The Clarendon Park Community Center and Field House, originally called the Clarendon Municipal Bathing Beach, was built in 1916 as a modern facility for one of Chicago’s most popular lakefront beaches. Over time the land area between the building and the lakeshore was filled to extend parkland and the addition of Lake Shore Drive, which impacted the building. Today it is used as a community center and field house. Changes to the structure, particularly in 1972, greatly modified the building and hasled to water infiltration and roof issues which need to be addressed and no longer deferred, as failure to address these issues has resulted in a threat to the building’s future and use by the community.
The Clarendon Park Community Center and Field House was created to “facilitate lasting public access to the lake and to insure the health of all Chicagoans.” Clarendon Municipal Bathing Beach demonstrated Chicago’s commitment to the “Reclamation of the Lake Front for the People” by Chicago Plan Commissioner Walter Moody.There was an important recognition as the Lake waters reputation shifted from the source of water-born illnesses and pollution several decades earlier and such amenities as the Clarendon Park facilities ushered in a new era and message, which reached national prominence in various publications, including the Municipal Journal from New York, dated October 19, 1916. The building, designed by city architect, C.W. Kallal in a Mediterranean Revival Style, an architectural style that was used for such buildings as Marshall and Fox’s South Shore Country Club of 1916 (now South Shore Cultural Center) and the 63rd Street Bathing Pavilion in 1919.This style, also referred to as the “Italian Resort Style” was defined by tall towers capped with hipped-roofs clad in clay tiles, large entry colonnades, porticos, loggias and open-air promenades compliments this style of architecture. While often associated with warmer climates like Florida and California, this style had a resurgence in Chicago in the 1910s and 1920s, especially along Chicago’s Lakefront.
Clarendon Park shared the Italian restort style associated with the Lakefront and the architecture of the building must have resonated with buildings constructed along the Chicago shoreline from South Shore to Edgewater and the now demolished Edgewater Beach Hotel. Clarendon Park’s Municipal Bathing Beach was once one of “the largest and best equipped of all of the beaches in the city” and considered one of the most popular civic achievements of its time. The distinctive tall towers fronting Clarendon Avenue and the smaller towers fronting the beach, along with the entry colonnade and the verandas and open-air loggias were removed and or truncated during renovations to the structure in 1972 and replaced with a massive flat roof, with a metal fascia, which greatly impacted the original structure. A large indoor gymnasium was also added at this time, which co-joined the original 1916 structure.
The Clarendon Park Community Center has experienced multiple alterations over time, some of them being extensive, heavy-handed and inappropriate. Due to some of these changes and additions, water infiltration has impacted the building and the community’s ability to use several spaces and rooms. City Code issues, necessary improvements and maintenance issues continue to be deferred. The building has many programs for children, including after school programming, summer camps, art programs and is also home to the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club, which has been housed in the lower level of the building for more than 50 years. While several studies have been conducted and the community would like to see these ideas implemented, the building continues to deteriorate. Preservation Chicago would like to advocate for a renovation and restoration of the building to address deterioration and code issues and would also like to suggest that important architectural features of the building, including the original colonnade and tall towers and promenades be restored to the historic structure. Looking to the future, perhaps nearby parkland and the Cuneo Hospital buildings could be incorporated into a campus of buildings, providing expanded programming for Clarendon Park.