Steuben Club

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The Steuben Club

188 W. Randolph Street

Chicago, IL

(Now known as the Randolph Tower Building)

Built: 1929

Architect: Karl M. Vitzthum & Co.

1 With its visually dramatic tower, the Steuben Club Building is one of Chicago’s finest 1920s-era skyscrapers, built during the decade when the city’s distinctive skyline took much of its present-day profile. Built as a multi-purpose building housing a private club and rental offices, the Steuben Club Building is a fine example of a terra cotta–clad building designed in the Gothic Revival style, with its pointed arches, tracery, buttresses and finials.

Designed by the noteworthy Chicago firm of Karl M. Vitzthum & Co., the Steuben Club Building reflects the importance of the city’s pioneering 1923 zoning ordinance, which mandated that skyscrapers above a certain height have setbacks from the lot line.

This 45-story building exhibits Vitzthum’s dexterity with the verticality of skyscraper form, and the Steuben Club Building is a prominent visual landmark in the Loop skyline. Vitzthum is significant in Chicago architecture as the designer of the One North LaSalle Building (a designated Chicago Landmark) and the Home Bank and Trust Company Building (proposed Chicago Landmark).

The Steuben Club of Chicago and its Building

In 1928, the 2,500-member Steuben Club of Chicago began the planning of its imposing new club building, with an opulent dining room, club rooms, and recreation facilities, including a swimming pool. The Steuben Club Building in Chicago was the most prominent clubhouse of this national organization.

After all the negative, anti-German propaganda of World War I, German-Americans wanted to put forth a positive image of themselves and their culture. A massive immigration between 1820 and 1930 made 5.6 million Germans residents of the United States. This had a great effect on Chicago’s ethnic make-up, with nearly a quarter of the city’s population being either first or second generation immigrants.

These German-Americans stayed connected through a large network of social events and clubs. The club was led by many important German-American businessmen of the day, who chose a prominent site in the downtown district. Two of these men were Franz Sigel, a political refugee and editor of the New York Monthly, a German paper; and George Schneider, editor and publisher of the Staats Zeitung and president of the First National Bank.

The Steuben Club Building was designed to house retail space and professional offices on its first twenty-one stories and the Steuben Club itself, which had signed a twenty-five year lease on the top floors. The building cost $3,500,000 to build, with the Steuben Club serving as mortgage co-grantor for the 188 Randolph Building Corporation, which was the building’s owner of record.

Construction of a club house to serve as a center for social activities and cultural pursuits. It was hoped that the Steuben Club model would be projected to other cities, forming a national institution of clubs with reciprocal privileges. This may well have happened had it not been for the stock market crash and subsequent economic depression.

Building Description

The Steuben Club Building is located at the northeast corner of West Randolph Street and North Wells Street in the northwest section of Chicago’s Loop, just south of the Chicago River. The building extends approximately 80 feet along Randolph Street and 181 feet along Wells Street. The forty-five story skyscraper has a twenty-seven story base, topped with its slender, eighteen-story polygonal tower that terminates 463 feet in the air.

The Steuben Club Building is one of Chicago’s most visually distinctive 1920s-era skyscrapers. It is clad primarily in buffcolored terra cotta, with white terra cotta on the upper section of the tower to make the top more light-reflective. A profusion of Gothic Revival-style ornament covers the building. Multi-story pointed arches are the major decorative visual elements and form a simple, yet stately, visual pattern on the building. Dramaticlooking, buttress-like finials mark building corners on the twenty-third floor, each bay of the building’s balustrade, and the corners of the twenty-seventh floor.

The tower of the Steuben Club Building, which begins at the 28th floor, has a series of setbacks that give it its prominent “telescopic” set-back appearance. At the fortieth-floor setback, two-story-tall flying buttresses demarcate the building’s status as a new urban cathedral. More prominent decorative terra cotta is located at each of the setbacks, leading the eye to the twelve-sided building “cap.”

The Steuben Club Building’s combination of multiple uses (including, in this case, club, retail and office space) followed a long-time practice for downtown Chicago buildings. Prominent early examples of such multi-use buildings include Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium Building, with its hotel, office space, and grand theater, as well as the Masonic Temple Building at State and Randolph (demolished), with both office space and club rooms.

The economically practical combination of spaces lessened the financial risk of building incurred by single-purpose buildings on expensive land in Chicago’s Loop. Development in this urban environment had become viciously competitive, and escalating real estate prices made any property investment a substantial one.

The Steuben Club Building’s prominent downtown location made it an excellent candidate to combine club space with retail and office space. Since club members were given first preference on renting space, the building’s offices were initially filled largely with club members. Due to the building’s prominent location, this advantage furthered the Steuben Club’s mission of making German-American businesses fit in to the bustling, economically thriving Chicago Loop.

In the years following the stock market crash of 1929, the Steuben Club Building suffered the same lack of tenancy as all the skyscrapers in Chicago’s Loop. In the 1950s, long after the Steuben Club itself had ceased to occupy the building, the building was partially remodeled, and the first-floor exterior and lobby were simplified in the more stripped-down modern style of the day. The building’s upper floors remained largely in use as offices, but the fitness facilities and swimming pool created for the Steuben Club remained in use as health club facilities.