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Feature Stories

Lawry’s in Chicago: A Great History

From a private home to a private night club, the McCormick mansion holds plenty of history in what is now Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Chicago.

Lawry's The Prime Rib Chicago features several lion sculptures that reflect the McCormick Mansion's unique charm.

Lawry's The Prime Rib Chicago features several lion sculptures that reflect the McCormick Mansion's unique charm.

OUR CHICAGO RESTAURANT celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, has quite a history! The mansion that houses the restaurant was commissioned in 1889 by L. Hamilton McCormick (nephew of the inventor of the McCormick Reaper) and his wife, Constance.

The Italian Renaissance-style home, built at the northeast corner of Rush and Ontario, was designed by the architectural firm of Cowles and Ohrenstein and cost $125,000. When the new mansion was unveiled, its massive fireplaces, splendid wood-work and central majestic winding staircase were the talk of the city.

Throughout the 1890s and early 1900s, the McCormicks hosted brilliant functions and elegant dinners that made Mrs. McCormick famed as one of the city’s great hostesses.

massive fireplaces, splendid wood-work and central majestic winding staircase were the talk of the city

The fourth-floor ballroom, which accommodated 400 and was the largest that had ever been built in a private residence, was the setting for receptions for foreign dignitaries including the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales. Many war benefits were staged there during the years of World War I. McCormick died in 1934 and his family leased the great house.

First, it became the site for an exclusive private nightclub. In 1937, it was leased again, to Fredrik A. Chramer, a well-known Chicago restaurateur of Danish birth. Chramer turned the first floor of the mansion into The Kungsholm, an elegant restaurant specializing in Scandinavian dishes and a lavish smorgasbord.

Even closer to Chramer’s heart than Scandinavian cuisine was his love of opera and the theater. In 1940, inspired by puppet shows he had enjoyed in Denmark, Chramer turned the ballroom into the Kungsholm Puppet Theater. The theater offered lavish productions of recorded operas performed by elaborately costumed 13-inch-tall marionettes.

lavish productions of recorded operas performed by elaborately costumed 13-inch-tall marionettes

It became internationally acclaimed and, over the next 30 years, more than one million people, including many famed opera stars, attended the splendid operas. Even Chramer’s death in 1960 didn’t stop the theater. The Fred Harvey restaurant chain took over the building and continued the puppet shows until 1971.

When public interest fell off, the Harvey chain converted the former Kungsholm restaurant into a restaurant called Shipwreck Kelly’s. The theater was renovated and reopened by a local producer as the New Theater at the Kungsholm. Both ventures received terrible reviews, and Shipwreck Kelly’s and the New Theater folded in 1972.

At the time, Richard N. Frank (then Lawry’s CEO and president, today our company’s chairman) was searching for a location for Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Chicago. He was delighted to discover that the McCormick mansion was available, and soon acquired the lease to 100 East Ontario Street.

Richard worked closely with Hutchason, Butkus Associated Architects to renovate the mansion

The building had fallen into disrepair, and for the next two years, Richard worked closely with Hutchason, Butkus Associated Architects to renovate the mansion, restoring its former elegance and refurbishing it in the style of an English manor house.

Lawry’s The Prime Rib welcomed Chicago to its door with a grand opening in May 1974. In the ensuing 35 years, we’re honored and proud to have become a Chicago landmark, preserving the history of our fabled home and creating one of our own.


Dorothy Gatheright has worked for Lawry's for over 30 years

Dorothy Gatheright has worked for Lawry’s for over 30 years

On April 22, 1974, Miss Dorothy Gatheright came to Lawry’s looking for employment at the suggestion of her then-boyfriend, Lloyd Farmer. He had seen a notice about Lawry’s coming to Chicago and thought Dorothy and Lawry’s would make a good match. Lloyd was right.

her winning smile and positive attitude

Thanks to her winning smile and positive attitude, Dorothy was hired on the spot. The restaurant wasn’t due to open for a few weeks, but she went to work right away, helping to unpack dishes. Much has changed since that day. Miss Gatheright became Mrs. Farmer and the mother of Darrien, Christopher and Melissa.

Lawry’s won the favor of Chicagoans and became a city landmark, due in no small part to the superb service rendered by Dorothy and the other members of our Chicago staff. We are grateful for Lloyd’s good idea and that, 35 years later, Dorothy and Lawry’s are still going strong together in Chicago.

Lawry's The Prime Rib — Chicago

100 E Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 787-5000