Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Three Arts Club, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Three Arts Club, Chicago (1915) Holabird & Roche, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In October 1911 playwright and actress Grace Griswold came to Chicago with an idea, she wanted to establish a safe place for young women studying in the arts where they would be able to live and gather together as a refuge from the rough and tumble streets of the city. She knew Chicago well. Her father Joseph B. Hall had served as the senior warden of the Church of the Ascension on La Salle Street for 26 years until his death in 1898. Although based in New York, Griswold, like most actors of her day spent a lot of time on the road touring and knew first hand all of the temptations and confrontations that awaited young women as they tried to navigate through America's large cities while persuing their careers. So she gathered together a group of prominent Chicago women, most of whom were members of the Chicago Women's Club, and proposed the idea.

  [Three Arts Club, Chicago, 1300 N. Dearborn Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Griswold offered-up as models the Three Arts Club in New York and Paris, and the Charlotte Cushman Club in Philadelphia. Her plan was to establish a network of clubs in large cities across the country providing reciprocal memberships, the same way that university or business clubs did. Chicago women with last names that read like a who's who of the city's elite decided to sign on and they set about raising money, and finding a location for Chicago's Three Arts Club. Applicants had to be unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 30, and actively persuing a career as a painter, musician, or in the theater - this wasn't meant to be a rest stop for dabbling hobbyists.

  [Three Arts Club, Chicago, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Board of Managers rented the old Terrell mansion on La Salle Street. Mrs. J. Ogden Armour oversaw and provided the funds for the decoration and furnishing of the main parlors and dining room, where resident and non-resident members could enjoy the company and camaraderie of like-minded careerists. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Louise DeKoven Bowen, and other board members each donated the funds required to outfit one of the bedrooms that provided sleeping accomodations for up to 16 women. At first things didn't go as planned, there were few takers, but as word spread the Three Arts Club of Chicago found itself bursting at the seams. In 1913 the Board of Managers set-out on a campaign to raise the funds to either buy or build a new home, which was spearheaded by their president Miss Gwethalyn Jones. Jones was a single women of means. Her father David Benton Jones had made a fortune in zinc mining which he generously shared with his children. When Gwethalyn found a site that she considered perfect for the new club her father purchased the aging J.M.W. Jones (no relation) mansion at the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Goethe Street and gave the club a low-cost, long-term lease on the land.

  [Three Arts Club, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The board hired the architectural firm of Holabird & Roche to design a purpose-built facility with enough housing for 90 women, a suite of dedicated studio spaces, and enough room for a dining room, social hall and recital room. Senior partner William Holabird's son John oversaw the project and found inspiration in the decorative Byzantine motifs of 6th century Ravenna with a dash of 16th century Paris. Studios took-up most of the fourth floor, bedrooms were on the second and third, and the dining and social rooms on the first floor opened-up on to an landscaped central courtyard. David Jones decided to help his daughter a little more in her endeavors and paid for the construction of the building. At the time of his death in 1923 the building and the land were donated to the club which now had a long waiting list of pending residential applicants.

  [Three Arts Club, Chicago, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Fifty years after David Jones' death the country, and the world, were undergoing great social changes. Fewer and fewer women found that they needed a place like the Three Arts to protect them from the evils of city life, and the "No Male Visitors After 11" policy seemed more and more antiquated and out-of-touch as time went on. In 1980 there was a board room kerfuffle when some members felt that the time had come to shut down the facility while others felt there was still a need. Then as educational institutions like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago started providing housing much closer to their downtown campus, residency at the Three Arts fell to unstainable levels and the facilty finally closed its doors in May, 2003. The National Historic and City of Chicago Landmark was purchased for $13 million in 2007 by a developer who planned to convert the interior of the landmark building into a luxury boutique hotel. Nothing ever came of that plan, so the structure sat empty for a while before another proposal emerged: converting the former residence for the living into a repository for the dead. The columbarium idea never went any farther, and then in October, 2013 the Chicago City Council voted to approve a zoning change for the site which would allow Restoration Hardware to occupy the building at Dearborn and Goethe. The company plans to open their rebranded, upscale, RH store in the spring of 2015.

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