Building 51 | Building 51 | c. 1928 medinah athletic club cast bronze building facade exterior grille – walter w. ahlschlager, architect
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c. 1928 medinah athletic club cast bronze building facade exterior grille – walter w. ahlschlager, architect



Chicago Buildings

About This Item

exceptional and historic early 20th century interior ornamental art deco style cast bronze grille removed from the former medinah athletic club in chicago. the pierced grille contains two highly stylized, flowing scrolled floral rosettes divided by a central shield containing starburst and zig-zag motifs. the exquisite detailing is found on both sides of the grille. the panel was originally located on the building’s exterior, above the michigan avenue entrance. the medinah athletic club in chicago was commissioned by the shrine organization and designed by architect walter w. ahlschlager. the cornerstone of the medinah athletic club was laid on november 5, 1928. in a ceremony held that day, a copper box was placed within the cornerstone to commemorate the occasion. filled with records of their organization, photographs of its members, a copy of the chicago tribune announcing the proposal of the building, coins, and other historic data, this time capsule remains sealed within the hotels limestone exterior. the medinah athletic club building was intended to combine elements of many architectural styles. at the eighth floor, its indiana limestone facade was decorated by three large relief carvings in ancient assyrian style. each frieze depicted a different scene in the order of constructing a building, with contribution on the south wall, wisdom represented on the west wall and consecration on the north. according to an article in the chicago tribune from sept 16, 1928 entitled building art inspires panels:the friezes were designed by george unger, in collaboration with walter ahlschlager, and carved by leon hermant. the figures are costumed in the period of the building, which is that of an old fortress in mesopotamia in xerxes time, about 5th century bc. the figures in all three scenes are said to be modeled after the faces of club members at the time of its design. three sumerian warriors were also carved into the facade at the twelfth floor setback, directly above the michigan avenue entrance, and remain visible today. the exotic gold dome, which is moorish in influence, originated as part of a decorative docking port for dirigibles – a notion conceived before the hindenburg disaster in 1937. years later, the building would lose several feet with the dismantling of an ornamental canopy on the small turret north of the dome. this chimney-like structure was originally intended to assist in the docking of these air ships, but it was never put into use. inside the dome, a glass cupola and spiral iron staircase resembling the top of a lighthouse led down to the hotels upper elevator the tower beneath the great dome, the club featured a miniature golf course on the twenty-third floor, complete with water hazards and a wandering brook; also a shooting range, billiards hall, running track, gymnasium, archery range, bowling alley, two story boxing arena, and a junior olympic size swimming pool – all this in addition to the ballrooms, meeting rooms, and 440 guest rooms which were available for the exclusive use of the clubs 3,500 members and their guests. at the time, the pool was one of the highest indoor pools in the world, and its fourteenth floor location was heralded as a grand feat of engineering. today it is commonly referred to as the johnny weismuller pool, after the famous olympic athlete and actor who trained in it. its blue spanish majolica tiles and terra-cotta fountain of neptune on its east wall remain virtually unchanged today. the elegant grand ballroom, a two story, one hundred foot elliptical space, was decorated with ornaments in egyptian, assyrian, and greek styles and was surrounded by a horseshoe shaped mezzanine. in its center hung a 12,000 pound baccarat crystal chandelier, the largest in north america. the somewhat more masculine king arthur court was built to function as the mens smoking lounge, and featured heavy timbering, stained glass, and a mural depicting the stories of king arthur and parsifal..four years after the wall street crash of 1929 the shrine organization filed for bankruptcy protection. in the following year they lost control of the building, and in the decade after, the building went through various incarnations, including a brief stint as residential apartments. the panel was removed during the installation of a new street front canopy. measures 19 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches.