morse Charitable
Trust, Patrick and Anna M. Cudahy Fund, Polk Bros. Foundation
and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We are
particularly grateful to the J.Ira and Nicki Harris Family Foundation
for providing the naming grant for the hostel which is now called
the J.Ira and Nicki Harris Family Hostel.

Chicago Skyline

Having a great time!

Learning about the world

Travelers from everywhere

Explore HI-Chicago Index:

Our Big Beautiful Building
Guest Services
History of the Hostel
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