Monday, October 19, 2015

I asked my brother yesterday... tell my mom that I had died and gone to heaven -- South Shore Country Club. (Or, as it is known today, South Shore Cultural Center.)

You see, for my mother, an Irish Catholic girl growing up in Chicago in the 1920s and '30s, South Shore Country Club was just about the coolest place on earth. If you could attend just one formal dance there, well, you might as well exit this life because there was no greater goal left on your bucket list. Everything after that would be a letdown.

So it was with this knowledge that I drove down to the South Shore neighborhood yesterday to take in one of the many gems on the Open House Chicago tour.

(If you didn't go this weekend you really should next year. A friend of mine told me about once but it went in one ear and out the other. I mean, come on, drive all the way into the city from Glenview to gawk at a bunch of buildings? No way! But this year one of my readers and my wife suggested it and I'm glad they did. Even though we only went to three places -- the Sky-Line Club on North Michigan Avenue, the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist on Wacker Drive, and SSCC -- it was really worth it.

Next year I want to bring my uncle to the old Sears headquarters on South Holman Avenue on the West Side; he and my dad both worked there until the Willis Sears Tower was completed in 1973. The original location had 14 floors; I think my uncle once told me that when he moved into the new building on Wacker his office was on a lower floor.)

So this blog post is really for my mom; indulge me. She doesn't read it (can you believe that?), but my brother can show her the pictures when he visits her. (I took all of these yesterday except for the first and last ones -- I lifted them from Wikipedia.)

The woman in the lobby (main room?), above, told us that the club was founded in 1906. (As you can see, we were allowed to go up to the second floor as well.)

But before we go inside, let's take a little stroll around the grounds, shall we? The current structure, above, was completed in 1916 in a Mediterranean Revival style.

South Shore evolved into a Jewish and Irish Catholic neighborhood, but the club was originally for Protestants only; charter members included Marshall Field and A. Montgomery Ward. (Is that why there was a police car in front? Did someone tell them I was coming?)

Walking south, I recalled the lady saying that although Jews and blacks were never considered for membership, Irish Catholics were first admitted in 1958, the year I was born. Coincidence?

The woman, who was African American, said that blacks couldn't even wait for a bus on the sidewalk in front on South Shore Drive. If they did, the club would call the police!

Besides the main clubhouse, South Shore Country Club originally had stables, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a bowling green, and a private beach on Lake Michigan, above.

Here's the back of the club. That's sand from the beach.

Walking north along the water now.

Time to go inside.

Behind the lobby is the Solarium, above, which looks out over the lake.

On the north side of the clubhouse is the Ballroom, in which a young Barack and Michelle Obama danced at their wedding reception in 1992. (I'll bet my Fox News-watching mother will be thrilled to hear that!)

To the south of the lobby are two rooms from the original 1916 building.

The theater, above, houses the South Shore Opera Company. ("Yes, we really have an opera company," the lady insisted.)

By the 1960s, the South Shore neighborhood began to "change." For those of you not from Chicago, that means "whites moved out to the suburbs as blacks moved in." From my understanding, the Irish and Jews left South Shore practically "overnight," sometime in the late 1960s.

According to Wikipedia, the club considered opening its membership to Jews in 1967 (kind of like locking, or unlocking, the barn door after the horse had left) and African Americans a little while after. But by now it was too late.

The decision at that time not to open membership accelerated the decline of the club; in 1973, the decision was made to liquidate its assets, and in 1975, the property was sold to the Chicago Park District for $9,775,000.

It was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

A coalition of neighborhood activists and historic preservationists successfully convinced the Park District not to demolish the buildings. Instead, the facility was renamed the South Shore Cultural Center. Over two decades, the main buildings were slowly renovated and repurposed. Other buildings were torn down.

By now it was time for me to go. (Quick -- before that cop sees me!)

I think one of the reasons I'm enjoying being back in the city is that so much of my family's history is here. I don't know if my mother ever made it to one of those dances at South Shore Country Club, but her youngest son was there this weekend.

1 comment:

Ed Crotty said...

Glad you made it!! We tooled around the South Side - Decorators Supply - which makes all of the ornate plasterwork for it seems the whole country, Stockyards Brick - which reclaims brick, timer and other things, the PLANT - which creates its own methane to power a bakery, a brewery (soon) a shrimp/fish/aquaponic greens farm, and a coffee roaster. Thalia hall in Pilsen ( plus lunch on 18th st ) and we were the last ones to get into the Columbia Yacht club - ( it is an old ferry - the view is great but it is not fancy ).