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
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, 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!
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.
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.