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Alhambra Palace 'What Not to Look Like' in Historic District, City Says

By Chloe Riley | April 9, 2014 5:19am

WEST LOOP — The manager of a Moorish-style banquet hall said he’s not happy after discovering his restaurant was singled out in a city document as an example of "what not to look like" in a proposed historic district.

In an early version of a city PowerPoint explaining the proposed district along Fulton Market and Randolph Streets, a photo of Alhambra Palace — at 1240 W. Randolph St. — was shown with two large red "X's" superimposed over it. The text reads, “Adopt guidelines to preserve the character of Fulton Market and Randolph Streets.”

“When we saw this, we were really unhappy with the city. It caught us by surprise,” said Mamoun Abu El-Khair, director of operations at Alhambra. “This place is full of culture, is full of history. If anything, I was expecting the city to be proud and support us.”

 Mamoun Abu El-Khair, director of operations at Alhambra, with a copy of the city's powerpoint photo depicting the Middle Eastern restaurant with two red "X"s.
Mamoun Abu El-Khair, director of operations at Alhambra, with a copy of the city's powerpoint photo depicting the Middle Eastern restaurant with two red "X"s.
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

Opened by Chicago doctor Naser Rustom in 2007, Alhambra seats more than 1,200 people and does nightly table service in addition to offering belly dancing, hosting charity events and holding Zumba classes, El-Khair said.

The building's elaborate construction — meant to "recreate the splendor" of the Alhambra Palace in southern Spain — took over two years and cost close to $15 million, El-Khair said. The interior of the 120,000-square-foot space pays homage to Moorish, Islamic and Lebanese culture, among others, and the hall contains more than 250 pieces of art.

The city document were meant to illustrate the types of design not necessarily compatible with the proposed historic district, said Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

The photo was part of a preliminary slideshow not meant to be viewed by the public, he said.

“That building was selected for being one that’s easy to identify as something that’s beyond the traditional design of buildings in that area,” Strazzabosco said. “It’s an early illustration intended to show people involved in planning the types of designs that are and are not compatible with existing buildings.”

If approved, the proposed historic district would involve landmarking 75 buildings along 14 blocks along Fulton Market and Randolph Streets in addition to regulating building construction and designs in that area.

Alhambra sits at the corner of Randolph and Elizabeth streets, several blocks west of the proposed historic district. However, Strazzabosco said the design guidelines could extend beyond the district, “to keep new construction in line with historic nature of the area.”

Preliminary approval for that plan was unanimously given by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks Thursday.

Despite the city slight, El-Khair said the historic district still has the restaurant’s support. Business at the Alhambra has been good, but El-Khair said he does worry about what will happen if the restaurant moves to expand into lots it owns on either side of the property.

“I feel singled out. I feel intimidated and less accommodated,” El-Khair said. “And now it seems we must only come up with ideas that don’t offend anyone and don’t offend the historical look of this area.”