Monday, February 23, 2015

The Chicago Club
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Chicago Club (1929) Granger & Bollenbacher, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1839 Chicago was a relatively small town of about 4,000 people located in what was then considered the far reaches of the northwestern portion of the United States. By 1869 when the Pacific Railroad connected Chicago and all points east to the Pacific Ocean, the city was considered one of the country's major, up-and-coming municipalities with a population approaching 300,000, and growing faster than any other region in the nation. It seemed like the perfect time for the former prairie town's lowly businessman turned tycoon to organize a private club where these captains of industry could meet, eat and make deals in the confines of a refined atmosphere befitting a city of such growing stature. And to make sure that everyone knew that this wasn't going to be just any club, membership was limited to just 75 of the city's top-tier of business elites, and an even more limited 25 from outside Chicago and Illinois.

  [Chicago Club, 81 E. Van Buren Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The name said it all - the Chicago Club - with an emphasis on the The. Surprisingly, for such a select group, the club struggled in its first years. But in the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, the city, and its impact on the nation's economy, grew beyond anyones wildest dreams. As the hub of the country's transportation system, Chicago became an economic force unimaginable a decade before, and the Chicago Club became a meeting place for some of the most powerful businessmen from New York to San Francisco. By 1890, the now 400 elite members of the Chicago were ready to move out of their 15-year-old rat-infested Monroe Street building - where a frequent buffet-nibbling rodent was nicknamed "Charlie" - to a much larger, and most definitely, much grander location. They set their sights on a building occupied by the Art Institute which was being vacated because the museum and school were moving down the street and into a new building of their own. A deal was made, and in October, 1891 the Club purchased architects Burnham & Root's heavily rusticated 1885 structure for a whopping $425,000.

  [Chicago Club, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1927, with membership levels approaching the 800 mark, the Club decided to expand onto a piece of property behind their Michigan Avenue building and hired architects Granger & Bollenbacher to design an annex. Alfred Granger had first come to Chicago in 1894 after graduating from MIT, left, and returned to the city in 1898 to join Charles Sumner Frost in opening-up an architectural practice. Frost & Granger were also married to two sisters, daughters of Marvin Hughitt president of the mighty Chicago & North Western Railroad. Hughitt kept his sons-in-law busy, hiring them to design the C&NW's main railroad terminal on Madison Street along with over one hundred C&NW buildings around the country. With their railroad connections, the pair also designed another 100 plus structures for a variety of other Chicago-based railroad lines. In 1911, just as the C&NW terminal was nearing completion, Granger moved to Pennsylvania. But Chicago came calling again, and upon his return in 1924 he teamed-up with architects John Bollenbacher and Elmo Lowe. In 1925 Lowe left the firm, and the name on the door was changed to Granger & Bollenbacher.

  [Chicago Club, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Granger & Bollenbacher's annex was sensitive to the russet-colored exterior stone work   of John Root's building even though it was taller and a little boxier looking. Unfortunately, just as construction was nearing completion on the addition, disaster struck and a portion of the older building gave way and collapsed. Luckily it happened during the late night hours so no one was injured. But after examining the damage, a decision was made to tear down the 43-year-old building and build new. The architects designed a building that was sensitive to the bulky old structure with its dark-red, heavily rusticated stonework, and maintained a very prominent fortress-like presence on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Van Buren Street.
Old-line private clubs have lost some of their allure in the social media-ized world of twenty-something, 21st-century entrepreneurship, but the Chicago Club still maintains a roster of the city's, and the country's, top business leaders, and very few decisions impacting Chicagoan's daily lives haven't been first hashed-out within these heavy stone walls.

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