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Part 1: The Hotel

Since 2007, when thirty plus health code violations and a court order ceased operations, the Purple Hotel has hunched over the intersection of Touhy Avenue and Skokie Boulevard, scuttled and metastasizing like a foundered vessel. So named the Purple Hotel because of the color of the bricks, long thought to be a mistake of architect John Macsais but in reality the livelier color of choice by the financier of the hotel A.N. Pritzker, it used to be a vacation spot for out of towners, Chicagoland residents and well-to-doers to celebrate weddings, retirements, Bar and Bot Mitzvahs in one of its three grand ballrooms, each named after one of the Great Lakes, or just for a weekend in one of its 200 rooms looking to live it up in luxury. But now its a shit hole, a land locked Titanic if it never sank but sat as a hulking invitation to repo men and vandalizers. If Im going to trace the beginning of my association with the Purple Hotel, Ill have to admit that Im uncertain of when I first saw it. Its possible that I passed by it in its last days, and sometime, or several times, after seeing the parking lot empty, I pulled into it and walked

along the large bay windows, looking in, like window shopping the apocalypse, with envy, curiosity, and desire at the incomprehensible, illogical dishevelment of the lobby and conference rooms on the first floor. What mess I remember; the back bench seat of a mini van sitting next to the wilted plants in the lobby; a bumper car ring of luggage carts, some huddled together, some tipped over; a thigh high pile of Playstation controllers, their cords spreading out across the floor like a Portuguese man-of-war. I got back in the car and drove around the building, and leaving the car running as I stood on the guard rail next to the leaning wood fence that closed off the pool, my fear of arrest greater than my desire to get inside. That fear, over time, subsided, and I resolved to get inside. The more discreet way of entry is through the outdoor pool area located behind the hotel. Grown over and through the deck chairs, barbecue pit, red cedar plank deck is a dense jungle, unchecked by ground crews. The glittering remains of the double digit windows that have been smashed out, and now masked by plywood, greets your eye as it passes over the faded red lettering of No Running and No Diving as you look into the pool and the viridian algae blooming in the rust colored soup filling the deep end.

As you stand at the ladder leading into the pool the three story building looms over you, its empty rooms and broken windows shattered voids of beige and red like the mouth of a giant seven year old looking at a diorama left out in the rain. On the red cedar plank deck, near the white plastic life saver with a long burgundy nylon cord is a door that is secured, poorly, by a single drywall screw. A security camera drooped above the door, its frayed and cut cord visible through the gap between the door and the frame. Through the parted curtains, a velveteen burgundy that looked more sleazy than out of date, you can see what looks to be a lounge area. This was the first time I entered the building, through its russet colored lounge with red leather horseshoe shaped booths, with the bookcases above them projectile vomiting law books and encyclopedias onto the cushions and all over the trash and glass covered floor beneath the chandelier well into its new life as a piata. For the first few minutes, the hotel around you seems to suck in all noise as you wait to hear an alarm, or siren. Hearing none, you look around and see window pane doors shattered, graffiti, trash, blue tarps, and surprisingly intact, two hundred gallon fish tanks turned terrariums full of fake foliage and sixteen ounce McDonalds cups. Just off the lounge area is the nightclub TJs; a bar with only trash on the shelves, and the elevator. With the afternoon light coming tentatively filtering into TJs, it looks like any other dive bar youd enter into on a sunny day. Your eyes take a moment to adapt to the cavernous gloom, and when they do they see the light falling on the topography of trash, as if the place had been flooded to the ceiling, gathering everything in its swell, and falling indiscriminately when the water fell, or if the hotel had been picked up, shaken violently, and then put back down. Opposite TJs are the two flights of stairs with the autumnal ficus on the landing, that lead to the Great Lakes Ballrooms. Scrawled in spray paint across a huge piece of machinery, taken from some other part of the hotel and abandoned here, before the front doors of the sales and catering offices in the pre-function lobby of the ballrooms, is the warning Trespassers Will Be Shot. Sitting below the statement is a vintage plastic light up Frosty The Snowman wearing a Michael Myers Halloween mask.

The sales and catering offices feature, among the debris of an exploding office supply store; easy chairs stacked on top of each other, on top of desks, on top of computers, a blue plastic fifty gallon drum filled to the rim with dripping water that the carpet puckers around, swollen with cold, dark water. Here, particularly, impressively, the place is ransacked. Half shredded paper, phones off the hook, a desk covered in red and blue Admit One tickets, a bloody murder scene of a cabinet filled with stamps and over turned red ink bottles, an entire floor covered in floppy disks and wet plaster stalagmites, desk drawers and filing cabinets emptied, tipped over, circuit boards ripped out and payroll safes jimmied revealing their riches of empty nickel and penny rolls, and framed posters both inspirational and featuring idyllic vistas that flash our lights back at us. Down here the flashlight youve brought is of utmost importance, as the natural light from the stairs shies

away from the cavernous depths of the ballrooms, where the temperature drops ten to fifteen degrees and the carpet is spongy with the damp. The lobby opens onto a long, wide, dark hallway with three ballrooms, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Ontario. Lake Superior retains some of its glory with a small stage, a sixty inch projection screen in the dark with a long tear though the center mottling of mould, and beautiful, chandeliers with filaments of crystal (or plastic) dangling from them like sea-weed. The Lake Ontario Ballroom at the end of the hall is empty but for a dozen crepe like rolls of carpet, fallen ceiling tiles, and several housecleaning carts, one languishing at the edge of a tiled dance floor.

Civic pride insists that Lake Michigan be the largest of the three. Throughout the hotel there are still the remnants of the day-to-day life of the business, an R&R Pompeii. But throughout the building businesses that owned equipment or vandals have looted the place looking for anything they could recoup or sell. It is an ancient, moldy chaos, and nowhere as much as the Lake Michigan Ballroom. In the left hand corner there is a chest high slope of pillows, spreading out along both walls. On carts, on tables, against the wall, all over the floor, some solitary,

some gathered in clumps are trays, plates and cups scattered like depth charges. The carpet is red and soggy, the air dusty and ripe with mold. My flashlight catches one of the four chandeliers and briefly covers the room in glitter, as if a discothque opened in a hoarders house. The light catches a series of long and slender mirrors at the far end of the room, striking fear into my heart when I see someone, my companion, moving in ink surrounding me.

Behind the ballrooms are the kitchens, which now are nothing but mazes of highly reflective scrap heaps. Well find our way back down here later when we go through the upstairs kitchen and down the terrifying staff stairs, going through the alcohol cages, strange prisons where the booze was kept in a series of locked fences. They were open now, with a few dozen syrupy looking verities of tropical drink mixes and liqueurs on the shelves; Hiram Walker Curacoa, Crme de Cacao, Romana Black, Dekuyper Island Punch, Grape and antifreeze green Sour Apple Pucker, which glows like a deep sea anglerfish when hit with the light, Dekyuper Hot Damn! Cinnamon Schnapps. An open closet is stuffed full of boozy vacation advertisements celebrating sex, sand and sun. When our lights pass over the kitchen pantry shelves, the barrels of olives and pickles resemble a malicious scientists lab specimens

suspended in formaldehyde, and mouse eaten boxes of Bisquik and flour. Deposited in the back amongst the serving carts is a pinewood dollhouse, for no purpose whatsoever but to give my companions and I a serious case of the creeps. Returning to the ballrooms and the pre-function lobby, and down the long corridor that leads past the restrooms and their terrifying, perfect hiding place stalls, and turning right down another hallway you would come across elaborate brass wall sconces banking a semi-circular doorway and porthole windows. This is the beauty salon. In the center of the salon the ceiling fans blades hang like limp ivy. The darkness is illuminated by flashes of lightening as our lights ricochet off the mirrors on every wall. The dismembered body parts of a plastic Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer are scattered across the floor and chairs. Touched by decay and lit by flashlight these teal pleather chairs, the foggy domed hair dryers, the slick checkered tile, the chrome, the clammy linoleum counters, the slack air, screams Beauty Salon of The Damned, a day spa torture chamber. Re-directing around closed doors, random machinery too big to fit through doorways and abandoned, or hallways too spooky, we turn into a laundry room, a corral of huge, rust covered machine beasts of indecipherable use. It becomes a maze back here, behind the scenes, and in the black benthic zone that is the lower levels of the Purple Hotel, its easy to get lost. Progressing quietly through several more ransacked offices, through a rust stuccoed boiler room into a landfill that used to be the hotel maintenance shop. In the staff locker rooms you find the places greatest similarities to Pompeii or the Titanic, a place where time just stopped. In the stillness the closed forever lockers turn the room into a columbarium. A few locker doors remain open. Draped stiffly over wire

hangers are shirts still waiting to be worn tomorrow. Left out by the bench are a pair of shoes, forgotten to be put away. At the end of a long hallway two smaller meeting rooms, Lincolnwood East and West, now hosting a yard sale on its red paisley carpet of Christmas decorations, dishware, fake plants blooming in the darkness, janitorial supplies, folding chairs and cafeteria tables, ironing boards, exercise equipment, forty plus pool stick like lamps without bulbs or shades, plastic tubs filled with wine glasses and dessert dishes that glow like bubbles in the light, two upright pianos back to back surrounded by stacking chairs, filing cabinets and boxes of clip boards, caked in dust, encrusted with barnacle like mold, un-played.

Outside of Lincolnwood West are stairs leading back to the first floor lobby that we dare not explore in depth due to the exposure the floor to ceiling windows along Touhy Avenue provides. We run past the front desk, through the field of housekeeping carts and trash bags, to the mouth of a hallway that provides cover with its walls of plywood. The broken bits of glass spread out across the hall, in toe and ankle high dunes, like bashed and shattered bits of shells littering the waterline of the tide. At the end of the hall is one of the stairwells leading to the suites.

The more you go on, through the 200 rooms in various fades of red, pink and magenta it all begins to repeat itself. The first floor is surprisingly well kept, with empty room after empty room, save for a few massive particle board desks, couches, mattresses slumping against the wall and geometric shapes carved into the color of the carpet from the sun, and one room featuring only a single floral upholstered chair, with the wallpaper peeling off the wall and fallen like shed skin.

Welcome fresh air breezes through broken windows, and the noises of passing cars fills the halls with ambient sounds, like putting your ear up to a shell and hearing the waves of the ocean. The second floor is a post zombie apocalypse set, with the halls filled with series of barricades made of carts, easy chairs, mattresses and trash, like the last stand of harried survivors under siege by vicious attackers. The rooms are filled with broken glass, dead plants, shattered mirrors and televisions, and huge gashes and tears in the walls. The third floor is the same, and its interesting that in these rooms, where people stayed, slept, theres no human presence here, besides destruction. You can imagine that people were here, but unlike the locker rooms where youre reminded that normal life once existed in this place, these abandoned rooms and halls filled with shit just feel like ghost towns.

Im reminded of photographer Timm Seuss thoughts on moving through the hospitals and apartments on his visit to Chernobyl, and the ghost town of Pripyat: Moving from floor to floor feels like moving through alternate realities, histories or personalities of the same space. There is also something unsettling, remotely nightmarish about the repetitiveness and drawn-out perspective of long corridors, which speaks a strange dialect of claustrophobia. The entire time, especially in the kitchens and the ballrooms, but only a little in the residential area of the hotel thanks to the sunlight, fresh air and sounds of traffic, were expecting to be attacked by a zombie. Maybe a hobo. Maybe a zombified hobo, also especially in the stairwells, whose doors we brace cautiously so that we wont be trapped in them. Returning to the first floor we discover the sauna, an oak paneled and musky closet now. Through shattered double doors we come to the indoor pools, and see our way out through the sliding doors that well come through when we return a few months later to see how the hotel has changed. The indoor pools, with the briny water of the deep end coagulating around deck chairs and potted plants, are trash-infested swamps.