Saturday, March 7, 2015

School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center
 Illinois Athletic Club Building
 by: chicago designslinger

[School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building (1907) Barnett Haynes & Barnett, architects; (1984) addition and renovation, Swann & Weiskopf, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1904, a decade before William Hale Thompson, Jr. won his first term as mayor of Chicago and created a legacy as one of the most corrupt mayors in the city's history, he was just another in a line of young man who had the good fortune to have been the beneficiary of a father's profuse patrimony. Colonel William Hale Thompson, Sr. had come to Chicago in 1866, gotten into the real estate business, and by the time he died in 1891 left his wife, daughter and three sons an estate valued at around half-a-million dollars. It may not seem like much, but today that figure would be in the $13.5 million range. Bill, Jr. was out in the southwestern United States living it up as a cowboy at the time of his father's death, and reluctantly hung-up his chaps and spurs to head back home. He looked after the family's investments, joined the right clubs, went out on-the-town, and like his father before him, entered politics and got himself elected the alderman of the city's 2nd Ward in 1901.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building, 112 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The cosmopolitan city dweller was still a rebellious cowboy at heart, and replaced the excitement of cattle drives and mustang running with yacht racing and competitive swimming. When he heard that a guy named Charles H. Genslinger was in town promoting the idea of a new health club in Chicago, Thompson took an interest. He was already a member of the prestigious Chicago Athletic Association, the physical work-out sibling of the city's very prestigious and very hard to get into Chicago Club, and liked the idea of creating a club that was less restrictive and could offer a broader scope of athleticism to the city as a whole. On November 10, 1904 the New Illinois Athletic Club was incorporated with William H. Thompson as president, Genslinger as secretary, and Charles B. Pike as treasurer - with no capital or assets listed. Genslinger had served as a consultant, adviser and organizer of three previous club projects, and Pike, like his friend Thompson an avid golfer and member of the Washington Park Club, was a wealthy, high-profile attorney.  If you could afford the $100 initiation fee and $30 a year membership, that's all it would take to join the New Illinois Athletic Club. And in an effort to make the club as accessible as possible to the general public, new members had the opportunity to pay their initiation fee in installments.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

With hopes of signing-up 5,000 members, the trio set their sights on a Michigan Avenue location just down the block from the Venetian-inspired palace that architect Henry Ives Cobb had designed for the Chicago Athletic Association. They found a three parcel lot just south of Monroe Street and were able to secure pretty good terms from owner Carl Young for a 99-year land lease that began on January 1, 1905 at $25,000 a year. Young would net an average rental of $8,680 a foot-front - not bad for a piece of property that had cost Edmund Hunt $450 a foot-front forty years earlier. Next up they had to pick an architect to design their new club, and with all the firms to choose from in Chicago, they picked St. Louis based firm, Barnett Haynes & Barnett. Thomas and George Barnett's father George had been a prominent St. Louis architect and the brothers joined with their brother-in-law John Haynes to start their own namesake firm in 1894. Genslinger had advised, consulted and collected a fee for overseeing the organization and construction of  the posh Missouri Athletic Club in 1903 - in St. Louis.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The design team came up with a 12-story building capped by an elaborate and athletic-inspired Greek frieze, with heroic bronze figures framed by arched window openings overlooking Michigan Avenue. Inside members and their guests had access to a pool, gymnasium, indoor running track, billiard room, bowling alley, a large two-story dining room, and 150 guest rooms for an overnight stay - which didn't come cheap. When Chicago mayor and future governor of Illinois Edward F. Dunne laid the cornerstone on October 27, 1905 and future governor and congressman Colonel Frank O. Lowden proclaimed that, "The poor man with health and physique is far richer than the millionaire with dyspepsia," the Illinois Athletic Club's poor man membership stood at a reported 3,200. Not enough to pay for the entire $500,000 project, but at least enough to get it off the ground.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By March the entire steel frame was in place and the first two floors had their limestone covering,   but membership had only increased by about 300 and the partners had raised just $200,000. So Thompson got to work using his connections to put together a bond issue in the hopes of raising the much needed $300,000. By April it looked like Thompson had an underwriter, the Mississippi Valley Trust Co.,  then the San Francisco earthquake hit and Mississippi Valley, which had underwritten a large amount of bond issues in the hard-hit city, pulled out. By July construction on the Athletic Club came to a halt, and general contractor Thompson Starrett Co. filed a lien. Pike, still the treasurer, blamed Genslinger for all their troubles, and the club promoter was removed from his position without receiving his full consulting fee. A plea to members raised enough capital to finish the project, and on December 22, 1907 the Illinois Athletic Club held its dedicatory dinner in the club's two-story dining room. Ten years later the room underwent a transformation when club member and architect W. Gibbons Uffendel added a balcony and second entry so that women could dine unescorted by male company in the public dining hall. Club membership remained steady for the next 70 years, but by 1984 the organization had barely 1,000 members and the 170 shareholders sold the property to Charles Vavros, who owned and operated the Charlie Club chain. Vavros hired architects Swann & Weiskopf to update the aging structure and add an additional 6-stories to the building. Vavros sold the club to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992 as the educational institution began expanding out beyond the walls of its Institute building campus.

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