Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Cliff Dwellers in Chicago -- November 6, 1907

The Fine Arts Building as it appeared in 1895, the year it was built (Cornell University Library)

In the Fine Arts Building on this date back in 1907 The Cliff Dwellers Club was formally organized in the studio of artist Ralph Clarkson.  The 95 men in attendance on that afternoon voted unanimously to adopt the name Cliff Dwellers, accepting that name in place of the Attic Club that had been earlier proposed.  Also at this meeting a report from Charles L. Hutchinson and Arthur Aldis recommended accepting a lease for the roof of the International Harvester building at Michigan Avenue and Harrison Street for the construction of “a bungalow and a hanging roof garden” where the club members could meet. 

Until officers could be elected in early 1908 a Who’s-Who of Chicago literary and artistic giants was named to manage the organization.  They included:  Hamlin Garland, Arthur Aldis, Frederic Bartlett, Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor, Hoyt Granger, Charles L. Hutchinson, I. K. Pond, A. B. Pond, Howard Shaw, Lorado Taft, Wallace Heckman and Harry Pratt Judson.  Dues were set at $40 a year.

On November 7 The Chicago Tribune described the organizational meeting and added, “The cliff will be a modern skyscraper, not a real cliff of stone, such as afforded lofty abode to the cliff dwellers in New Mexico.”  The original intent of the members is described in the club’s website in this way, “It was the purpose of the founders of The Cliff Dwellers to establish a place where people seriously interested in the arts, both professionally, and, so to speak as committed observers, could come together in a congenial and friendly way.”

Symphony Center, the home of the Cliff Dwellers from 1909 until 1996 (JWB Photo)
The Cliff Dwellers stayed for only a short time at the Harvester building, which still stands at 200 South Michigan Avenue.  From there the group moved just up the street to Orchestra Hall on January 6, 1909, where group members met in the ninth floor penthouse of the building until 1996 when renovation and expansion of Symphony Center required a move next door to the 1962 Borg-Warner building on the southwest corner of Michigan and Adams.

At the dedication ceremony on that January night in 1909 the featured speaker was club member Charles L. Hutchinson, who in 1882 at the age of 28 helped found the Art Institute of Chicago and who served as the museum’s president from that year until his death in 1924.  Mr. Hutchinson concluded his remarks that evening with this thought:

Why do you look for a new Heaven and a new Earth in vanished things and outworn uses when all the time those Kingdoms are within you and their glory is still to be revealed?  Let us come to the Club in such a spirit; bring to it the best of all that lies within us, of experience, of culture, of good fellowship and good cheer, and we will soon make this place a shrine, not only of pleasure, but of inspiration.  The more we give the more we shall receive.  Let us embrace the wealth of opportunity offered by the present, and rejoice in it and, perchance, in the future some prophet will arise and bemoan the fact that we and the glories of our present have passed away.  Let us ask not what can the Club do for us, but what I can do for it. [The Cliff Dwellers—An Account of their Organization, the Dedication and Opening of their Quarters, Constitution and By-Laws, Officers, Committees, and List of Members.  Chicago 1910]

Things are a little jumbled in that final line, but 54 years later a variant of it was used again in a speech in front of the United States capital, a speech by a young president that held all of the optimism and hope for the future that was evident on that January night on the ninth floor of Orchestra Hall at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. 

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