Germania Club Building
108 W. Germania Place
From its beginning Chicago has been a great melting pot of people and cultures from all over the world. At the turn of the 20th century the city’s largest population of immigrants hailed from Germany. By 1900, native-born Germans and their descendents made up nearly a quarter of Chicago’s entire population. They started immigrating here in the mid 19th century due to a suffering agricultural economy and a series of unsuccessful democratic revolutions. Once here, most settled in what became Lincoln Park. The German neighborhood grew to cover the vast area north of Division and South of Belmont, between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. At the heart of this German enclave stood the Germania Club – the neighborhood club of Chicago’s upper class German-American community.
The Germania Club was not the only club serving Chicago’s German population. At one point there were 452 German clubs in Chicago. A president of the Germania Club once commented, “put three Germans together and in five minutes you’ll have four clubs.” It may have not been the neighborhood’s only club, but it was renowned for its longevity (97 years) and elite membership. Though it developed into one Chicago’s most impressive organizations, it grew from humble beginnings. The Germania Club informally began in the year 1865 when a group of 60 German Civil War veterans honored Abraham Lincoln by singing at the Chicago Court House as his funeral procession passed through on route to Springfield, Illinois. Soon thereafter, they began singing frequently at various philanthropic events in Chicago before officially incorporating as the Germania Männerchöre (German men’s chorus) in 1869. Once they grew to a chorus of 100 men and women with a 45-piece orchestra, they decided to build themselves a permanent clubhouse (first called the Germania Männerchöre before they changed their name to Germania Club in 1902 due in part to the active participation of many women) in the center of Chicago’s German quarter.
The club chose a prominent plot of land adjacent to North Avenue, the neighborhood’s commercial corridor, nicknamed the “German Broadway.” And naturally they selected a member of the club, W. August Fiedler of the architectural firm Addison & Fiedler, to design the building completed in 1889. A native of Germany, Fiedler moved to Chicago attracted by the city’s post fire reconstruction. He had already made a name for himself as a furniture designer and later went on to design a number of public schools as the supervising architect for the Chicago Board of Education.
Fiedler designed a Romanesque style building superimposed with German Neoclassical elements. The rusticated limestone base, and rounded arches over the front entrance and windows are characteristic of the Romanesque style. The Neoclassical elements are especially seen in the portico framing the entrance as well as the triangular pediments above the arched windows. The simple, bold, geometric shapes of the exterior continue through the building’s interior. Elegant and classically designed, the dining room and ballroom were the building’s main attraction at the turn of the 20th century as they are today.
No longer a private organization, the doors of the Germania Club are open to anybody. Slip on your dancing shoes and waltz on in and across the ballroom floor. Nobody is going to stop you.
Today it operates as a special event venue by the name of Germania Place. If you’re in the market for a place to host your next gala here’s their website. For more information on the history of German people in Chicago read this entry from the Encyclopedia of Chicago. And this building was recently designated a Chicago Landmark. To read the landmark report click here. You’ll find all the information you’d ever want to know about its architecture and history.