Union League Club of Chicago

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Discover the Union League Club of Chicago, which entertained a number of U.S. Presidents, including Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, and George H.W. Bush.

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The Union League Club of Chicago, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2021, dates back to 1886.

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For over 140 years, the Union League Club of Chicago has been a haven for its members to pursue civic engagement, nurture community, and promote culture. Throughout its extensive history, ULCC members have made and continue to make significant contributions to Chicago’s civic and cultural life as demonstrated by the Club’s commitment to community, country, and culture. The Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC) was founded in 1879 and traces its origin to the Union League of America (ULA), a Civil War era organization formed to support Abraham Lincoln and to help preserve the Union. Although the ULA Illinois Chapter disbanded after the war, several former members assembled in Chicago to create a private city club based on upholding the sacred obligations of citizenship. Those tenants included honesty and efficiency in government; patronage of cultural institutions; and support for our nation’s military and their families. But despite existing since the height of the Gilded Age, the current Clubhouse was designed by the architectural firm of Mundie & Jensen in 1926. William Bryce Mundie—who was a ULCC Club member—understood that ULCC members and guests wanted the Clubhouse to be a "home away from home" and modeled its Georgian Revival design on a nearby Astor Street residence. With its use of limestone on the ground floor—and then brick above—much about the exterior of the Union League Club resembled a quaint residence than a standard downtown building. Inside, the architectural firm richly appointed the layout with walnut woodworking and marble flooring. While most neighboring skyscrapers had historically utilized the “Chicago window” or windows with upper and lower sashes, the Union League Club’s newer building displayed a combination of muntin—the white grids that people often find in residential architecture.

Through the efforts of its dynamic membership, the Club has since been a catalyst for action in nonpartisan political, economic and social arenas – focusing its leadership and resources on important social issues. As early as 1893, Chicago gained recognition as a world-class city when it hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition. Club members were specifically instrumental getting Chicago named as the site of the exposition by the United States Congress, with Daniel Burnham—a prominent member of the Club—leading the charge. Since then, Club members have played a role in establishing many of the city’s cultural organizations, including Orchestra Hall and the Field Museum. The Club was even heavily involved in the opening of the Harold Washington Library Center nearly a century later during the 1990s! Today, the Union League Club of Chicago continues to do work in justice, education, and government reform. It also continues to feature outstanding amenities that include meeting spaces, health facilities, four restaurants, and 184 upscale accommodations. The clubhouse is truly "a home away from home," as its brilliant guestrooms are always available to members and their network of families, friends, and business colleagues. Members and guests alike can also enjoy the club's museum-quality art collection and its George N. Leighton Library, which provides access to countless books, magazines, and manuscripts. With such rich connections to Chicago's fascinating past, the Union League Club of Chicago is a perfect place for enthusiastic cultural heritage travelers to experience. This magnificent historic destination has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2021.

  • About the Location +

    The Union League Club of Chicago is located in an iconic neighborhood known throughout the world as the “Loop.” While the Loop is now both Chicago’s cultural and commercial center, its history actually harkens much farther back in time. The very first settlers to arrive in the area were the soldiers of the United States Army, who established a rudimentary outpost known as “Fort Dearborn” near the vicinity of today’s DuSable Bridge in 1803. (The DuSable Bridge itself is named for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a trader of African descent who built a trading post at the site two decades prior.) Nevertheless, the Potawatomi destroyed the first iteration of the fort during the War of 1812, with the War Department reconstructing it some four years later. A small settlement quickly grew around the second fort by the 1830s, which formed the nucleus of early Chicago’s downtown core over the next several decades. Indeed, the area quickly emerged as the heart of the nascent city’s economy, as many spectacular commercial buildings began to make their glorious debut. One such real estate developer—Potter Palmer—specifically created a number of outstanding structures that ranged from a large emporium to a luxurious boutique hotel. Thousands of people soon found themselves traveling into the neighborhood daily, prompting the city to begin operating a series of local horsecars. Some even found it prudent to construct permanent residences throughout the district and began constructing a variety of upscale townhouses. The population demographic was quite diverse, too, as everyone from Irish immigrants to African Americans started to live all around the site of the former Fort Dearborn. But the spot of the fort—as well as the rest of Chicago—were completely destroyed amid a destructive inferno remembered as the “Great Chicago Fire of 1871.” Like the rest of the city, the area of the former military base was left as a smoldering ruin.

    Thankfully, the neighborhood was among the first to rebuild following the tragedy, thanks in large part to the efforts of enterprising entrepreneurs like Potter Palmer. Undeterred, Palmer and a few other ambitious businesspeople invested heavily into the redevelopment of downtown Chicago near the historic fort. They specifically funded the construction of many upscale skyscrapers that finally gave the city its iconic appearance. Furthermore, those local land developers sponsored the creation of a new public transportation network centered around a new technological innovation—the cable car. In fact, two cable-car loops soon became synonymous with the identity of downtown Chicago itself, giving it the new moniker as the “Chicago Loop” or simply the “Loop.” The intersection of Madison and State Street served as the center of the revitalized district, and ultimately, the entire City of Chicago. (This especially was the case following the realignment of the city’s street grid in 1909.) As such, the Loop subsequently established itself as the hub for all economic and social life in Chicago for generations thereafter. Perhaps the height of the Loop’s prestige transpired after World War II, when close to a million people visited the district every day for either business or personal life. While the Loop is no longer the main economic force in Chicago—it shares that distinction with places like the Magnificent Mile—it still very much serves as the cultural heart for the whole metropolis. Countless cultural attractions and historical landmarks call this fantastic neighborhood home, including Willis Tower, Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center. Cultural heritage travelers will thus find Chicago’s Loop to be among the most illustrious places to visit in the country for a memorable vacation.


  • About the Architecture +

    The architects employed by Mundie & Jenson that worked on the Union League Club of Chicago chose Georgian Revival-style architectural as the source of their inspiration. Georgian Revival-style architecture itself is a subset of a much more prominent architectural form known as “Colonial Revival.” Colonial Revival architecture today is perhaps the most widely used building form in the entire United States. It reached its zenith at the height of the Gilded Age, where countless Americans turned to the aesthetic to celebrate what they feared was America’s disappearing past. The movement came about in the aftermath of the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, in which people from across the country traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the American Revolution. Many of the exhibitors chose to display cultural representations of 18th-century America, encouraging millions of people across the country to preserve the nation’s history. Architects were among those inspired, who looked to revitalize the design principles of colonial English and Dutch homes. This gradually gave way to a larger embrace of Georgian and Federal-style architecture, which focused exclusively on the country’s formative years. As such, structures built in the style of Colonial Revival architecture—as well as the Georgian Revival-style—featured such components as pilasters, brickwork, and modest, double-hung windows. Symmetrical designs defined their façades, anchored by a central, pedimented front door and simplistic portico. Gable roofs typically topped the buildings, although hipped and gambrel forms were used, too. This building form remained immensely popular for years until largely petering out in late 20th century.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Marshall Field, founder of Marshall Field and Company department stores, as well as the namesake to the Field Museum of Natural History.

    Daniel Burnham, architect known for designing several iconic structures, including New York City’s Flatiron Building, San Francisco’s Merchants Exchange, and Selfridges in London.

    Charles Lawrence Hutchinson, founder of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    Julius Rosenwald, co-owner of the prominent wholesaler Sears, Roebuck, and Company.

    Richard J. Oglesby, 14th Governor of Illinois (1865 – 1869; 1873; 1885 – 1889) and U.S. Senator from Illinois (1873 – 1879)

    Louis Sullivan, influential architect regarded as the “father of skyscrapers” and “father of modernism.”

    Babe Ruth, legendary outfielder for the New York Yankees regarded today as the being best baseball player ever.

    Lou Gehrig, iconic First Basemen for the New York Yankees (1923 – 1939)

    Amelia Earhart, pioneering aviator who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

    Alec Templeton, composer best remembered for his popular radio program, Alec Templeton Time.

    Jane Addams, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Rosa Parks, civil rights activist known for her pivot role in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycotts.

    Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940 – 1945; 1951 – 1955) 

    Marie of Romania, Queen consort of Romania (1914 – 1927)

    Charles G. Dawes, 30th Vice President of the United States (1925 – 1929)

    Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States (1889 – 1893)

    William McKinley, 25th President of the United States (1897 – 1901)

    Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901 – 1909)

    William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States (1909 – 1913) and 10th Chief Justice of the United States (1921 – 1930)

    Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States (1929 – 1933)

    George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States (1989 – 1993)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    My Best Friend’s Wedding (1996)

    Empire (2015 – 2020)


  • Women in History +

    Amelia Earhart: Amelia Earhart was one of the many celebrity guests to visit the Union League Club of Chicago, specifically stopping by twice in 1932 and 1936, respectively. Amelia Earhart was a legendary aviator who bore the distinction of being the first female to pilot a flight across the Atlantic. Climbing aboard a Fokker Trimotor dubbed “Friendship,” Earhart and her copilot, Wilmer Stultz, began the historic trip from an airfield in Newfoundland in June of 1928. In just under a single day, Earhart and Stultz landed at Pwll in South Wales. She became an overnight international celebrity for her achievement. When Earhart returned to the United States, she was given a massive ticker-tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes in New York City. President Calvin Coolidge even held a reception in her honor at the White House shortly thereafter. Earhart then followed up her grand achievement five years later, when she completed a transatlantic solo flight from Canada to Northern Ireland. Becoming the first woman to finish such a trip alone, Congress bestowed Earhart with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Her fame only continued to grow, as tales of her accomplishments captivated countless Americans. Earhart’s celebrity status even caused her to develop a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt during the mid-1930s. When she was not busy flying, Earhart served as a visiting faculty member for aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, and vigorously supported the causes championed by the National Women’s Party. Earhart also founded the Ninety-Nines, an all-female international organization that supports the professional growth of female pilots. Yet, her career was tragically cut short in 1937, when she disappeared while attempting a circumnavigational trek across the globe.

    Jane Addams: Another prominent guest to visit the Union League Club of Chicago was Jane Addams, a leading social worker and feminist during the early 20th century. Addams first became an advocate for welfare reform upon visiting the Tonybee House in London alongside a friend named Ellen Gates Starr. A settlement house in the city’s East End, the facility provided a wealth of social services to the poor. The pair returned to America and began championing for the construction of similar buildings across the nation. Addams and Starr specifically raised enough money to develop the Hull House in Chicago’s industrial west side, which quickly became the main resource its inhabitants used to survive. At first, the Hull House offered healthcare and education to its patrons. But over time, the Hull House became something of a cultural resource center, offering services that ranged from an employment bureau to adult music lessons. The Hull House ultimately catapulted Addams’ into greater national discussions about progressive causes. Indeed, Addams mainly used her newfound influence to become a chief officer in such organizations like the National Child Labor Committee, National Conference of Charities and Corrections, and the American Civil Liberties Union. She also managed to emerge as a major voice within the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, in which she championed tirelessly for women’s right to vote in the country. Addams even helped found the international peace movement at the start of World War I, where she and a few other likeminded female activists created the Women’s Peace Party and the subsequent International Congress for Women. Giving countless speeches and lectures, her work toward upholding pacificism caused her to found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom once the conflict had ended. Due to her work in the global peace movement, Addams earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

    Rosa Parks: The preeminent civil rights activist Rosa Parks arrived at the Union League Club of Chicago as a guest in 1998. One of the most influential figures in the entire American civil rights movement, Rosa Parks played an integral part in the push to end racial segregation throughout the United States. Parks had long been exposed to the fight for racial equality, as her maternal grandparents—both ex-slaves—were staunch advocates to stop discrimination. She eventually invested herself fully into the civil rights movement following her marriage to Raymond Parks, a self-educated barber who was active in the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1943, Rosa Parks joined her husband in the NAACP, despite Raymond’s initial fears for her safety. Nonetheless, she rapidly ascended through the Montgomery chapter, where she worked closely alongside its president, E.D. Nixon. Then, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in downtown Montgomery. When the bus driver demanded that she vacate her seat for a white passenger, Parks flatly refused out of a desire to “stop giving in.” Per Montgomery’s municipal laws at the time, the police had the authority to arrest any black person who did not comply with the demand.

    Parks was subsequently detained on the spot and jailed at police headquarters for the rest of the day. Her courageous act spawned an enthusiastic citywide bus boycott among the local black community, which began on the day of Parks’ trial some five days afterward. The boycott lasted for more than a year, despite widespread resistance from resident whites. (A young Martin Luther King Jr. even managed the boycott directly through NAACP’s Montgomery Improvement Association.) At the same time, Parks and the NAACP appealed her arrest through the courts with the hopes of ultimately challenging the practice of racial segregation. Parks suffered greatly for her civil disobedience, as she both lost her job and suffered death threats throughout the duration of the boycott. Nevertheless, the movement was successfully resolved after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened and ruled that Parks’ arrest through the city’s racist polices was unconstitutional. In fact, the court’s verdict had rendered bus segregation in general as unconstitutional via the provisions of the 14th amendment. Having passed away in 2004, Rosa Parks is still is celebrated today for her actions during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Many continue to keep her memory alive, often referring to her as "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement.”


  • Art Collection +

    As its philanthropic and civic engagement activities display the Club’s commitment to community and country, so does the Union League Club’s support of local art institutions. Indeed, its own art collection epitomizes its commitment to culture. The Club supported the establishment of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum and the Harold Washington Library. It also built one of the most comprehensive private collections of American art. This outstanding, museum-quality collection is one of the first characteristics members notices about the Union League Club: art is everywhere! Some work is familiar–Monet’s Apple Trees in Blossom–while others may be less familiar–Sabraw’s Chroma S4 Chimaera, David Anthony Geary’s Back of the Bus for Now, and Roger Brown’s Cathedrals in Space, for example. The art collection of the Union League Club Chicago represents the Club’s commitment to culture for over a century. Displayed on nearly every floor and room throughout the Club, it enhances the beautiful Beaux-Art Building erected in 1926 and lends it the feel of a museum. Comprised of more than 700 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs, almost a third of the collection was created by women. The collection embraces a diversity of style, geography, and chronology. American art—particularly Midwestern art of the twentieth century—forms the nucleus, with important works by Roger Brown, Walter Ufer, and Gertrude Abercrombie. Among the many works of European art is the jewel of the club’s collection—an 1872 landscape by Claude Monet. The Club’s art committee was formed in 1891, which is now responsible for hosting a variety of programs throughout the year including lectures, exhibitions and much more. In 1998, the Club established a Distinguished Artists Program, honoring local artists. The Union League Club of Chicago continues to acquire and display art throughout the clubhouse for the enjoyment and enrichment of the members and guests.


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