Medinah Athletic Club

Chicago, Illinois | C.1928

Photo Credit: Samuel Lima

Sealed behind the limestone walls of Chicago’s InterContinental Hotel is a copper-bound time-capsule that tells the grand tale of what was once the Medinah Athletic Club. Considered to be among the most opulent buildings of its time, the structure was fitted with every extravagance, from Venetian wading pools and mini golf courses, to an indoor shooting range. This exclusive society’s only members were a group of freemasons known as “Shriners,” of whom there were only 3,000 at the time of the Club’s opening.

Chicago was the city of skyscrapers, but Medinah Athletic Club was still an easy edifice to spot along the 1920s skyline. Unlike its art deco and gothic neighbors, the Medinah Athletic club featured an eclectic range of architectural styles–most notably a Moorish-influenced gold dome, rumored to have been created for the docking of blimps. (Though this intention was never realized, due to the devastating Hindenburg accident…besides, it’s hard to imagine a blimp safely navigating through a city whose notorious wind tunnels gave it its lasting nickname.)

Unfortunate timing also led to a quick demise of the opulent building. The Great Depression cast its shadow over Medinah’s golden shrine and made it too difficult to upkeep the building. Over the decades it was sold and operated by multiple hotel franchises, who each renovated the space as they saw fit.

In 1989, the InterContinental Hotel secured the building and rather than innovate they opted to renovate, completely revitalizing the interiors based on the design revealed through old yearbook photos of the original Shriners members and their short-term haven.

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