The CAC staff and our team of more than 450 dedicated docents are always at work creating new ways of seeing the city. But have you ever wondered what inspires a CAC tour? Here’s the story behind our tour of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.
by Nikki Snodgrass, Media Relations Manager
Why Chicago Athletic Association?
In June, 2015, the doors to the new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel were opened to the public, for the first time in the Chicago Athletic Association’s 125-year history as one of the city’s most elite private clubs. The Chicago Athletic Association (CAA) had been closed since 2007, but restoration efforts led by John Pritzker and partners proved to be a valuable investment in historic preservation and adaptive reuse. The project conserved the architectural design and cultural history of the site, while modernizing the interior space to serve the public in a new way. Today, the CAA Hotel beautifully exemplifies what mastering the fine balance of architectural conservation and redesign can do for a historic structure.
A Labor of Love
As excitement built around the planned reopening, hotel officials reached out to CAC with a proposal. Would the Chicago Architecture Center’s acclaimed volunteer docents participate in creating special building tours that visitors could take, both prior to and after the grand reopening? Alongside a number of fellow CAC docents, Jill Tanz and future CAA Hotel tour director Marcia Matavulj stepped forward to develop the official CAC tour.
“Maurice Champagne, a CAC docent since 2004, was our resident expert on landmarks and preservation,” Marcia explained. “Cynthia Roubik of the City of Chicago Historic Preservation Division, Department of Planning and Development, was key to our understanding of federal, state and county participation in the restoration and preservation of the building. And CAC docent Virginia Gerst, with the assistance of CAA historian Ron White, researched and provided the club’s history to docents who now lead the tour.”
Jill and Marcia would also benefit enormously from background provided by Paul Alessandro of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, the firm that executed the CAA’s restoration and conversion. Alessandro provided a walk-through of the hotel, explaining the extensive work that went into the project. Everything Alessandro’s firm did to keep the integrity and legacy of the building intact became a story unto itself.
CAA’s Many Spaces
To visit the CAA Hotel today is to experience the allure of a historic, exclusive Michigan Avenue men’s club transformed into a 21st-century luxury hotel. Old-world craftsmanship restored to its original elegance and the renovated and newly added spaces are all part of what makes this Venetian Gothic building—designed by Henry Ives Cobb and completed in 1893—the exemplary site that it is. Cindy’s, named in honor of John Pritzker’s mother, is a rooftop bar and restaurant terrace that overlooks Millennium Park. Its private dining room is graced by an original Andy Warhol portrait of Cindy. The Game Room, once an event space, is now a sprawling space where guests can play pool, bocce ball, foosball, shuffleboard and more. The Cherry Circle was originally a billiards room before being converted to a gentlemen's lounge, and the Milk Room—originally a cigar room where “milk” could be had during Prohibition—features its original leaded glass doors, light fixtures and tile on the bar, walls and floor.
Of the project, John Pritzker said, “We look forward to achieving our vision of breathing new life into the building and reintroducing the powerful spirit of the Chicago Athletic Association to the next generation of Chicagoans and travelers alike.” To find out how John and his team accomplished just that, join CAC on a tour of this fascinating and extraordinary space.