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The Mid-Century Mood: Milton Schwartz in America, 1953-1965

Gallery 24

The Art Institute of Chicago

Despite his significant contributions to the Chicago skyline and groundbreaking early hotel design for the Las Vegas Strip, Milton Schwartz remains an under-recognized figure from an important period in American architecture. The son of an engineer, Schwartz studied at the University of Illinois, where he was inspired to become an architect by the lectures of Frank Lloyd Wright. After a few years in the construction industry during World War II, Schwartz founded his own Chicago architectural practice and soon completed his first project—a visionary co-op building, 320 Oakdale, combining passive solar technology with a dynamic aesthetic of glass, aluminum, and modern brise-soleil. Schwartz went on to specialize in high-rise apartment buildings and designs for leisure and hospitality, most notably his iconic tower and restaurants for the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. 

With their modern forms, advanced engineering, and innovative materials, Schwartz’s award-winning hotels and motels reflect the attitude of the automobile and jet ages. For his work in Las Vegas, he paired this vocabulary of concrete, metal, and glass with fantastic new environments integrating water, color, lighting, and scenography. Among the first large resorts of the modern Las Vegas, the Dunes Hotel became a symbol of midcentury American decadence in both popular culture and the iconoclastic architectural theory of the postmodern era. Together, Schwartz’s beautifully rendered drawings of towers, hotels, signage, and interiors present images not only of heroic midcentury construction, but of the expanded languages of modern architecture in America.  

Milton Schwartz. 320 Oakdale Apartment Building, Chicago, Illinois, Perspective Drawing, 1953/54. Gift of Audrey K. Schwartz.