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The Forlorn Splendor of Marshall & Fox's South Shore Cultural Center

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Armed only with bicycle, camera and a lust for restricted spaces of the most opulent kind, Curbed ventured to the South Shore Cultural Center on the second day of Open House Chicago. This maniacally-large former country club surely figures in the lexicon of Chicago architecture, albeit with less authority and prominence as, say, the Auditorium Building. That's mainly because it sits in far-flung South Shore, and, let's face it, many don't venture south of Hyde Park on casual pretense. But we wanted to get up close and personal with this once-besieged public asset. Acquired by the Park District in 1975 after 70 years as an exclusive private country club (ringed by a 9-hole golf course), the city was a hair's breadth away from razing it. A famous five-year preservation fight ensued, spearheaded by neighbors who probably wouldn't have gained entree to the ritzy club in years past. Guess who won.

The Marshall and Fox-designed Cultural Center's palatial spaces stack up one after another, beginning with the main hall and leading through foyers, ballrooms, a solarium, and a grand theater. The sheer volume of marble and decorative plaster molding is ridiculous, but appropriate for Mediterranean Revival. Ditto the chandeliers. The second floor held some treats, too: an exquisite little library, meeting spaces, and a circumferential catwalk with elegant benches looking down on the main hall. We shot up to the fourth floor in search of a lake vista, but it seems the upper floors are consumed by staffing facilities. The building's grand spaces are typically only open to banquets, weddings, and the like. Thusly, we were pleased to be able to skirt formal invitation.

One parting thought: the now-public 58-acre complex maintains a fortified stance in the neighborhood with gatehouses and iron fencing. We don't advocate removing all this, but perhaps the Park District could make the site a little more permeable— particularly since the complex includes gorgeous lakefront, a nature sanctuary, and beach.
·South Shore Cultural Center [Open House Chicago]
·Open House Chicago 2012 [Curbed Chicago]