With news that the Martin Scorcese/Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster Devil in the White City, which is set at the time of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, is finally moving forward, we wanted to explore how the original Chicago Athletic Association played a role in the exposition that really changed the world.
Henry Ives Cobb, the architect who designed the CAA, ensured the building’s Venetian Gothic tower that faces Michigan Avenue, would be completed in time to make a big impact on visitors descending upon Chicago for the fair. Boats would pick up visitors at Michigan and Van Buren, about four blocks south of the Chicago Athletic Association, to whisk them down to the fairgrounds at Jackson Park. Chances are they would see the grand façade of the private men’s club so it had to be in tip-top shape.
Even before Chicago landed the bid to host the 1893 expo, some of the city’s most powerful men like Daniel Burnham, Marshall Field, Charles T. Yerkes, Philip Armour, Gustavus Swift and Cyrus McCormick, many of whom were members of the CAA, used their sway and, of course, deep pockets, to help the city win the fair. Once the planners chose Jackson Park as the site, construction began almost immediately after Congress gave Chicago the go-ahead in 1890.
It took three years to plan and build the fair, which welcomed more than 27 million visitors between the opening on May 1, 1893 and the closure on Oct. 30 that year. To ensure it made a big impact on visitors, the CAA opened around the same time as the World’s Fair. That year, the club’s football team played a night game against West Point at the World’s Fair — one of the first-ever night games in history — and won 14-0. Nearly 125 years later, the converted and updated Chicago Athletic Association hotel continues its winning streak and its impact on the city, just like the World’s Fair back then.