Astor Tower: Modernist celebrity in the Gold Coast
Astor Street, part of the historic Gold Coast, is a goldmine of architecture. I have lived nearby for 25 years and never stroll the street without observing something new among these mostly old buildings.
by Virginia Gerst, CAC docent, class of 2007
A notable exception among the vintage structures is Bertrand Goldberg’s Astor Tower at the corner of Astor and Goethe Streets. The 25-story Modernist high rise was completed in 1963, shortly before the architect’s more famous Marina City. Goldberg called it a “structural prototype” for the later work, as well as a “rich man’s Marina City.”
While Astor Tower is not round – Goldberg thought that shape would be out of place in the neighborhood – it shares other structural similarities with its sibling to the south. Both are built around poured concrete central cores containing the mechanicals and elevators; the floors are cantilevered from the cores; and thin concrete columns around the perimeters add extra support.
Designed as a luxury all-suite hotel, it was meant to rival – and draw celebrity clientele from –the nearby Ambassador East. It succeeded. Bette Davis stayed there. So did Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Elton John. The Beatles were in residence on August 12, 1966, when John Lennon held a press conference in his penthouse suite to apologize for previously boasting that the Beatles were “more famous than Jesus.”
In the hotel’s lower level, the architect’s wife, Nancy Florsheim Goldberg, supervised Maxim’s de Paris, an exact replica of the famed Art Nouveau restaurant in France. Opened in 1963, it advertised itself as “a rendezvous for the chic and celebrated.” This was not a case of false advertising. The Goldbergs shared one of the red velvet booths with ballet stars Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn on its opening night.
Astor Tower converted to condominiums in 1979 and Maxim’s closed in 1982. Today the city owns the restaurant space and rents it occasionally for private events. You don’t need an invitation to glimpse inside. Quentin Tarantino filmed scenes from “Inglorious Bastards” there, and Woody Allen cast it as its French namesake in “Midnight in Paris.”
Walk on by and take a look.