Building 51 | Building 51 | late 1920’s original and fully functional darkly patinatedmedinah athletic club interior lobby illuminated cast bronze elevator indicator – walter w. ahlschlager, architect
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late 1920’s original and fully functional darkly patinatedmedinah athletic club interior lobby illuminated cast bronze elevator indicator – walter w. ahlschlager, architect



Chicago Buildings

About This Item

one of the few remaining late 1920’s all original antique american wall-mount ornamental cast bronze multi-faceted elevator indicators or “lanterns” salvaged from the historic medinah athletic club during interior renovations. the three-sided lantern contains six slightly recessed panels adorned with original fanciful beveled edge ruby red and white opalescent glass directional arrows. the elevator indicator cover was originally illuminated from within, using multiple low-watt incandescent light bulbs. this heavily oxidized indicator was left untouched. a few indicators had been removed long ago and were relegated to the basement where we found other artifacts. the exact elevator ornament fabricator is not known. the medinah athletic club in chicago was commissioned by the shriners organization and designed by architect named 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 hotel’s 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. 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 theme of the panels as explained by mr. unger, was inspired by the history of construction of any building. the south panel starts the story. here a magnificent cortege is displayed. this panel, termed contribution, signifies the getting together of treasures for the construction of the building. in the west panel, facing michigan avenue, a ruler is shown with his counselors and an architect is shown bringing in a model of the building planned. the north panel shows the consecration of the building after it has been built. a priest is sacrificing a white bull whose blood will be mixed with crushed grapes and poured into the earth. a monkey trainer and his animals are shown. since the animals represented bigotry in the ancient drawings, they are shown here in leash as symbolic belief that bigotry has no place in the masonic order. 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 hotel’s upper elevator landing. in 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 club’s 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. the rows of seats which remain on its western wall recall the days when swimming was a popular spectator sport. 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, 100-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 men’s 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. in 1944 the building began its life as a hotel, debuting as the continental hotel and town club, where esther williams would swim in the then-famous pool. 2-1/4″ x 4-3/4″ x 7-1/2″.