Thursday, February 19, 2015

Woman's Athletic Club of Chicago Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Woman's Athletic Club of Chicago Building (1928) Philip B. Maher, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Refined and sedate in its stoic classicism, the Woman's Athletic Club takes us back to a   time when buildings like this one once lined Chicago's North Michigan Avenue. Designed by Philip Maher and built in 1928, the 10-story limestone facade fit nicely into the transformation of dowdy, mansion-lined Pine Street into the chic, sophisticated, upscale Boul Mich shopping district.

  [Woman's Athletic Club of Chicago Building, 626 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Club had been around for a few decades before relocating to the upper reaches of Michigan Avenue. Their first clubhouse was located on south Michigan, in a building that stood across the street from today's Art Institute. It was a convenient location for the elite group of women who founded the organization in 1898, kind of midway between the mansions of Prairie Avenue on the south side and the cluster of mansions on the near north side. It's hard to believe in this day and age, but when Mrs. Philip D. Armour, Sr. met Mrs. Paulina Henrietta Lyons for dinner and hatched a plan to organize an athletic club for women, and run by women, the notion was considered revolutionary. As news leaked out, men scoffed at the idea and said it wouldn't last a year, after all what did women know about such a thing. Not only did the club open, it was the first of its kind, and women from other parts of the country came to Chicago to see for themselves how they could organize a woman's athletic club in their hometown.

  [Woman's Athletic Club of Chicago Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By 1927, it was time to leave the downtown business district and head up to the much   more refined and greener blocks of the newly minted North Michigan Avenue. After all by this time most of the members were living on the north side of the city or in the suburbs, and the shops opening along the boulevard were just the kind of boutiques the women patronized. It was also a time of change inside the club itself. Although there was still a dress code in force, women were no longer corseted and were showing a little more décolleté. Once as dry as a bone, the club now served cocktails, though never in an amount which could lead to inebriate behavior. The original restriction that limited membership to 500 socially connected women still held true, and only those with a card got to see Maher's elegant interior. Today the club rents out its public rooms for catered events.
Michigan Avenue has changed considerably from its smaller scaled, 1920s-era charm, into a high-rise, retail and residential district. You might say that Philip Maher helped create the original feel and flavor of the street since he designed 5 other buildings within blocks of one another in just a four short year stretch. The Decorative Arts Building once stood across the street from the Woman's Club, until it was demolished a few years ago to make way for a large retail complex. His 1925 Korshak Building grew by a few stories and now houses the Garmin Chicago Store. Next door, the 1925 Strickland Building was demolished years ago to make way for the Chicago branch of New York's Saks Fifth Avenue whose Art Deco inspired facade tied-in nicely with the Korshak. Maher's 11-story Farwell/Corlin Building was taken down in 2008, it's facade preserved, and will be re-attached to the corner of the 40-story Ritz-Carlton Residences. His slender, Jacques Building of 1929 still stands, although somewhat altered, which makes the Athletic Club the only project of all 6 to survive intact.

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