Historic Hospitality at the Chicago Athletic Association

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the grand finale of my five-part “Echoes of the Exposition” series, which aims to analyze how the World’s Columbian Exposition has impacted travel and tourism in Chicago, by way way of highlighting certain topics of interest and their corresponding timelines from 1893 to the present day. The first four posts are about the Wellington Hotel, the Ferris wheel, the ‘L’ transit system, and souvenir postcards, in case anyone is interested, while the one at hand is regarding the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. I have briefly visited this hotel in the past (though I have never been a guest), and over time, my interest in its history has intensified; thus, when I found out that the history of the building, as home of the Chicago Athletic Association, boasts ties to the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair, I knew that I would inevitably include it within this series of mine. Consequently, such a post now exists.

Just as I have said for my four previous posts, I hope you all enjoy what is the product of a week’s worth of research and writing, learn something new, and/or offer me feedback on this series as a whole. If anyone is interested in viewing the sources in which I found the information presented throughout this post, please be aware that the sources are labeled by number within parentheses, which correspond to citations under “Sources” at the end of the post. Once again, please enjoy!


“A Home for the Athletic Association”: On August 3, 1890, this title portrayed to viewers the exciting future for the lot on Michigan Avenue leased to the 1,375-member Chicago Athletic Association for 99 years by Marshall Field. $150,000 would be spent in the creation of a handsome ten-story building, as designed by Henry Ives Cobb; in addition to features such as billiard rooms, a gymnasium, a bowling alley, cycling rooms, and swimming tanks, plans for “social rooms, café, and dining rooms” were desired (1). The association at hand had become incorporated earlier that year, as on March 19, 1890, the Chicago Daily Tribune announced the occasion, along with stating Charles L. Hutchinson, Joseph T. Brown, and William H. Hubbard as some of the incorporators, the association’s lack of capital stock, and its purpose “for physical culture” (2).

The Chicago Daily Tribune revealed more details of the building’s design for its now approximately 2,000 members within its December 25, 1892 issue, as the corresponding article both illustrates the floor plans & specific designs and describes such features that would be components of the building that had caught fire on November 1, thus delaying its opening. The basement would offer seven bowling alleys, ranges, and bike storage; the first floor promised a reception room, an office, a coat room, an entrance hall with marble walls, a bicycle room, a barber shop (with a domed ceiling), a lavatory, dressing rooms, Turkish and Russian bathrooms, a steam-room, a plunge-room with a 60×40 tiled tank as deep as nine feet, and dressing rooms on a mezzanine. Meanwhile, up any of the three elevators to the second floor, one could find a large hall with 500 electric lights for general use, an oak screen separating it from a café, and a billiard room for 21 billiard & pool tables behind the club room. The third floor would offer a library, another club room, a directors’ room (opening to the front balcony), bathrooms, and dressing rooms. The fourth and fifth floors would encapsulate the gymnasium, with rooms for boxing, fencing, and training as components of it, along with a large practice room, and above, a 1/13-mile track and a lounging room. Suites and single bedrooms would exist on the sixth and seventh floors, adding up to 60 rooms with private baths. The eighth floor would be the home of the culinary department; a kitchen, a dining room spanning the entire length of the building’s front with balconies and cusp ceilings, and several other dining rooms boasting windows would inspire the following statement:

The great height, the perfect ventilation, and the magnificent view across Lake Michigan will render this one of the most attractive dining-halls in Chicago.

Lastly, the ninth and tenth floors would offer two racket courts, a tennis court, two “fives” courts, room for spectators on an overhang, and skylights. The article also mentions the existence of a stairway that would extend from the basement to the roof, along with the facts that membership only could be granted to 2,000 people, and would require a $100 or $50 initiation fee and annual dues of $40 or $20 for active members and non-residents, respectively. Visitors from the World’s Columbian Exposition were destined to marvel at the building, as work would quickly be done in hopes of its prompt completion (3).

Now, over a century later, details of a different sort have been declared and executed in regards to this building that once had clear athletic (along with business and social) intentions. In fact, the association closed in 2007, but the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel respectfully took its place and officially opened in 2015 (4). In regards to its recent changes, a video featured on the section of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel website entitled “OUR STORY” discusses how the building once utilized by the association would now be introduced at large to the public for the first time in its history. Moreover, “the magic in the building,” how it had been made sure that guests “felt the age” of the property, and the observation that there are often two degrees of separation between visitors and their relation to the association at hand are all recounted in said video (5).

With the building’s transformation into a hotel, could it be possible for the Chicago Athletic Association’s original inhabitance to foreshadow, or even portray, some of the hospitality industry’s sectors, elements, and essences that now permeate the space?

By delving into the association’s history within Chicago society, such a question can be resolved.

As previously indicated, the construction of the Chicago Athletic Association building corresponded with the World’s Columbian Exposition, at least in theory. According to a Chicago Tribune article written about the hotel that now occupies the property, the building originally opened “just in time for the end of Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition” (6). Accordingly, a New York Times article from 2016 insists that the Venetian Gothic structure was built in part by its noble members in order to persuade World’s Fair attendees that Chicago “wasn’t a hick town” (7). Consequently, it is evident that the promise of the attention that could be garnered by the association due to the World’s Fair only further motivated the club’s members to make the building as grand and impressive as possible; thus, the athletic intentions of the space were not the only components of its execution and appeal–an important notion that would continue far beyond the length of the fair.

On October 7, 1893, the New York Times detailed the history and layout of this building and its corresponding association that was approximately three years old at the time, to be published on the following day. Once again, each floor is described with heavy praise and detail in the piece, which by nature reveals some minor changes that had been made in terms of design; for instance, the association would offer a swimming tank with a depth of only eight feet, 52 sleeping rooms, two tennis courts, a 1/14-mile track, and eight bowling alleys. Furthermore, the notion that the gymnasium would be “the greatest and most complete gymnasium ever constructed” is claimed within the write-up. As for the networking and hospitality-related aspects of the association, the article also describes the airiness of the banquet room, and how both nooks and a 168×76-foot hall would allow for people to enjoy gatherings, receptions, and entertainment (when equipment was removed from the latter space). One statement that is indicative of the unorthodox future of the association is the following (8):

When the plan of forming an athletic club in Chicago was first broached, it was not expected that such a magnificent structure as now fronts on Lake Michigan would be the result. But the plans grew beyond the original ideas of the projectors.

Upon its opening, as expected, the Chicago Athletic Association hosted a multitude of athletic events, all of which are important to acknowledge. Newspaper articles from the beginning of the building’s history reveal such use; for instance, the section entitled “ON THIS WEEK’S ATHLETIC PROGRAM” from the Chicago Daily Tribune‘s January 7, 1895 issue showcases the many sports that found a home with the association. Tennis would be played between Henry Boakes and George Standing, who would also compete in the sport of racquets, on Tuesday, while on Saturday, the gymnasium would host “every style of physical exercise” (9). October 17 of the same year would also portray the potential of the property as a host of tournaments and events, such as the Young Men’s Christian Associations of Illinois and their respective bicycle road race and pentathlon, the season-opening swim competition, and six planned winter billiard and pool tournaments (10).

Specifically, pool and billiards were prominent at the association. Results from pool tournaments that took place within the building, for example, were often published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, including one section entitled “CUMMINS LOSES TWO POOL GAMES” that received publication on December 29, 1894 (11). 1895 saw a participation boost in billiards, even just within the association itself, as on August 24 of that year, it was said, “Billiards will have a decided boom at the Chicago Athletic Association’s rooms this fall and winter” (12); this expectation proved itself valid when an article published on December 30, 1895 in the Chicago Daily Tribune declared “BILLIARDS BOOMING ALL OVER CITY” within its title. More matches and tournaments than ever before had been played throughout Chicago, as claimed within the piece, and the Chicago Athletic Association is one of the venues that can be found highlighted by the Tribune, due to the one handicap and two pool tournaments held there (13).

Tennis and racquets held their own at the association as well. One quite early example of participation in these sports on the association’s property is detailed within an October 20, 1893 Chicago Daily Tribune article, in which a match between Warren & Hickey of Boston and Cairnes & Boakes of the victorious Chicago Athletic Association, seen by a “small audience,” is the focus (14). Henry Boakes appears yet again in a write-up regarding his loss to George Standing published on January 6, 1895, thus showing that tennis and racquets as sports were both intertwined and relevant to the entire association at the start of its narrative (15).

The prevalence of swimming also made itself known within the building, as on February 6, 1896, claims were made that many of the association’s members had taken up swimming, and subsequently, the corresponding article states “Extensive preparations are being made by the Chicago Athletic Association’s Bath committee and Prof. Robinson for the next swimming and tank events” that would take place later that month (16). The association’s swimming facilities and their prestige are also indicated within an announcement made on February 4, 1897, stating that the Amateur Athletic Union would hold its “second annual indoor swimming championship” within the venue on February 27; the honor of also hosting the national indoor championship for the 100-meter swimming event and intent of the association to participate in water polo matches are noted as well (17).

Boxing also had an interesting narrative at the association, starting with events such as an amateur boxing exhibition in late 1894 (18). By December 14, 1894, though, the Chicago Athletic Association became one of the boxing venues under a ban for the sport, as the corresponding article states “Every place where boxing, subject to public inspection and criticism, had a foothold is now closed.” Meanwhile, hidden from police, secret boxing matches would continue to take place, as per usual (19). Of course, boxing reappeared with time, and on February 2, 1898, a February 12 boxing championship between Frank Garrard and George Kerwin at the Chicago Athletic Association received a preview. All the while, hopes for a track team to represent the “cherry circle” and the occurrence of other athletic events were prevalent (20).

“Cherry Circle” as the indicator of the Chicago Athletic Association also made itself clear within the football context, which is shown in a November 23, 1896 Chicago Daily Tribune article entitled “LEADER OF CHERRY CIRCLE TEAM.” The piece describes Captain Thompson and his interesting background, as his first game took place during 1893, the year in which the association played against Denver’s respective association on the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition: an event that further shows the connection between the Chicago Athletic Association and the World’s Fair (21).

The legacy of the “Cherry Circle” would become questionable as time went on, though, as on January 21, 1899, a proposition to extinguish the athletics held at the association’s building was discussed. Although the association’s status in terms of athletics remained perceptible, and the swimming pool was an area people stood by strongly, as the corresponding article states that events held within the tank had “always been the most popular events held,” the possible removal of athletic events and consequential focus on “regular” members would be decided on within the next week (22).

Four days later, details of the Board of Directors meeting that would take place on the following day were published in the Chicago Daily Tribune. This article specifies that the association’s gymnasium had been idle often, and in association with the anti-athletic beliefs and “Athletics for members only” slogan permeating the building, those involved with athletics began to build up approval for the ability of members to access the association’s athletic facilities for free (thus creating salaried instructors), as opposed to the charge placed upon them at the time. The last sentence reminds readers that the bowling team would need not worry about the aversion to athletics, interestingly enough (23).

Following such controversy, the prominence of the Chicago Athletic Association remained; in fact, in June 1899, then-Governor Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed the venue’s swimming pool, at least up until the Milwaukee Carnival Committee asked for his attendance at their event, to which Roosevelt could make no promises (24).

Events aside from showcases of pure athleticism occurred at the Chicago Athletic Association, thus showing the dynamic between athletics and entertainment that was achieved in the building. Signifying the unfortunate norms of the times, “Ladies’ day” was an event that first began at the building on December 16, 1893, and let these typically excluded people explore the entirety of the Chicago Athletic Association. With flowers and plants as decorations, the rooms around the building filled up with people admitted by way of the two tickets allotted to each member of the club. These rooms were quickly exited, though, in order to view the sporting events, such as those of swimming and an entire program in the gymnasium (boasting events such as wrestling and fencing) with a 1,500-person audience; an open house remained for the rest of the evening (25). Another one of these monthly societal events took place on November 1, 1894, and in an intriguing fashion, many of the games and events are described as “entertainment” within the corresponding article. Furthermore, a “musical program” occurred before dinner in the gymnasium hall, which actualized the aforementioned plans to utilize this area for social events (26). The event on February 20, 1895 brought about greater grandeur, as it would include a reception-room concert, diving contests, dinner, and gymnasium-centered entertainment in the forms of gymnastics & showcases of strength, all of which were additions to the more typical athletic exhibitions (27). An article entitled “ATHLETICS AND PINK TEA” with the subtitle “CONSIDERABLE OF BOTH AT THE CHICAGO ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION” describes one of the more unique ladies’ days that took place on January 15, 1896, as almost every component of the day and its events incorporated the color pink. Although the pink arrangements, such as pink tea, were enjoyed by the guests, sarcasm could have been a contributing factor to the overindulgence, and furthermore, some attendees worried that the athletics themselves were being disregarded (28). Yet again, the “women’s day” of March 10, 1897 displayed the elements of entertainment and hospitality that permeated such days, that in hindsight, indicate that the changes may have been due to stereotypes of what women coveted. For instance, preceding a telling list of socialites in attendance, some of the day’s itinerary is outlined within the corresponding article, including dinner at 6 PM and a “musicale given by the Johnson-Smiley combination” (29). On February 23, 1898, a day with a similar agenda would take place; the following quotation from the Chicago Daily Tribune discusses its interesting components, which show as a whole that the Chicago Athletic Association acquired the potential to offer much more than athletics and general networking, through its integration of sports and true event prowess (30):

At 3 Dr. Samuel, Hall Hunt, and Sam E. Thrall will play an exhibition game of pool in the billiard-room. Professor Baxter’s mandolin orchestra will play in the lounging-room from 4 to 6, and at 4 o’clock aquatic events will take place in the bath department. The “Little Ladies’ Bijou Orchestra” has been engaged to play during the afternoon and up to the beginning of the concert in the gymnasium, that hour being 8:30 sharp.

Despite this interpretation that such events display the relationship between athletics and hospitality that flowed throughout this prestigious club, of which its ability to entertain and please others was likely expected, throughout the narrative of the association, certain uses of the building itself prove explicitly that its present-day state is not as startling to process as it may seem. Namely, these aspects are dining, event, and lodging opportunities.

As mentioned in the original plans for the building, food & beverages essentially enveloped an entire department of the association. On January 18, 1895, the financial statements of the Chicago Athletic Association for 1894 were published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, and these details indicate the broad successes and failures of such aspects at the time. For instance, the bar had profited $12,300, while that of lodging, billiards & bowling, the barber shop, and “Letter-boxes, telephone tolls, and sundries” totaled to $12,031, $3,652, $499, and $144, respectfully; other areas of profit included laundry and baths. The departments that saw a loss, though, were the restaurant, the gymnasium & athletics, racquets & tennis, and “Sundries and bad accounts,” from ascending to descending order, with the restaurant losing $18,123 (31). It may be surprising that some of the athletic areas were not profitable ones, but one should take note that many of the areas of profit, in a fascinating way, are ones synonymous with hotels and other hospitality-related businesses.

The offerings of the Chicago Athletic Association continued on, even if they were not once a source of profit for the club. For instance, on February 15, 1900, the Chicago Life Underwriters’ Association held a banquet at the clubhouse, as described in the Chicago Daily Tribune issue distributed on the day afterward (32). An “Entertainment committee” even existed at the time, which had the task of converting the gymnasium to a German garden for a member event that received coverage by the same newspaper on February 6, 1901. This garden would consist of “a German restaurant, a German orchestra, lager beer, pretzels, and jollity,” in addition to real trees, and in a questionable fashion, 100 live squirrels (33). The regularity of the association’s utilization for purposes outside of athletics continued throughout 1901; for instance, the Chicago Piano and Organ Association held an “informal dinner” at the venue (34).

Soon, though, the dining department of the association would face scrutiny and troubles. On May 27, 1903, a “ladies’ night,” up to 25 employed athletes exited the association’s restaurant, claiming that the food was not up to their standards, though they assumed members would accept it; in response, the Chicago Daily Tribune said that “The Chicago Athletic association’s pride in its cuisine received a severe shock” (35). Also, by way of support from the Chicago Federation of Labor, unions of waiters and cooks had conducted strikes prior to June 8, 1903, the date on which further strikes were expected, and the corresponding article points out that the Chicago Athletic Association clubhouse had already suffered service-wise as a consequence (36). From these events of 1903, the relevance of the association to dining in Chicago at the start of the 20th century is clear, even if not always for the most optimal reasons.

A somewhat humorous article entitled “ASK HUNGRY ARMY TO SHARE ‘PLENTY'” from the January 27, 1908 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune further shows the prominence of the building’s dining department. Five members of the association situated in the dining room were faced with “grape fruit, oranges, toasted muffins, Spanish omelet, fish, and mutton chops,” but did not have the appetite to enjoy the food; thus, they called the Tribune lodging house at 50 Canal Street and asked if its inhabitants would desire some of the food, to which 250 people accepted, and thus ended up enjoying what was “something a little better than the men usually get at meal time” (37).

In a way eerily reminiscent of the fire that impacted the Chicago Athletic Association during its construction, an impactful fire took place from Wabash Avenue to Michigan Avenue on January 29, 1908. An entire section of the article detailing the fire dealt with the association, and made sure to accentuate the fact that the building went untouched. The following quotation both shows the fright felt by those within the building and of the structure’s popular features (38):

At the hour when the flames began to get their start nearly all of the 150 private rooms having almost the only windows in the club which open upon the alley were vacant. A large number of the members were at dinner, either in the grillroom of the second floor, the windows of which are of stained glass, or in the main dining room on the eighth floor, facing upon Lake Michigan.

With regard to the years following, it is evident that the association retained value in terms of being a host of banquets and events. On October 21, 1911, the friends of James H. Wilkerson, United States District Attorney, planned a banquet in honor of his new status as a prosecutor, at which well-known politicians, judges, attorneys, and government officials were said to have been present (39). 1911 also brought about the Michigan Society of Chicago’s first fall harvest dinner, intended to be the first of a new tradition (40).

Cherry Circle not only represented the Chicago Athletic Association’s athletic teams, but also became the namesake of the club’s publication, as indicated in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 16, 1913. The main argument made by Witt K. Cochrane in the Cherry Circle article of interest, though, is that tipping should be prohibited at the building’s restaurant; ideas and viewpoints representing both sides of the issue are forcibly recognized in Cochrane’s piece (41).

Yet again, despite the debates that took place regarding its offerings, the association continued to host events, such as the Associated Catholic Charities of Chicago’s “informal dinner” that took place on April 1, 1918, as described under the “MEETINGS” section of the Chicago Daily Tribune (42).

“Rejuvenating the C. A. A. to the Tune of $600,000”: Such is the title of an article featured in the October 25, 1925 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which, as expected, describes planned additions to the club. The association’s Madison Street building, adjacent to that of Michigan Avenue, would boast an additional six floors with 54 sleeping rooms; in association with the club in general, the article states that private dining rooms on the sixth floor facing Madison Street, the replacement of a few of the present dining rooms with sleeping rooms, and new elevators were all expected as well (43). As shown, in a way that displays ties to the land’s use almost a century later, the association saw rooms and dining spaces as priorities.

A Prohibition-era December 27, 1927 Chicago Daily Tribune article entitled “Club Millions at Stake for Dry Christmas” highlights another contentious policy held up by the Chicago Athletic Association, as it emphasizes the fact that $176,000 would have to be paid by each member of the club for sixty-two years (totaling to $10,912,000) if drinking parties were held for Christmas or New Year’s Eve at the location. Consequently, the president of the association asserted that liquor could not be present “in the dining rooms and elsewhere,” with his main reason being that the now-3,000 “law abiding” members averaging 55 years of age would not take pleasure in such activities and their ramifications (44).

The association and its facilities had not held the innocence advertised, though. During the time of Prohibition, a space near the building’s Game Room became a speakeasy, hidden space-wise by doors, and regarding whiskey, milk (4).

Another emerging topic of conversation about the Chicago Athletic Association, this time in 1930, dealt with its membership. The building itself had already been perceived as “inadequate” by this time, but for sentimental reasons, people wanted the clubhouse to remain at its location; as a whole, however, people sensed a decline in both the identity of downtown clubs and their value as a way for members to network within their rooms, dining areas, and bars, due to the presence of both country clubs and Prohibition. Of these changes, the corresponding Chicago Daily Tribune article states the following, thus signifying the inevitable change in the direction of the association already seen as a Chicago staple (45):

Now there is no bar. The grill, except at luncheon, and billiard room attract only a fraction of their former following. Instead have grown up ‘clubs within clubs’ where a coterie of congenial fellows rent by the year a room or several rooms. Instead of circulating about the clubhouse proper, they go to their ‘inner clubs.’ As a result, club fellowship is not what it once was and a new member has less opportunity to get acquainted.

Prohibition finally concluded in 1933, and therefore, establishments began the reinstallation of alcohol-friendly spaces. Particularly, in a way that shows its relevance to the desires of those within Chicago society, the Chicago Athletic Association ordered a Bastian-Blessing “30 foot stainless steel bar,” which would begin incorporation within the building soon after the March 30, 1933 publication of an article about the bar (46).

The Chicago Athletic Association’s connection to the World’s Columbian Exposition and the event sector were alluded to on April 18, 1934, when a luncheon took place at the club for the 100 members of the Keep Chicago Ahead committee and Mayor Kelly. There, Kelly described the benefits that the Century of Progress Exhibition would impart upon Chicago’s attempt to be recognized as a destination and host of recovery from the Great Depression (47).

Utilization of the clubhouse was inclusive of many other clubs as well, including the Friends of American Writers, a group that met on occasions such as the meeting at 1:30 PM on a Wednesday in early December 1935 that included Dr. Franklyn Bliss Snyder as a speaker discussing “Literary Standards of Value” (48). The Pilgrim Colony of New England Women met at 12:30 PM on a Tuesday in late 1935 as well, and this event offered both a luncheon and a program at the Chicago Athletic Association (49). The rest of the decade saw the arrival of groups comparable to the Irish Fellowship Club, of which D.F. Kelly became the president at their meeting hosted at none other than the clubhouse at hand on June 22, 1938 (50).

The 1940s also encompassed many visits of groups to the Chicago Athletic Association for events. For instance, the Chicago Daily Tribune revealed on November 10, 1941 that the Chicago Vassar Club would have an exhibition luncheon at the Chicago Athletic Association; this event entitled “At Home,” as part of their series comprised of three exhibits that took the place of a more traditional benefit, would feature flower arrangements and exhibits of needlepoint (51). The Friends of American Writers remained proponents of the clubhouse, as shown by their February 24, 1943 meeting, in which the 1943 “award for literary achievement” announcement was selected to be on March 24 of that year (52). One other event of significance is the “annual St. Luke’s hospital fashion show” that took place on October 20 for the year of 1948; the Chicago Daily Tribune article entitled “Luncheons to Precede Famed Fashions Show” describes how such meals were to occur, such as the “large luncheon party” Mrs. D. Roy Howland would throw at the Chicago Athletic Association (53).

Events of differing grandeur were hosted at the Chicago Athletic Association over the few decades following. In terms of popular Easter luncheons, the association took part in the 1956 festivities, thus showing its relevance to Chicago society, with an article about the day written by Judith Cass stating that this club and another “also have plans for Easter luncheon,” among lengthier descriptions of other dining options available (54). The following year also brought about updated descriptions of the association that should be taken note of; “Want to Join an Exclusive Club? Here’s How” is a piece that showcased such organizations to readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune on August 7, including the Chicago Athletic Association as an example of a large club. At the time of publication, the association held 3,733 members and two adjoining buildings: the ten-story structure on Michigan Avenue, and the Madison Street property that rose eight stories higher than its counterpart (55). Within 1961, the sense of nostalgia felt for the intersection of athletics and entertainment that the Chicago Athletic Association fostered made itself clear, as in the Chicago Daily Tribune section entitled “In the Wake of the News” from August 5 of said year, the parties that were supervised by Bill Goodrich at the clubhouse before he made his way to “Soldiers’ field” are referenced (56). Societal parties evidently were still present at the clubhouse, though, as the newspaper renamed as the Chicago Tribune stated on October 4, 1965 that on October 16, a black-tie party with music and dancing in celebration of both the Luckows’ 45th anniversary of marriage and Mrs. Luckow’s new position as Lake Geneva Fresh Air Association President would be held at the Chicago Athletic Association’s Crystal Room (57). Yet another group utilized the clubhouse within the 1960s, called the North Shore Golf league, but for this specific meeting in April 1967, the “past presidents and team captains” found themselves in the George Washington Room (58).

The next three decades proved that the Chicago Athletic Association had not yet lost its prestige as an event space. November 27, 1970 brought about an anniversary celebration similar to the aforementioned Luckow party; the dinner at hand was planned by the chief of the Sav-Way Liquor Chain, Emmett P. Malley Jr., and his wife in honor of a senior counterpart’s 40th wedding anniversary, as announced in the Chicago Tribune (59). Another edition of the “In the Wake of the News” section of the Chicago Tribune made reference to the association, as one social note included in the December 15, 1971 issue is the fact that J. Jerome Miller, “marathon swimmer and vet of both the 1936 and 1948 Olympic games,” ran a carnival at the clubhouse on a Saturday evening in honor of Easter Seals, for which he ended up raising much money (60). Consequently, one can infer that the Chicago Athletic Association remained an elite club of high status. All the while, companies still held events at the building; for instance, it is indicated in a Chicago Tribune article written by George Lazarus and published on May 19, 1981 that the Quaker Oats Company’s Elizabeth Harrington, whose role was vice president of advertising at the time, attended a luncheon comprised of 105 “members and guests” at the Chicago Athletic Association (61). Within the next decade, the sport of football’s relation to the association and its events reinstated itself, as on May 1, 1991, coach Jim Collette, newly of the Purdue Boilermakers, would talk to members of the Purdue Club of Chicago at the group’s luncheon hosted at the clubhouse (62). May 1991 also brought about an opportunity for the association to host a benefit event; listed as “BIG DEAL CASINO” in the Chicago Tribune‘s “This Week at a Glance” section, a benefit costing $35, but $40 at the door, for STOP AIDS CHICAGO would take place at the Chicago Athletic Association at 7:30 PM on May 18 and offer entertainment as well (63). Politics even became associated with the athletic club in December 1997, for a Civic Federation-hosted question-and-answer forum moderated by Joel Weisman of WTTW would target the “fab four” candidates for the Illinois Governor position at the building: Jim Burns, Roland Burris, Glenn Poshard, and John Schmidt (64). A Chicago Tribune article from June 10, 1998 further reveals many of the various aforementioned ties with the association, as it states the following (65):

With his mother, Sis Daley, and almost twice the crowd Rotary One luncheons typically draw at the Chicago Athletic Association, Mayor Richard Daley made it clear Monday what tops his ‘new millennium’ list for the city: Education.

What the new millennium surely did bring to the Chicago Athletic Association in particular was more events that now, in hindsight, signify the relevance of the club to both Chicago society and qualities of the hospitality industry. For example, in 2001, the American Women in Radio and Television organization would present Achievement Awards to Renee Ferguson, Zemira Jones, and Lynne “Angel” Cooper Harvey, among others, at the clubhouse (66). Wine tastings were even held at the location; in exchange for a reservation worth $75, participants could taste 2000 and 2001 Bordeaux wines on January 13, 2005, thanks to the Hart Davis Hart Wine Company (67). Interestingly, Julie Deardorff revealed in a October 20, 2005 article about hotel fitness centers that non-members of the Chicago Athletic Association could even enjoy its guest rooms, and thus, its 24-hour fitness center that offered new equipment and classes. Each of the 55 sleeping rooms would cost at least $135 per night for such non-members, and this availability nearly made the association categorized as a hotel by the Chicago Tribune (68). A clear pivot from the original purposes of the club is also evident due to a Chicago Tribune article published on March 9, 2006, which describes yet another premium event hosted at the Michigan Avenue property: Mardi Gras Mystery Masquerade, a $60 “four-course Cajun dinner and interactive theater performance,” at which costumes were welcome (69). The appearance of these sorts of events is justified by a January 26, 2007 article that explains the different perspectives on (and corresponding levels of participation in) private city clubs. In regards to the Chicago Athletic Association specifically, Alexia Elejalde states the following pieces of information (70):

The Chicago Athletic Association is feeling the membership pinch. It has about 800 members today, down 50 percent from 10 years ago, and is selling the historic building where it’s been housed for over a century in part because it doesn’t have the funds to maintain it, said Michael Raimondi, a member of the club’s board of directors. The club plans to continue operating from the building once renovations are complete.

Ironically, and perhaps serendipitously, during the last year of the existence of this Chicago Athletic Association incarnation, one of the special events hosted at the clubhouse was the Second Annual Emerald Gloves Amateur Boxing Tournament. This sporting event, as described by Kathleen M. Pratt in an article for the Chicago Tribune‘s  March 16, 2007 issue, would place “top-ranked local fighters” against an all-star Irish-English boxing team, and also offer a preceding reception with draft beer and a buffet, totaling to a cost of $75 per person (71).

The building’s ultimate closure was imminent in 2007, as a consequence of issues such as the aforementioned membership plummet. Quite some time passed until the lavish building of historical importance would open once again, and notably, to the public for the first time, which became possible thanks to monetary contributions from people such as the son of Jay Pritzker, founder of Hyatt Hotels: John Pritzker. As described by Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune article entitled “History remakes itself: Public wins in Chicago Athletic Association revamp,” a failed proposal to save the building by Atlanta and Cleveland developers prompted the property’s placement on the list of the country’s “11 most endangered places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2008. Four years later, 13 million dollars from Geolo Capital and AJ Capital Partners were exchanged for the building, and subsequently, Chicago’s Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture and New York’s Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors were selected to help achieve the goal of restoring the Chicago Athletic Association with integrity. Kamin describes the new hotel’s impressive purposes and features in the following way (6):

Marrying the distinctive setting of a boutique hotel with the impressive and intricately decorated spaces of a grand hotel, the 241-room Chicago Athletic Association hotel offers a smartly restored facade on Michigan Avenue and a stellar collection of impeccably restored rooms that aim to host everything from bocce games to wedding receptions.

With such analyses of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel that opened in 2015, the attention placed on events by both the hotel’s management and critics is intriguing, as it is evocative of the significant societal luncheons and benefits held at the clubhouse that oozed exclusivity, whether or not these modern members of the hospitality industry are aware of this, well, association.

Through taking a closer look at the details of the hotel, as portrayed by hotel management and reporters, the rather concealed hospitality-related aspects of the Chicago Athletic Association in its first run can become evident. Of course, the new Game Room hosts games (complimentary, as opposed to the previous policies; 5 & 31) of “pool, tabletop shuffleboard, foosball, cards, checkers, chess and a full-sized bocce court,” in addition to food and drinks, all within this area on the second floor, where the billiard room was located in the building’s original incarnation (3 & 4). While reading information about the grand Drawing Room that now acts as the hotel’s lobby and offers food and beverages as well, one may find the descriptions to be reminiscent of the club room with an oak screen on the second floor, as described in 1892; the resulting assumptions are likely valid, as newer sources state that the aforementioned Game Room is “just past the Drawing Room and Milk Room” (3 & 4). The Milk Room also may sound familiar, and the reason is that this area between the Drawing and Game rooms was utilized during Prohibition, where up to 12 barstools can now be present throughout its day service and bar hours (4). As of July 2017, Milk Room Chicago portrays the appealing exclusivity of the original club that inhabited the building, as it is an “eight-seat micro bar that focuses on classic, rare and vintage spirits” and necessitates a $50 deposit of sorts per person in exchange for a time slot (72).

The hotel’s Cherry Circle Room is also located on the second floor, and can be found by walking through the Game Room. This restaurant not only hosts a 100-foot serpentine bar and menu items that are modern interpretations of those of the club, but also is likely named after the moniker of the association and its amateur teams & publication (5, 21, & 41).

Other current food and beverage offerings at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel include Cindy’s, a “rooftop restaurant, bar and open-air terrace overlooking Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, Lake Michigan and beyond,” a Shake Shack location on the ground level. Also featured on said floor of the building, with a name that perhaps references both the grounds of the World’s Fair and those of coffee beans, is Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea, according to the hotel website’s “EAT & DRINK” section (73, 74, & 75).

Interestingly, and possibly surprising to some, the event spaces of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel also offer historical significance. For example, in the aforementioned video about the transformed spaces, Stagg Court is mentioned; what was once the club’s reveled and versatile gymnasium (note its previous use as a dinner location, concert space, and even a German garden) now offers not only the pine deck, two basketball hoops, shuffleboard capabiliies, and a fencing lane, but also the opportunity for it to be utilized as “free-form event space” (5).

Weddings in particular are spotlighted as suitable events for the hotel’s White City Ballroom, its name perhaps being a reference to the White City, and the World’s Columbian Exposition that took place throughout the year in which the association first opened (5). By looking back through the plans for the building’s eighth floor, on which the ballroom is now located, a proposition can be raised that the ballroom occupies the location of the dining room that previously inhabited the entire length of the eighth floor’s front, and also offered balconies & cusp ceilings that are visible in photographs of the current ballroom (3 & 76).

Meetings are the main events marketed for the Madison Ballroom, which can be inferred as a room named after the location of the association’s adjacent building (43). This event space is also located on the eighth floor of the association’s property; since only the endorsements regarding White City Ballroom boast views onto Millennium Park, though, the Madison Ballroom likely replaced past dining rooms that had also been described as areas with windows, and that had partially been transformed into sleeping rooms, as planned in 1925 (76, 3, & 43).

Executive Boardrooms are available on the hotel’s third floor, and the three of them are named in honor of three members of the Cubs teams of 1907 and 1908 that won the World Series (76). The floor on which these rooms are located indicates that they now occupy any of the following third-floor rooms planned in 1892: the library, club room, directors’ room, bathrooms, and/or dressing rooms (3).

The Tank is one last event space of note, which is located on the first floor of the hotel and is said to be a space apt for art installations and public events (76 & 5). The Tank is the result of a transformation of the Chicago Athletic Association pool (which was, in fact, known as its current title to its members), described in 1892 as a plunge-room with a 60×40 tiled tank, but now home to a floor of mosaic tile with markers (3 & 76). A Carrara marble balcony is also detailed on the hotel’s website, which may very well be what once was the mezzanine with dressing rooms (76 & 3). Notably, the aforementioned ideas portrayed by the hotel as to how the unique space could be utilized have been realized; for example, an installation inspired by Murakami’s Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition went into place for a complimentary party for the public that took place on June 19, 2017 (77).

With all of these ties that can be traced between the Chicago Athletic Association’s history and its present use, it is clear that the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s offerings of hospitality are not as antithetical to the building’s narrative as one may expect. In fact, some of the exact same spaces utilized for events in the club’s past are now used for analogous celebrations and meetings, even if the names and exact purposes of them have changed. Consequently, despite the original and explicit focus of the association on the hosting of amateur athletics, the sectors of food & beverages, social & business events, and lodging have always permeated the building and its motives.

When the proclamation is now made that the sensed “magic in the building” is due to the careful protection of the Chicago Athletic Association’s history throughout the hotel’s construction (5), one can rightfully believe that the spirit of this once-endangered clubhouse hailing from the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition has not so much been transformed into one possessing and providing that of hospitality, but rather one in which such character been graciously restored for its guests.


This week’s images of relevance are photographs I recently took of the gorgeous Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, as described in my “Afternoon in the City” post. I took the first photograph at the top of the staircase that is visible as one walks into the hotel’s ground floor; from this area, opposite the direction I faced while taking the photograph, “The Tank” can be seen down below. The second photograph is of the aforementioned Murakami installation within said area. I hope to explore other areas of the hotel soon, as I have marveled at what I have seen of the property (both personally and in photographs) for quite some time now.

afterlight 24

IMG_1837

UPDATE FROM AUGUST 17, 2017:

I recently enjoyed a tour of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, and during this visit, thanks to my status as a student, I was allowed to take photographs for my blog. As such, I will include some of the photographs, which are also featured in my post entitled “A Belated Birthday Bash,” in this section of the post at hand. Note that I did not want to be too overbearing throughout the visit, so I took photographs with caution.

afterlight 26.jpeg
A piece, featuring the ‘L’ transit system, found above the front desk; serendipitously, I wrote about the (concurrent) debuts of both the ‘L’ and the Chicago Athletic Association for the “Echoes of the Exposition” series
IMG_2001
The view from Cindy’s
IMG_2054
Yay!

I offer a great deal of thanks to the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel for this opportunity they graciously brought to my attention and offered me.


Images of the Chicago Athletic Association, and the subsequent hotel, can be found at this location, among others:

Sources
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  2. “New Illinois Corporations.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 6. Mar 19 1890. ProQuest. Web. 30 July 2017.
  3. “HOME OF ATHLETICS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 11. Dec 25 1892. ProQuest. Web. 30 July 2017.
  4. Arnett, Lisa. “Inside Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s Bars and Restaurants.” TCA Regional News Jun 24 2015. ProQuest. Web. 30 July 2017.
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  28. “ATHLETICS AND PINK TEA.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 8. Jan 16 1896. ProQuest. Web. 31 July 2017.
  29. “WOMEN ARE GUESTS OF THE C. A. A.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 10. Mar 11 1897. ProQuest. Web. 31 July 2017.
  30. “HYDE PARK CLASS FIELD DAY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 14. Feb 20 1898. ProQuest. Web. 31 July 2017.
  31. “Stock Quote 9 — no Title.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 9. Jan 18 1895. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  32. “INSURANCE MEN HAVE DINNER.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 4. Feb 16 1900. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  33. “ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION’S GERMAN GARDEN.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 4. Feb 06 1901. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  34. “CLUBS TO FIGHT KEATING.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. Dec 13 1901. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  35. “STRIKE AGAINST CUISINE SHOCKS ATHLETIC CLUB.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. May 28 1903. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  36. “TO TIE UP MORE EATING HOUSES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Jun 08 1903. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  37. “ASK HUNGRY ARMY TO SHARE ‘PLENTY’.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 16. Jan 27 1908. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  38. “ALL NIGHT FIRE COSTS $1,700,000.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Jan 29 1908. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  39. “SCHOOL HEALTH INSPECTION FAULTY, ASSERTS DR. YOUNG.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. Oct 22 1911. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  40. “JAPANESE CONSUL AND BRIDE LUNCHEON GUESTS OF CLUB.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. Nov 12 1911. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  41. “URGES C. A. A. TO STOP TIPS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Feb 16 1913. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
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  44. “Club Millions at Stake for Dry Christmas.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): 1. Dec 20 1927. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
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  46. “CLUB’S STAINLESS STEEL BAR WON’T BAR THE THIRSTY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): 23. Mar 30 1933. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
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  70. Elejalde, Alexia. “Members Only ; More 20-Somethings have Access and are Joining Exclusive Social Clubs.” Chicago Tribune: 8. Jan 26 2007. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
  71. Pratt, M. K. “‘Shamrockin’ Weekend ; 8 Ways to make the most of St. Patrick’s Day.” Chicago Tribune: 43. Mar 16 2007. ProQuest. Web. 1 Aug. 2017.
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  73. “Cindy’s.” Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago Athletic Association, http://www.chicagoathletichotel.com/eat-and-drink/cindys-rooftop-restaurant-chicago.
  74. “Shake Shack.” Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago Athletic Association, http://www.chicagoathletichotel.com/eat-and-drink/shake-shack-chicago-restaurant.
  75. “Fairgrounds.” Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago Athletic Association, http://www.chicagoathletichotel.com/eat-and-drink/fairgrounds.
  76. “Meetings.” Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago Athletic Association, http://www.chicagoathletichotel.com/downtown-chicago-meeting-rooms.
  77. “TRIBUTE TO TAKASHI MURAKAMI.” Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago Athletic Association, chicagoathleticevents.com/tc-events/tribute-to-takashi-murakami/.
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