Observations and Images on Architecture, Culture and More, in Chicago and the World. See it all here.

1924 Lake Shore Athletic Club Being Railroaded to Extinction?





Are the skids being greased for the destruction of still another of Chicago's vintage 1920's buildings?

 -by Lynn Becker





[April 12, 2007] Chicago's preservation bureaucracy appears well on the way to allowing demolition of the elegant 1924 Lake Shore Athletic Club, designed by Lake Shore Athletic Club, Jarvis Hunt, architectarchitect Jarvis Hunt. It's classically inspired facade fronts a richly ornamented interior, including a handsome marble staircase, two-story foyer, and carved marble fireplace. Its 35 by 75 foot swimming pool and its striking mural was the site of 1928 Olympic trials. Originally built as both a private club and apartment building, it was acquired by Northwestern University in the 1970's and used for student housing until it was closed in 2005.

The building is not an official Chicago landmark, but is rated "Orange" on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, indicating that it "Possesses potentially significant architectural or historical features." This means that if an application is filed for demolition, a 90 day hold is automatically invoked to allow consideration of whether the structure merits being designated a landmark.

Apparently new owner, Fifield Companies, most recently the creator of the relentlessly graceless and laughably named Left Bank at K Station can't wait to replace the Lake Shore Athletic Club with a similar temple of banality. Currently, the Lake Shore Athletic Club, Chicago, Jarvis Hunt, architect, photograph by Landmarks Illinoissite's zoning sets the club's crest as the current maximum height, but you can be sure Fifield will be coming around for a zoning change to build a megatower similar to those that have popped up just to the south.

Michael Moran of Preservation Chicago reports that Fifield slipped into the group's mailbox a notice that they plan to demolish the Athletic Club. Moran released the contents of an email he sent to Brian Goeken, Deputy Commissioner, Landmarks Division, Chicago Department of Planning and Development:

“Several months ago, we requested that your department grant preliminary landmark status to the Lake Shore Center because the building was being marketed for sale. . . There is no reason for DPD to have declined our request that this building be given preliminary landmark status. This is the Central Area, a area that should deserve more than the usual "aldermanic prerogative" for landmark designations. This is not an outlying neighborhood. This building appears on postcard views of our Skyline. This is a highly visible historic building. Accordingly, this project deserves more scrutiny prior to approval. . . . Why is DPD allowing Alderman Natarus, in his waning days of public office, to aid in the demolition of this building? Why is DPD not doing its job? . . .

It is clear that Alderman Natarus, by blocking landmark designation, is not acting in the best interests of our city. When such a situation arises in the Central Area, it is time for DPD to override the usual aldermanic prerogative. It is time for the Daley Administration to do the right thing.

Again, please work to have this building granted preliminary landmark status until Alderman-elect Reilly can review any potential plans for the building.”

After over three decades in office, Natarus was defeated for re-election in February by newcomer Brendan Reilly, in a campaign in which Natarus's often rubber-stampLakeshore Athletic Club closeness to deep-pocketed developers was a key and possibly deciding issue.

The Lakeshore Athletic Club is on Landmarks Illinois' 2007 Ten Most Endangered list, from which we've cribbed the three photos adorning this article. You can see the their information on the building here. Preservation Chicago has also put up a detailed account of the Lakeshore Athletic Club and its history here. Last December, Gail Spreen, president of SOAR (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) told Chicago Sun-Times real estate reporter David Roeder that her group was opposed to demolition or any zoning change.

Of course these same three groups, plus the National Trust for Historic Preservation, were also all aligned against the demolition of an official 1920's landmark, Michigan Avenue's Farwell Building, but the Landmarks Commission ignored their testimony in favor of Burton Natarus's shilling for the building's destruction only days after his election defeat. Will history repeat itself? Will the destruction of the Lakeshore Athletic Club be Natarus's parting gift to his ward and the city?



Join a discussion on this story.


© Copyright 2007 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

Uptown the Architecture of Dreams and Waking

Santiago Explains it all For You- Santiago Calatrava and the Chicago Spire

Richard Nickel's Chicago

James Turrell's Skyspace at UIC

Planning and Its Disconnects in the city of Chicago