Wrecking the Purple Hotel and Macsai’s Shit List

The demolition of the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood has elicited a great deal of attention and commentary, as the building itself did throughout the years. The wrecking of the hotel will continue for months and you can expect ongoing coverage from the media.

In his Art Institute oral history John Macsai, the hotel’s architect, simply mentioned the building in a list of the hotel projects he’d designed and had nothing more to say on the subject. He’s talked about it on many occasions over the years, including in an interview with David Roeder and at a recent event marking the start of demolition.

Macsai’s firm was the architect on one of my projects, the gut rehab of a 50-unit Lincoln Park apartment building into 36 condos. Every meeting with John was start-to-finish education and entertainment.

Over the years I’d heard stories about “Macsai’s Shit List,” an educational slide show for his students at UIC. Several years ago I asked John to revive the list as an annual event at YoChicago. John declined, on the grounds that it was only intended for his students.

Listen in as Macsai talks about his list in his oral history:

Macsai: I was giving a lecture on apartment buildings by poor architects in the city. And that used to be considered “Macsai’s Shit List.” I showed slides of the bad buildings; because that’s a wonderful learning experience, to look at slides of buildings, and here is your hero, your professor, telling you, “What a piece of shit this building is.”

[Betty J.] Blum: For instance, what was on your bad building list?

Macsai: Oh, a lot of A. Epstein buildings, a lot of housing by Solomon and Solomon, their early housing, before Cordwell got involved, and before Buenz; a lot of Loewenberg and Loewenberg buildings, buildings by Jerome Sultan, or this horror by Martin Reinheimer, who was the worst. He did the Doral Plaza at Randolph and Michigan. And Epstein did the other horror across the street—you know, the one which has diagonally… I call that the diagonally-circumcised building.

Blum: It was fun probably for you to poke fun at bad buildings, but did it really help students develop an eye?

Macsai: Tremendous… Absolutely. So I am talking about Macsai’s Shit List, and showing the slides. And there is great laughter, what they are laughing at? So one of the kids comes to me after class. “Professor Macsai, you were talking about Epstein buildings. One of the Epstein partners’ son is in the class.”

Blum: Ooh.

Macsai: So I found out who. I asked him, I said, “Look, you have to know that I mean what I say. Your father’s firm does crummy work. Tell him. Tell him to improve, hire some good people.” So next class, the father came.

Blum: Which Epstein was it?

Macsai: It wasn’t an Epstein, it was Amstadter—he was one of the partners, Larry Amstadter. So Larry came [and] he was very good-natured about it, really, very good-natured about it. Unfortunately, you know, you don’t win always. The kid, who was sitting in the class, is really a very poor architect. He does crummy work. Well, you know, you cannot make good architects out of people who don’t have the talent.

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