Chicago Motor Club Building
[Chicago Motor Club Building (1928) Holabird & Root, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
In 1896 the Chicago Times-Herald were the sponsors of an automobile race in the city that ran from downtown Chicago to Waukegan and back. The 92 mile course was the very first time a race between horseless carriages had been held in the United States, and was promoted by the Times-Herald as a way to drum-up public interest in an industry that catered primarily to the wealthy - and adventurous risk takers.
[Chicago Motor Club Building, 68 E. Wacker Place, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Then in 1901 Chicago hosted its first Auto Show - held in the old Coliseum building at 15th and Wabash - which after opening its doors to a free invitation-only event for 20,000 of the city's "wealthiest" citizens was followed by an open-invite to the general public at 50 cents a pop. 1901 was also the year that Charles Hayes a sales rep for the Standard Oil Company, became the first salesman in the state of Illinois to travel across his territory in an automobile. An avid autoist, in 1906 he became one of the organizers of the Chicago Motor Club which was created to bring together auto enthusiasts as well as to promote the use of the automobile as the modern mode of transportation. Why have a horse (think dial-up telephone) when you can have a a car (ie., i-Phone).
[Chicago Motor Club Building, Wacker Place, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
When Charles Hayes took over the presidency of the nascent car club in 1914 membership had climbed to over 10,000 members and the automobile was off and running across the city. The organization had found office space not far from the Coliseum in the vicinity of 16th and Michigan where the city's burgeoning auto industry salesrooms were huddling. By the late 1920s, with membership reaching into the 80,000 range, Hayes decided it was time to move uptown and into downtown Chicago, securing a site just off Michigan Avenue near the recently completed Wacker Drive. He called on architects John A. Holabird and John Root, Jr. - sons of two of the city's pioneering and cityscape-shaping designers - to design a contemporary tower for the club's narrow site. Jazz was hot in 1927, Art Deco was all the rage, and Holabird & Root turned-out a somewhat small but chevron-exploding, jazzily-decorated building.
[Chicago Motor Club Building /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The Motor Club had teamed-up with AAA and the lobby was packed with brochures and maps handed-out by attendants stationed at long, wood-veneered counters. You not only got a map to take with you, but you could also take a moment to look up at the 95 foot long mural of major U.S. roadways painted by Chicago artist John Warner Norton, and for a birds-eye view of the country's expanding network of paved highways. By 1985 most of the Club's members lived in the suburbs, the building was aging and expensive to maintain, so the Motorists left the city and sold their Art Deco gem. The slim-lined tower closed for good in 1996, was nearly demolished, gained historic status, and now sits and waits for a workable and fundable plan to save its precarious plasterwork and deteriorating Deco-ness.
See more of the building at: Motoring Chicago; and another Jazz Age gem from Holabird & Root at: Chicago Daily News Building/Riverside Plaza.