Morning Show Mystery Spot: South Shore Cultural Center

November 9, 2009 With its magnificent country club-like interior, this facility is housed prominently on a 58 acre site that includes grandiose ballrooms, a nine-hole golf course, meeting rooms, lighted tennis courts, a beach, an art gallery, horse stables, the Parrot Cage restaurant, and the Washburn Culinary Institute.

Bought by the Chicago Park District in 1975, this historic building was restored as a historic landmark after a massive community campaign led by the Chicago Park District and historic preservationists.

Today, the South Shore Cultural Center offers many arts and recreational programs, some of which are partnerships with various arts groups (see below). With its opulent beauty, this site is a sought-after venue for weddings, special events, meetings, and recreational activities. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama selected the historic building for their wedding reception more than a decade ago.

The building is currently being renovated and remains open during construction. Visitors can feast their eyes on new carpet, furniture, lamps and paint. The building will soon have new drapes, artwork and floral arrangements. Additionally, the theater will get new paint and hardwood floors, and there will also be an additional gallery space.


The South Shore Cultural Center, a 65-acre park with a golf course, tennis courts, a bathing beach, and an impressive building, originated as the South Shore Country Club. In 1905, Lawrence Heyworth, president of the downtown Chicago Athletic Club, envisioned an exclusive club with a "country setting." Heyworth selected unimproved south lakefront property, often used for fishing and duck hunting, for the new country club.

The club's directors hired architects Marshall and Fox, later known for designing many of Chicago's most luxurious hotel and apartment buildings, including the Drake Hotel. For inspiration, Heyworth provided a photograph of an old private club in Mexico City, but asked the architects to exclude expensive embellishments. As the club could not yet collect dues, work had to proceed quickly and inexpensively. To this end, members Marshall Field and A. Montgomery Ward lent their store delivery wagons to transport turf, sod, and trees. Mr. Worcester, Vice-President of the Peoples Gas Company, put in lighting for the grounds and clubhouse.

Enjoying immediate success and social importance, South Shore Country Club quickly outgrew its facilities. Marshall and Fox were hired to build a new clubhouse, incorporating the original ballroom. Constructed in 1916, the larger and more substantial reinforced concrete building, like the original, was designed in the Mediterranean Revival style. The country club's membership peaked in the late 1950s. Simultaneously, many African-Americans began settling in South Shore. Because the private club excluded black members, it went out of business in the 1970s.

In 1974, the Chicago Park District purchased the property to expand its lakefront facilities. The park district planned to demolish the severely-deteriorated clubhouse. However, community members rallied together to save the historic building. Rehabilitating the clubhouse as a cultural center in the late 1970s, the park district has since restored other historic features including the front colonnade, entry gate and stables.

South Shore Cultural Center
7059 S. South Shore Dr., Chicago

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