Cousin Jim—The Casino Club’s 1916 moving picture production.
Life Span: 1915-1928,
Location: 167 East Delaware Place: 195 East Delaware Place
Architect: Ernest Walker, Harold Howard, and Mrs. John Carpenter
Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1913
Rumor to the contrary notwithstanding, the proposed social club, formerly y-clept “The Blue Bird,” is not dead. It is a little slower in hatching than was expected, and when it finally is hatched it will not be a blue bird, but quite a different creature. It will be known as the Casino, which gives it a somewhat foreign and joyous flavor, suggesting as it does gay European resorts, by seashore and in mountainous regions. This supplanter of the blue bird is to be a much more ambitious undertaking, with a larger scope than the original scheme compassed.
No announcement of its plans has yet been made, but between you and me I think it will include a more active program than mere dancing. There is a demand for a place on the north side where there can be a skating rink, artificial ice for the main part of the year, and a surface for roller skating for the other months. Also a gymnasium, where fencing, boxing and other polite arts, offensive and defensive, can be acquired.
It would pay some enterprising individual or company to put up a building east of Lincoln parkway that would give house room to such a club and also provide quarters for other clubs, like the Friday club, the Scribblers, and other organizations. Also a place where informal dances could be given. Such a building would have to be the latest work in architecture and decoration, exceedingly chic to the last detail, and quite expensive to every one who used it. Were there any possibility of the talked of Ritz hotel being built on the proposed site—Lincoln parkway, Walton place, and Oak street—such a casino would not be necessary. But this hotel scheme is pushed into the remote future by tight money pressure of the moment, and in my mind’s eye I see that casino, Georgian, rococo, or Louis seize in design, blossoming amid arid wastes of that dreary district north of Chicago avenue and east of Lincoln parkway. There bluebirds or blue stockings could perch, each sure of shelter. There is money in it, too, if rightly run.
Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1914
The new Casino clubhouse is to be in Chestnut street east of Lincoln parkway. Paving brick—warm in color—and gray stone trimmings will make the exterior. The interior will include dressing rooms, card rooms, kitchen and service rooms, and a large dance hall, 80×40 feet, which will give the same floor space as the Blackstone ballroom. As is done in similar salles des danses in France, seats will round three sides of the hall, with tables in front for serving tea, so that those seated will have a full view of the dancers. A space at the eats end will be left to be turned into a stage for the amateur theatricals. A terrace along the west facade will overlook the winter skating rink and summer tennis courts.
Among those interested in founding and starting the club are Mrs. Joseph Coleman, Mrs. John Carpenter, Miss Lucy Blair, Miss Helen Cudahy, Robert McGann, Harold Howard, Eames MacVeigh, and Arthur Aldis.
Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1914
Chestnut Street, East of Lincoln Parkway.
The building was moved to Delaware Street in 1928 and the Casino Club still exists today.
Chicago Tribune, September 20, 1914
The Casino club, after having overcome still more difficulties, is now taking form and shape in East Delaware place. It is to be of tile construction, instead of brick, as originally planned, and is to have a plaster, or stucco exterior. The architect, Ernest Walker, Harold Howard, and Mrs. John Carpenter have been for weeks working hard to keep the cost of the building within the original limits. This has caused a delay of several weeks in beginning the construction. In spite of this completion of the club is promised for November, but that may mean the 31st of November—and it isn’t the committee’s fault if there is no 31st of November and if it eill be December before the club opens.
The interior decorations are to be strictly of the directoire period, that era intervened between the restrained rococo of Louis XVI, and classicism of the empire. Just what its chief features are, I don’t know. Do you? If not we must wait and see. But in a winter that promises no large, general, formal gayeties this club is biund to be an important and popular gathering place for the younger north side set.
Chicago Tribune, December 2, 1914
Look closely. Can you find your name in the adjacent list? Do you or any member of your family belong to the Casino club? The Casino is the latest and most exclusive of all Chicago clubs.
Moreover, it is the only social organization reflecting the modern spirit. Its membership includes both men and women—on a Dutch treat basis of finances.
There are 400 on the list. Perhaps this signifies nothing, but some years ago the late Ward McAllister of New York made the number socially famous. He selected 400 members for New York’s society. Since then Society—capitalized—has known no other name more expressive than “The 400.”
Is the Casino club Chicago’s newest 400?
Should this be the case, the late civil war will have nothing upon the Casino membership in the matter of dividing good and tried and true families. This all comes about because a number of the men of these same families refuse to become interested in tea and luncheons and dancing even to be admitted to a club to which their respective wives belong.
Some Who Don’t Belong.
For instance, it cannot be supposed for a minute that a courteous William R. Odell is not of the 400 and his handsome wife is, just because Mrs. Odell is to be found in the list below and Mr. Odell is not. And there is Cyrus Adams Jr, and “Sam” Chase, and James Hutchins Jr., and “Billie” Hibbard, and George Higginson, and Judge Lockwood Honore, and William R. Linn, and R. Hall McCormick, and several other men whom Chicago always considered among its very best who cannot be found in this select company. Shades of the immortals! Chicago have its time honored traditions annihilated just to found a Casino club!
It is explained by a fair member of the governing board, however, that the shades need not tremble. The omission of these names means merely that this company of men do not indulge in the things of after noon entertainment for which the club stands. But it means also that never can they be admitted to the club rooms—unless a special and big event is being given—for no one not a member can enjoy the privileges of the clubhouse. This is an ironclad rule.
Center of Social Life.
The club, after some effort at getting located and established at 167 East Delaware place, is to be opened on the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 12, at 4 o’clock. After that much of the social life of Chicago will revolve about it. Its chief object is nto promote the gayety and happiness of its members.
Originally, with this thought in mind, it was to have been called the “Bluebird,” or perhaps “At the Sign of the Bluebird,” since the blue bird signifies the pursuit of happiness, but the name was changed to the Casino early in the plans for organization.
Mrs. Joseph G. Coleman is the president, Mrs. Howard Linn the vice president, Robert G. McGann the secretary, and Robert H. McCormick the treasurer. The governors are Arthur Aldis, Mrs. John Alden Carpenter, Miss Helen Cudahy, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, John T. McCutcheon, Howard F. Gillette, Harold A. Howard, Frank Hibbard, Eames MacVeagh, and Honoré Palmer.
Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1914
When the Casino club opened formally yesterday afternoon, spick and span in its fresh dress, not many of the members had done for the whole of them.
There were Mr. and Mrs. Honoré Palmer, Mrs. John Alden Carpenter, and Miss Catherine Dudley, and Harold Howard, who had put on their working clothes earky in the morning, after having spent many days getting the club built, and had gone over to the clubhouse to get things in readiness for the great moment. There was much to be done. The casual visitor might have placed the opening a week hence rather than a few hours. The men had unpacked boxes and unwrapped furniture, while the women, good old fashioned dust cloths in hand, had made the chairs and tables shiny.
Now Comes the Scrubbing.
Nor was this all, for the afternoon found the same group still pegging away at the finishing touches—as l;ate as 3:30 o’clock with the first guest expected at 4.
It was 8:30 o’clock, in fact, when Harold Howard turned to the few who had been admitted to the big general room and called:
- Every one out of this room while the floor is scrubbed.
Every one filed out into the reseption room only to be met by another masculine voice which said:
- Every one out of here while the floor is scrubbed.
Mrs. John Alden Carpenter came through bearing a big vase of flowers.
“While they are scrubbing this floor we’ll go in there,” she announced.
“Can’t,” answered Honoré Palmer; “we’ve just been driven out of there, too. No place to go while the floors get washed for the party.”
But there still remained the three smaller rooms which flank the reception hall, and into these the company scattered.
No Guests to Be Admitted.
The public has heard a great deal about the Casino club, but from this tome forth it will be not be told so much, for no guests are ever to be admitted, according to present plans. Exteriorially the club is said the resemble Anna Gould’s French “pretty palace” except for the fact that the latter is in pink marble. Some day, perhaps, the walls of the Casino also are to be pink tinted—at least so rumor says. At present the sidewalk leading up to it is of pink, but perhaps that has no bearing on the color of the Casino.
Within the club is not large. It has been founded so that the society folks caring for informal afternoon tea, cards, dancing, and kindred pleasant pastimes may have the opportunity to gather for indulgence in one way or all of these things.
Chicago Tribune, February 13, 1927
Upper Michigan avenue shortly os to be the scene of a new building development, the cost of which will run into millions of dollars, it was predicted with the sale of an entire block of frontage in Michigan avenue, between Delaware place and Chestnut street—for a sum that is understood to be well over $3,000,000. As an incident to the transaction the historic Casino club is to be demolished and its activities resumed in a home to be found later.
The seller was the Palmer estate and the buyers were two groups of New York and Chicago capitalists. The New York group is headed by Douglas L. WElliman, a large real estate operator in upper Fifth avenue who is engaged in major enterprises in London and Paris. Mr. Elliman has associated with him Eliot Cross, New York architect, Herbert Burnham, the architect of D.H. Burnham & Co., heads the Chicago group.
Site of Casino Club.
The property sold is across the street from the Fourth Presbyterian church and has been the site for years of the fashionable Casino club. It contains 56,000 square feet of ground.
Plans for the development are now being drawn. It is stated that the land will be divided into four or five pieces on which individual buildings will be erected for tenants of national prominence, mostly from New York.
At the same time announcement is made that upon the property bounded by Michigan avenue, Walton place, Delaware place and Senaca street, a five story building will be constructed for shops. These will front on Michigan avenue.
Other Buildings to Go Up.
At the southwest corner of Walton place and Seneca street there will be an eighteen story hotel which will be operated on the lines of the Ritz in New York. In the center of the block will be a twenty-four story cooperative apartment building and at the northwest corner of Delaware and Seneca an eighteen story building to contain two, three, four and five room apartments.
Yesterday’s sale spells the doom of the present Casino club. Several new clubhouses have been suggested, but it is declared likely that the club may move into the apartment building which Jarvis Hunt is to build at the northwest corner of Pearson street and the Outer drive. This is across the street from the Lake Shore Athletic club.
The deal just closed constitutes the fifth major sale of Palmer estate property along Michigan avenue. The first was the Drake hotel site; the second was the southwest corner of the drive and Oak street to Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick; the third was the northwest corner of Delaware and Michigan; and the fourth was to the Ahlschlager syndicate.
Most of Estate Now Sold.
The Palmer estate originally owned 324,000 square feet of Michigan avenue property. It has sold 273,000 square feer and now owns 51,000 in the block bounded by Michigan, Pearson and Chestnut. This property, which is improved, will not be sold, it was said, although it is reported that offers as high as $100 a square foot have been made.
The first (top) and second (bottom) Casino Clubs.
Blue Arrow: Original site at Delaware and Lincoln Parkway (Pine Street was named Lincoln Parkway between Ohio and Bellevue streets before the Michigan Avenue Bridge was completed)
Black Arrow: Current site at Delaware and St. Clair Streets after the Club was relocated in 1928
Ross & Browne Real Estate Map
Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1966
Casino club sits securely at 195 E. Delaware place beside the rumble of construction for the 100-story Hancock building.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1993
By Michael Kilian.
There are those who think Society is dead, but they are fools. In Chicago, at least, there will always be Society, becausw, don’t you know, there will always be The Casino club.
If you don’t think so, just ask that nice little insurance company that built the John Hancock Center next door to the Casino (but more about that later).
Chicago is a city full of clubs. It could scarcely function without them.
The most powerful club in town—its membership list fairly creaking with weighties and mighties—is of course The Chicago Club, which a century ago was able to get the federal government to rush out and put up Ft. Sheridan just so there would be troops on hand to put down labor riots and other untoward disturbances.
But, since it was established in 1914, the most absolutely, utterly excruciatingly exclusive club in Chicago has been the Casino, and I can think of nothing short of a major earthquake to render it otherwise.
Even then, it would be the most expensive rubble in the city.
For those of you who have not crossed the Casino’s decorous if not terribly decorative threshold, the Casino occupies what amounts to a one-story little black and green building at 195 E. Delaware Pl. among the towering high rises of Streeterville just off North Michigan Avenue.
It is unmarked and, passing by it, you might think it maybe a pricey funeral home or the pied-à-terre of some sort wealthy, eccentric and extremely private person.
Its much marbled, pastel-colored, classic and great Art Deco interior is perhaps the loveliest and certainly most tasteful space in town—and I don’t think has been more than dusted since 1928. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney woukld have loved it—though the club members probably would not have loved her bohemian ways.
There’s a dining room, a lounge, a ballroom and not much else. Once, when I was addressing a luncheon gathering there, I remarked how much the pillared ballroom reminded me of a Parisian bal musette (or music hall). The members were not amused.
Mo craps, no blackjack.
It is not, as it name couldn suggest, some racy gambling den (unless you consider teatime bridge as racy, and I think some Casino members who actually do), full of rakehells, mountebanks or fallen ladies. Like the tennis Casino in Newport, R.I., it draws its name not from Monte Carlo but from the prncipal definition of the word “casino”: A building or room used for social amusements.
The social amusements at the Casino run to lunching, dining, napping (sometimes while lunching and dining), gossiping and the occasional dancing. Mostly, they run to what F. Scott Fitzgerald described in “The Great Gasby” as “the rich being rich together.”
Not simply “the rich,” but “Society”—and Society includes many who, though belonging to the Truly Elite, are quite poor. One woman I know of, conned out of her fortune by a rascally husband, was taken regularly to lunch at the Casino and other places by friends who knew it was the only way the poor thing.would get anything to eat. Happily, the scoundrel died before he could divorce her and remarry (as was presumed to be his plan), and she got all her money back.
But the Casino is more than a high-toned soup kitchen for the temporary strapped. As one very social lady of my acquaintance put it:
- The Casino was founded by the elite for the elite, and they’re still using it.
The invasion of the socialite.
I am as hard put to define “Society” as the estimable Cleveland Amory was in his landmark book, “Who Killed Society?” The book was published in 1960, and, despite that hyperbolic title, Society is of course still very much alive and kicking—not to speak of tea dancing and harrumphing.
But people have always been trying to kill it, and what’s killing it most nowadays seems to be the “solicalite.”
As you might gather from reading all the social life magazines that now abound in the area (I think there’s even one dealing with doings in Glenview, which I never realized had doings), the term “Chicago socialite” is tossed around so loosely you’d think the title was available for purchase at Wal-Mart or bus station vending machines.
Seemingly anyone with the price of rental evening wear, an invite to a charity dinner and a news photographer pal or two can get himself or herself labeled “socialite” in the public print. If Chicago had as many street cleaners as it does socialites, it would be a much tidier place.
But despite their relentless attempts to blur the distinction, there is a difference between socialites and Society. For the best measure of which is which, you need only pick up a slim little yellow book that says:
- The Casino, Members and By-Laws.
The name of the game.
I shan’t list all 200 plus current members’ names, nut they include Adams, Armour, Baldwin, Bartholomay, Bensinger, Butler (no, not the Oak Brook Butlers), Chaffetz deFrise, Donnelley, Fentress, Gidwitz (the beautiful Christina), Graham, Harvey, Jahn (Helmut the architect), Kroch, McCormick, Nielsen, Oldberg, Olmstead, Paepcke, Potter Palmer, (the Lord Peter) Palumbo, Paschen, Prince, Ryan, Ryerson, Smith, Sudler, Terra, Voysey, Smith, Sudler, Terra, Voysey, Wilkin (Abra, don’t you know), Wirtz and Wood.
Occasionally (the frequency, say, of visits by Haley’s comet) the Casino had accepted actual politicians as members, though in one case, the fellow was accepted before anyone realized he was a politician.
“By the time we found out,” one lady member told me, “it was too late tho start the blackball!”
How does one become a member? The bylaws do not say. If they did, I think they would say something like:
- No person may join the Club who is not already a member.
Though the Casin does have a small quota of non-resident members, I—now a Virginian—am not one of them. I do from time to time visit as a guest, but am careful to count the times. The bylaws state:
- A Non-Member of THE CASINO may accept an invitation to the Club only once a month and must be accompanied at all times by a Member. A Non-Member may be invited to attend a party in the Club of 25 persons or more, irrespective of having used the privilege for that month.
Alas, the standard for admission to the club is much higher for non-members than for those people merely allowed to rent the club for parties. Consider the hired hall luncheon being thrown this month for non-member Sugar Rautbord for non-member and visiting author Dominick Dunne.
In the beginning
The initial raison d’etre of the Casino was to provide an oasis for Lake Foresters who, after a hard day shopping, tea dancing or captaining industry, just couldn’t bear to drive or train all the way back to the North Shore to change into evening finery for nocturnal gavottes in the city.
Unlike my old club, Union League (which has so many amenities, including pool hall, that members need never leave the premises—as has, I think, the Csino has no overnight lodging facilities. But the downstairs (basement) i abundantly supplied with closets, clothes racks, changing rooms, lavatories, showers and the like—though truth to tell, I’ve never seen anyone in them.
Actually, when I first visited the club (eons ago), I believe there was an attendant down there, but when I was at the Casino last February, he was gone. Perhaps he died. If so, I fear that no one may have noticed.
Not even the mighty Hancock.
Origimally, the Casino was in a pink and white (gads) building at 167 E. Delaware Pl., but an unscrupulous real estate developer (imagine, in Chicago!) sold the property out from under the club and in 1928 it was compelled to move to its present site.
You can bet your booties that sort of thing never happened again. In the mid-1960s, the Hancock people decided to put up a major development on the block fronting Michigan between Dekaware Place and Chestnut Street. They needed the entire block because they planned to erect an office tower and a residential one on the space.
But, then as now, a significant section of the block was taken up by the Casino. The Hancock people wrote to longtime club prsident Mrs. John Winterbotham asking to negotiate the purchase of the club property. They weren’t even given the courtesy of a scornful reply. Years later, after Mrs. Winterbotham died, the Hancock’s letter was found buried in a dawer of her desk—so far beneath contempt she didn’t bother answering it.
Deprived of space for two buildings, the Hancock Center project developers were compelled to stick the residential tower on top of the office one, producing what was—for a time—the world’s tallest building.
Falling into place.
The Hancock folks were certainly decent about it all, though—going to the trouble of pumping 44,000 gallons of liquid grout into the soil under the Casino to solidify its base and keep teacups from rattling while their skyscraper was under construction.
Still, a large piece of machinery fell from the Hancock’s girders during the construction, hitting the Casino’s roof, and the area was bombarded by falling hammers, bolts and at least one bucket, though no one was injured.
In the middle of one horrid night, a huge chunk of ice broke off the Hancock and crashed through the Casino’s roof into (gasp) the ballroom! Club employees discovering the damage in the morning were said to be “aghast.”
Most of the time—when chunks of ice aren’t falling through the roof—the place is about the quietest in the city. The acoustics are such that you can overhear even the most decorous lunch conversation—though some aren’t decorous at all. I recall one in which a very grande dame kept booming on about how terrible the food was, how insufferably slow the service, etc., etc., etc.
All the while, waiters kept shuffling about her table paying no attention whatsoever.
The Casino has had more exciting moments. During Prohibition, the place was actually raided by the cops for serving hooch. Indignant club elders chastised young members for “cutting capers” and “serious infractions of the house rules that involve making a porous plaster out of the dry amendment.”
During the with-it, youth cult ’60s, the Casino actually hired a dance band that played, gasp, “pop rock.”
In the days before ethnic diversity, one prominent Jewish society lady who was not a Casino member was so thrilled by a party thrown in her honor that she had prominent mention of it made her prepared obituary. A much beloved current member of the Club reportedly is making plans for a party to be held in her honor after her demise.
Some of the simply loveliest wedding receptions in town are held at the Casino. There are debs parties, too—but only the most select, and sedate.
“The flash ones are sent to the hotels,” one member explained.
Probably the most excitement attendant to the Casino occurs, not on the club premises, but at mailboxes all over the Chicago area, when the invitations are sent out for the Casino’s annual December Ball—held the first Friday of that month and universally considered the most exclusive and most prestigious event on the Chicago social calendar.
Not only is the invitation list a carefully held secret; the membership of the committee that draws up the list is kept secret.
I’m told only 250 are invited to the December Ball dinner, and another 400 are allowed in later to join in the dancing. All others, including the great mob of Chicago “socialites,” can likely be found that night holed up at home with the lights out, lest it be discovered where they aren’t.