Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cordon Club

Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Avenue
Home of the Cordon Club

In the first decades of the 20th century, the norm was for men and women to have their own separate clubs.  This did not mean, however, that the clubs for the opposite sexes might not have similar purposes.  Such was the case with The Cliff Dwellers and Cordon Clubs.

A well-known fixture in Chicago for more than a century now is The Cliff Dwellers Club.  Founded in 1907 as the Attic Club, and renamed two years later, the goal of the club was to bring together men engaged in and supportive of the fine arts.  John Glessner was a member, as were leading artists, authors, and architects including Louis Sullivan.  For decades the Club occupied quarters on the top floor of Orchestra Hall (now Symphony Center); since 1996 they have been perched atop the office building at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.

Forgotten to many is the fact that the women of Chicago had a similar club that occupied nearby rooms in the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue.  This week marks the 100th anniversary of the opening reception of the Cordon Club, of which Frances Glessner was a member. 

Caroline Kirkland, the long-time society columnist who wrote under the name “Madame X” for the Chicago Tribune (she was a close friend of Frances Glessner) provided a good overview of the opening of the club in her article dated Sunday October 24, 1915.

“The much discussed Cordon, the feminine counterpart of the Cliff Dwellers, is to have its opening reception next Thursday afternoon in its highly artistic rooms on the seventh floor of the Fine Arts building.  It is an interesting and promising undertaking, purporting to be a club for purely social purposes and consisting largely of women with some profession or definite calling in life.

Under this caption Mrs. Hobart Chatfield-Taylor is entered on the lists as a bookbinder, Mrs. Tiffany Blake as an expert landscape gardener, Mrs. Robert McGann as a painter, and Miss Helen Birch as a musical composer.

The membership is limited to 400.  It is full now, with a long waiting list of candidates.  It is about evenly divided between women who “do something” and those who lead merely domestic and social lives.  Perhaps the professional women predominate.

The club aims to provide a pleasant gathering place for the members and their friends where they can meet and have luncheon, dinner, or afternoon tea.  The rooms are decorated in the style of the Italian renaissance, modified by modern ideas of comfort and convenience. 

In choosing this period of art as the background for the club’s social life, its president, Miss Clara E. Laughlin, was governed by the thought that in the time of the Italian renaissance women played a larger, more important part in Italian life than ever before – or ever since, one might safely say.  They exercised a sway in politics and the world of learning which makes this period to the student one of the most interesting in history.

So, as far as possible, the ideas that governed the furnishing of interiors at that time are carried out in the rooms of the Cordon.  They have a fine copy of a cinque cento fireplace; also an excellent production of a medieval Italian doorway is one of the features of the main club room.  High, somber wainscoting is the background, and the general effect is rich and harmonious.

The name was chosen because the French word “cordon” means many strands woven together.

Writers, musicians, artists, actresses, business women, reformers, and women of wealth and leisure (if there is such a thing as leisure) are on the club roster.  Besides those already mentioned other well known names are the Mesdames Ogden Armour, Arthur Aldis, Chauncey Blair, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, John Carpenter, Jacob Baur, Benjamin Carpenter, Robert Peattie, Joseph T. Bowen, Archibald Freer, John J. Glessner, John M. Clark, Kellogg Fairbank, Cyrus H. McCormick, Horace Martin, William J. Calhoun, Potter Palmer, Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, Ella Flagg Young, and the Misses Grace and Edith Abbott, Edith Wyatt, Louise Burnham, Jane Addams, Mary Bartelme, Anna Morgan, Harriet Monroe, Alice French (Octave Thanet), Mary McDowell, Mabel Talliafero, and Frances Starr.  A shining galaxy!”

The club maintained their quarters in the Fine Arts Building for decades.  An article in the Chicago Tribune dated October 20, 1948 noted that the club rooms had been recently redecorated:

“Coral predominates in the new color scheme, and charcoal gray and mist green have been used for accent.  Old furniture has been transformed with slip covers, and several new pieces have been added, including mirrors, lamps, and tables.”

The Cliff Dwellers Club began admitting women many years ago, and in fact, the club has had a woman president.  So the idea of a separate club just for women seems a bit foreign to many of us today.  But in its day, the Cordon Club filled an important niche in the social and artistic life of Chicago.

Note:  The first president of the club, Miss Clara E. Laughlin was a prominent writer, editor, and later a radio personality.  Born in New York City in 1873 she lived most of her life in Chicago, graduating from the Chicago High School in 1890.  She wrote over three dozen books including biographies of Sarah Bernhardt, Ferdinand Foch, and James Whitcomb Riley, as well as her autobiography.  In addition, she wrote extensively for the Ladies Home Journal.  She died in 1941.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Glessner House Museum receives Driehaus Award

On Saturday October 17, 2015, Glessner House Museum was presented with the President’s Award for Stewardship from Landmarks Illinois during the annual Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards.  The award recognized five decades of stewardship for the building since its rescue from demolition in 1966. 

Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald, in presenting award, noted how the museum serves as a model for its work in restoration, preservation, and interpretation.  Accepting the award on behalf of the museum was William Tyre, Executive Director and Curator, whose acceptance speech is presented in full below.

On behalf of the board of directors and the staff of Glessner House Museum, I would like to thank the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Landmarks Illinois for this award and the recognition of the many people who have served as stewards of Glessner House for half a century.

Fifty years ago, Glessner house sat vacant and for sale and there was a very real threat of demolition.  In spite of its national significance and its designation as a Chicago landmark, which at that time was purely honorary, the building could easily have been lost to the wrecker’s ball.

But 1966 was also the year of passage for the National Historic Preservation Act and it was in that year that a small group of individuals came together with a dream not only to preserve the building but also to preserve the architectural legacy of Chicago, which was disappearing at an alarming rate at that time.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Glessner House was truly at the heart of the preservation movement in Chicago and the state.  Within its walls could be found the first offices of Landmarks Illinois, as well as those of the Chicago Chapter AIA, Inland Architect, and the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation which had been formed specifically to save the building.  The concept for the first historic landmark district in the city was born there as well, when the idea of preserving the surrounding Prairie Avenue district was considered.

In time, the function of the building changed and the idea of an accurately furnished historic house museum evolved.  Glessner descendants returned not only furniture and decorative arts, but also an amazing archive of materials to help interpret the house and its broader context within Chicago history.  Chicago’s oldest building, the Clarke House Museum, came under our purview as well. 

During all these years, countless individuals have contributed to the success and vibrancy of the institution.  Dedicated volunteers have done everything from coordinating fundraising events to clearing rubbish out of the house and from organizing our archival collection to stuffing envelopes.  Enthusiastic docents have given thousands of tours as the “public face” of the museum, and numerous individuals and foundations have stepped forward to provide financial support as members and donors. 

Talented craftsmen have lavished attention on every detail of the house.  They often donate their talents because they feel it is a privilege to work on such a significant structure.  The board and staff have shaped the vision for the institution from education and interpretation to programming and restoration. 

It has been my privilege every morning for the past eight years to enter through the front doors of this extraordinary building.  Not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at the architecture, the collection of decorative arts, and the remarkable lives of the Glessner family.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than sharing those treasures with our visitors.  We look forward to sharing them with all of you as we embark upon our next fifty years.  Thank you.

The award, which is based on terra cotta ornament from the Methodist Book Concern building at 12-14 W. Washington St. (Harry Bergen Wheelock, architect, 1899) will soon be placed on display in our visitor’s center for all to enjoy.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Arnold Arboretum

Exactly 125 years ago this week, Frances Glessner noted in her journal a trip to the Arnold Arboretum in the Forest Hills section of Boston, while traveling from her summer estate in New Hampshire back to Chicago.  Of the visit on October 13, 1890, she wrote:

“Yesterday morning (Isaac) Scott called early and took Lettie and me to see the Arnold Arboretum.  We went by train to Forest Hills and walked over the Arboretum.  It was most interesting and delightful.  The roads are all beautifully laid in this suburb with a nice side walk, beautiful winding roads, great trees and green grass.”

Arnold Arboretum was established in 1872 when the executors of the estate of whaling merchant James Arnold donated a portion of his estate to Harvard College for the establishment and support of an arboretum.  Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) was appointed the first director the following year and served for 54 years, creating an institution that became a model for other cities across the United States and the world.  

Sargent was responsible for the 1,000 year lease whereby Harvard retained ownership of the land, but the arboretum became part of the Boston park system known as the “Emerald Necklace,” a seven-mile-long network of parks and parkways laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted between 1878 and 1892.  The design of the arboretum itself was a result of Sargent working closely with Olmsted, who laid out the general plan of paths and roads, and the groupings of plants. 

The arboretum covers 281 acres and includes nearly 15,000 accessioned plants, as well as an herbarium collection of more than 1.3 million specimens and an important research library containing in excess of 40,000 volumes.   Two years after Frances Glessner’s visit, the administration building was designed by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Jr. of the firm of Longfellow, Alden and Harlow.  Longfellow was working in the office of H. H. Richardson at the time the Glessner house was designed, and was later a guest of the Glessners in their Prairie Avenue home. 

Forest Hills is a part of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, noted for its hilly terrain and wooded areas.  The area south of Walk Hill Street in particular is characterized by curving tree-lined streets laid out in irregular patterns, the result of the gradual transformation of the area from country estates to a “streetcar suburb.”  Forest Hills is surrounded by the three final “links” of the Emerald Necklace – Arnold Arboretum, Arborway, and Franklin Park.  In addition, it is home to the sprawling 275 acre Forest Hills Cemetery, considered one of the finest 19th century rural cemeteries in the country. 

A section of Forest Hills, known as the Woodbourne Historic District, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and features a plan laid out in part by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who would have been attending Harvard as a classmate of George Glessner at the time Frances Glessner visited the area in 1890. 

For more information on the arboretum, visit  

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra 125th Anniversary Season

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1926

Over the weekend of September 18-19, 2015, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched its 125th anniversary season.  John and Frances Glessner were deeply involved with the orchestra from the time of its inception in 1891, raised considerable funds for the erection of Orchestra Hall in 1904, and were generous supporters throughout their lifetimes.  Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock, the first two music directors who led the symphony for more than 50 years, were intimate friends.

John J. Glessner

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a proclamation in August 2015 honoring the symphony for its 125th anniversary.  Appropriately, the proclamation acknowledged the significant support provided by John Glessner in the first decades of the symphony’s history.  In honor of the CSO 125th anniversary season, we reprint the proclamation in its entirety below.




WHEREAS the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs its annual free Concert for Chicago in Millennium Park this year on Friday, September 18, 2015, and the Symphony Ball gala at Symphony Center on Saturday, September 19, 2015, as it launches its 125th Anniversary season; and

WHEREAS the first meeting for the incorporation of The Orchestral Association was held at the Chicago Club on December 17, 1890, during which a board of five trustees was elected to serve and a group of fifty-one businessmen, including Chicago pioneers Armour, Field, Glessner, McCormick, Potter, Pullman, Ryerson, Sprague and Wacker volunteered to serve as guarantors, each pledging their continued financial support; and

Theodore Thomas, Music Director, 1891-1905

WHEREAS Theodore Thomas, then the most popular conductor in America, was engaged as the Orchestra’s first music director and led the Chicago Orchestra’s first concerts at the Auditorium Theatre on October 16 and 17, 1891, conducting music of Wagner, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák; and

Fundraising brochure for the new Orchestra Hall, 1903

WHEREAS Orchestra Hall, designed by CSO trustee and Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham and completed in 1904 at a cost of $750,000, saw its dedicatory concert, led by Thomas, on December 14 of that year; and

Frederick Stock, Music Director, 1905-1942
Photo inscribed "To my best friends,
Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Glessner"

WHEREAS the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a long-standing international cultural ambassador for Chicago and the United States of America having completed 58 international tours, performing in 29 countries on five continents, and

WHEREAS in 2011 the CSO and the Chicago Symphony Chorus’s recording of Verdi’s Requiem led by Maestro Muti won two Grammy awards, and, to date, recordings by the CSO have earned a total of 62 Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and

WHEREAS the Chicago Symphony Orchestral Association has been an active collaborator with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events in the development and execution of a Cultural Plan for Chicago, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, Yo-Yo Ma, and the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute continually work to share live classical music with all;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, do hereby proclaim September 18-19, 2015 to be CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA 125TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON OPENING WEEKEND CELEBRATION and encourage all Chicagoans to participate.

Dated this 3rd day of August, 2015.

Rahm Emanuel

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...