25 July, 2011

Lunch at the Casino

The Casino club today.

When Chicago's elegant Casino club opened on December 12th of 1914, it was reported: "There were present eleven Blairs, eleven McCormicks, seven Cudahys, six Armours, five Carpenters, five Palmers..." One McCormick missing from this event was Edith Rockefeller McCormick, as she had left the United States on April 1st, 1913 for her eight year sojourn in Europe. When she would return in the fall of 1921, the Casino would already have had a short history of it's own.

Three unidentifed women in front of the first Casino, 1925.

The idea for a dining and dancing club originated with Lucy McCormick Blair, but it would be Mrs. Joseph Coleman and most specifically Rue Winterbotham (Mrs. John A. Carpenter) who would make it a reality. The first club would open at 167 East Delaware on land leased from the Palmer family. Architects Arthur Heun and Ernest Walker were engaged to create the pale pink stucco structure with Spanish Italianate influences, with Rue Winterbotham supervising the interior design.

The second Casino club in the 1928.

Twelve years later the lease would be lost as the Palmers would sell the land on which it was located. The Casino would move to it's current address at 195 East Delaware, and with this go-round the architect would be Walter Frazier. He would design the current building, a low black-green structure that would have a distinctive look (even modern) that would eventually have to share the block with it's now infamous neighbor to the west; the John Hancock Center. In a fitting sendoff, during the summer of 1928 - shortly before the new Casino was to open - the pink version would burn.

Edith would enjoy both manifestations of the Casino. With Edwin Krenn at her side (or not) she would frequently be seen having luncheon or afternoon tea there. She was of course a part of the then limited membership of some 400 families and individuals who experienced Rue Winterbotham's Empire decor of slate-black walls, various greens, terra cottas and gold offset by satin sofas and raspberry-red window treatments. I imagine that what we take today for classic was to Edith terribly modern at the time.

William Douglas and Mrs. A. Watson Armour III at a "400" Party at the Casino Club in Chicago, December 10, 1948.

Whatever your taste, the Casino has stood the test of time. It has been the site of innumerable entertainments held in private dining rooms and in the ballroom; special occasions such as wedding receptions and debuts, and of course the day-to-day lunching and dining with family and friends. Most considered the club a second home, and in line with that the best food and chefs would be imported from around the world.

The Casino ballroom today.

Special Note: With regard to the neighboring John Hancock Center, please take note of the word Center. In the mid 1960's the original plans called for two towers to be built. The second tower would have been East of the first, on the land at 195 East Delaware Place occupied by the Casino Club. Doris Winterbotham was now the President of the club, and when the the developers sent a letter about the second tower to her she simply dropped it into her desk drawer and ignored it. The developers didn't dare question or even try to persuade her, and so the development went forward with only one tower. The letter would be found years later in Winterbotham's papers after she died.

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