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Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club Archives

Identifier: harsh-1997-09

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection includes the CSSSCC and SSCCPAC board and member meeting minutes, financial and fund-raising records, architectural preservation and restoration documents, community programming materials, and CSSSCC/SSCCPAC public relations from the early 1970s through the early 1990s. Some 275 photographs illustrate aspects of the South Shore Cultural Center Park’s metamorphosis from 1970s country club to community showcase twenty years later, including a few views of the famous summer jazz festivals. A number of items document the South Shore neighborhood including surveys, photographs, newspaper clippings, and some materials from local community organizations. Likewise, names and deeds of many South Shore residents and other key organizations who took up the cause are recorded in meeting minutes, publicity, and transcripts of hearings held by the Park District and the South Shore Commission.


  • Creation: 1906-1993


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

Begun in the 1880s, “country clubs” that provided private amenities for the game of golf and other leisure pursuits spread quickly in Chicago’s growing metropolitan area. In 1905 a group of prominent Chicagoans led by Lawrence Heyworth purchased over 64 acres of land along the beach in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago in order to establish a new country club. Organized as a private club, its membership was not extended to Jews or African Americans, although it was first among local clubs to accept Roman Catholic members. The new club quickly acquired members and opened in 1906. Designed by Charles Fox (of Benjamin Marshall and Fox) and landscaped by Thomas Hawkes, the South Shore Country Club (SSCC) offered golf, tennis, horseback riding and racing, and (in 1909) a ballroom, to members and their families.

A newer stucco clubhouse designed in Mediterranean/Italian Revival Style by Marshall and Fox was erected in 1916 and included a library, solarium, conservatory, dining facilities for up to 2,000, the original ballroom and two floors of “hotel” rooms, in addition to formal gardens, pergola, shooting range, tennis courts, horseback riding, swimming, and the all-important 9-hole golf course. Similar in style to clubs in Florida and California, the popular site drew positive reviews from the world of art and architecture. Adding an outdoor pavilion in 1920 with a bandstand and dance floor brought a surge in membership. Notable visitors included the political (William Howard Taft, Chicago Mayors William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson and Richard J. Daley), the artists (Paul Whiteman and Jean Harlow), and nobilities (Queen Marie of Romania, Prince Baudoin of Belgium). When the Club’s mortgage was retired in 1955, the site had served as “playground for Chicago’s rich” for decades and with 2,200 members was Chicago’s largest private golf club. Many of its members lived nearby in the upper-middle-class South Shore area.

As Chicago’s expanding African American community began settling in South Shore, those neighborhood residents began to move away. Yet the South Shore Country Club continued to refuse admittance to Jewish and African American applicants and by the mid-1960s, the Club’s membership had fallen more than 30%. Despite expensive refurbishing in 1967 the Club continued to exclude Jews and African Americans. In 1973 membership had fallen to 731; and the last event, a dance, was held in 1974. Club furnishings were immediately auctioned off. After a few purchase offers, the Club sold the property that year to the Chicago Land Commission, which then sold it to the Chicago Park District for more than $9 million in a bond issue that left some money on the table for restoration of the site.

That site, occupying prime beach land along a lakefront area mostly inaccessible to nonresidents, attracted the attention of citizen preservationists and South Shore residents. In 1974 it achieved a place in the National Registry for Historic Places, but its existence was not yet guaranteed. The Park District had already demolished the casino building and the “birdcage” club and was planning the same fate for the stables and extensive pergola. Organizations and individuals both local and citywide called for a united community effort to protect the property from Park District mismanagement.

As early as 1975, local community groups began to host arts events and classes at the Club, and to direct their attention to the Park District’s plans for the site. Some thirty organizations coalesced first under the leadership of one, the South Shore Center on the Lake, including the Friends of the Parks, the South Shore Commission, the League of Women Voters, Provident Hospital, and many neighborhood clubs. When in 1977 the District proposed to demolish the Club building itself, and replace it with a concrete-block field house, this coalition was ready to protest, adopting the name Coalition to Save the South Side Country Club (CSSSCC). Media reported that Chicago Park District Superintendent Ed Kelly had scoffed, “Oh, they don’t need that [fancy building] down there,” denigrating the cultural heft of South Shore residents. But the protesters replied that the Club should be “a palace for the people” and filed a petition with the Chicago Plan Commission to prevent demolition. This culminated in a hearing at the Club itself that brought out huge crowds and vociferous protest. Even Chicago City Council members weighed in against demolition plans.

Park District President Patrick L. O’Malley reversed the Park District’s trajectory, quickly withdrew its demolition plan, and pledged to work closely with community organizations to prepare plans and raise funds for the restoration of the entire park area. The Chicago Plan Commission directed that the Park District, the Coalition, and the Plan Commission share responsibility for this. Strengthened by success, the Coalition incorporated in 1978. However, disagreements over goals and strategy alienated the South Shore Center on the Lake and other groups and weakened the Coalition in the long term.

In 1979 the Park District appointed the firm of Norman deHaan to design and implement architectural changes to restore the club building in cooperation with the Coalition. The 1983 election of Harold Washington as Chicago mayor provided significant impetus to the actual restoration work, and $10 million was spent in the effort. 1983 also saw the signing of a federal court consent decree in which the Park District agreed to provide its services and facilities throughout the city of Chicago in an equitable manner regardless of residents’ race or income. In 1985 the restored clubhouse was rededicated and opened to the public at a celebratory gala attended by Mayor Washington and a host of notables, and substantial arts programming commenced in the hopes that the site would be known as a cultural center instead of a country club. The Washington administration supported the Coalition in the renaming of the site, and in 1986 the relationship between the Chicago Park District and the community was officially cemented with the forming of the South Shore Cultural Center Park Advisory Council (SSCCPAC), following Park District policy with respect to community groups and also formally adopting the name of the park favored by the community itself. The Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club disbanded, and many of its members joined the Advisory Council membership and board throughout the following decades.

The South Shore Cultural Center Park Advisory Council was charged with the planning, operating, promoting, and fundraising of both the Cultural Center restoration and also of a full program of arts activities, classes, and events. The Council’s mission also included supporting the community’s wishes in the face of Park District opposition. To these ends the Council and the Park District struggled to work together, starting with a massive survey by Council members of the Park facilities’ repair requirements. Major Advisory Council successes included the annual jazz festivals; classes and camps; music, dance, theater, and visual arts events; the array of golfing, swimming at the beach, and various sports. The slow restoration of the club building and grounds continued, but Council members were often disheartened by the many remaining signs of neglect. The Advisory Council and the South Shore community were long thwarted in their efforts to eliminate a food catering contract the District had awarded which almost entirely prevented community groups from using the Club building during much of the time. However, the Cultural Center had become a popular venue for weddings and other celebrations. The 1980s ended with the construction of a fine new pergola and the completion of deHaan’s original 1979 design for restoring the clubhouse.

The 1990s saw more progress as Advisory Council and Park District still struggled over funding and direction. But on October 13, 1992 the Cultural Center hosted the wedding reception of America’s future first couple, Michelle and Barack Obama. In 1997 the ballroom was recreated as the Paul Robeson Theatre, providing a much more appropriate dramatic venue. The 9-hole golf course was redone, followed by Junior Golf in 2001. The Park District commissioned more proposals to remedy the lack of disabled access to the facility and the dearth of development on the third and fourth floors of the main building; but little action on these issues occurred until after 2000. Most important, the Chicago Landmarks Commission awarded its prized designation upon the South Shore Cultural Center Park in 2004, thereby protecting the Cultural Center and its public façade from destruction. The nature center was opened where the skeet shooting range once stood; and the Washburn Culinary Institute installed its Parrot Cage Restaurant in 2005. The South Shore Country Club’s 100-year anniversary in 2006 brought a $2 million Chicago Park District commitment for the renovation of the main building’s upper floors followed by a 2012 Progress Illinois grant of $2500. As the City of Chicago vied for the 2016 Olympics, interest in and support of the South Shore Cultural Center increased with an eye toward its use during the Games, then quickly vanished. However, the debut of the accomplished South Shore Opera inspired new partners who joined in the South Shore Cultural Center’s artistic mission.

First as a quiet 19th-century beach, then as an exclusive shoreline enclave, and currently as a park that does resemble a “palace for the people,” the South Shore Cultural Center continues to provide cultural, as well as natural, spaces and activities open to all. The Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club played a critical part in that outcome. As Chicago Park District Archivist Julia Sniderman Bachrach pointed out, we can “actually point to this as the beginning of the preservation movement in Chicago’s parks,” an important accomplishment indeed.


18.5 Linear Feet (18.5 linear feet in 25 boxes)

Language of Materials



South Shore Country Club, originally a private club that barred African Americans, was scheduled for demolition in 1977. A grassroots coalition of community organizations organized to save, preserve and restore the historic site for all citizens. This collection contains blueprints and drawings of the renovation of South Shore Country Club, administrative records, statistical reports, newspaper clippings, photographs and memorabilia.


The collection is arranged into six series

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Deed of gift from Sarah “Sally” Martini, December 13, 1997

Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club (CSSSCC) Archives
Jeanie Child, supervised by Beverly A. Cook, Librarian III
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Repository

Woodson Regional Library
Chicago Public Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago IL 60628 United States
(312) 745-2080