Friday, December 8, 2017

The History of the Edgewater Golf Club in Chicago, Illinois.

Born out of an elitist North Shore sensibility, the tumultuous transformation of the Edgewater Golf Club into the democratic Warren Park reveals much about the complicated process of real estate development in Chicago. Once the site of society dinners, debutante balls, and gentlemanly privilege, Edgewater Golf Club became a hotly contested space where a game of “political football” involving various levels of city and state government, community organizations, and private developers was played out. When the smoke cleared, a case of bribery cost an alderman his job, but North Side residents won ninety acres of hard-fought parkland.
A 1938 orthogonal aerial image of Edgewater Golf Club. Ridge, Pratt, and Damen are the three-way intersection at the top right of the image. Greenhouses are the three linear, rectangular structures near this intersection that appear out of place. The clubhouse is also located near this intersection at 2057 West Pratt Avenue, Chicago.
One of the earliest golf courses within city limits, Edgewater Golf Club, was established in 1896 and sited on a strip of land west of Broadway between Foster and Balmoral.

This first course consisted of a mere five holes, and when additional land could not be acquired for expansion, the club moved north a year later to a swath of land bounded by Sheridan, Loyola, Albion, and Lakewood. Although the club was only located in Edgewater for its first year, the name was retained until its dissolution in 1968.

The second course was nine holes in length, and expansion was again the issue in 1910 when the club acquired eighty-eight acres farther west at Ridge and Pratt. This tract was purchased from sixteen different owners for a total of $125,500 ($3,279,700 in 2017), and the old property was sold to a developer five days later for $50,000 ($1,306,650 in 2017).
The proposed clubhouse designed by Holabird & Roche was never built.
The new course at Ridge and Pratt, designed by prolific landscape architect Thomas Bendelow, opened in June 1911. It was a straightforward, economical design with no doglegs, ponds, or other funny stuff, squeezing eighteen holes into the given acreage. Holabird & Roche submitted plans for a palatial Italian Renaissance revival-style clubhouse, but those plans were not carried out. The firm of Hill & Woltersdorf was employed instead, perhaps to avoid a conflict of interest as Holabird was a club member, but more likely because Hill & Woltersdorf charged less.
In 1913, a stunning prairie-influenced Tudor Revival clubhouse was completed at 2045 West Pratt Boulevard.
The clubhouse that was built was smaller in scale and laid out in an I-formation consisting of two two-story rectangular segments on each end. Although chintzy in contrast to the Holabird design, the Tudor Revival style employed better reflected the conservative Anglo-American background of much of the club’s membership.

As soon as it opened, Edgewater Golf Club was a magnet for real estate development in the West Ridge community. In 1910, urban-form residential development ceased at Ridge Road, immediately beyond which were primarily greenhouses. The earliest development influenced by the golf course was five houses immediately north of the clubhouse on Pratt Avenue, built between 1912 and 1914 by club members, including then-president William J. MacDonald. This section of Pratt, located between Seeley and Oakley, developed slowly compared to the surrounding area. Of the nineteen houses eventually constructed along this stretch, ten dates to the 1910s, and the remaining nine were built between 1920-49. Until this section of Pratt was widened during the construction of Warren Park in the late 1970s, it was a narrow, private thoroughfare serving this relatively exclusive development. Laurence Warren described it as “only a half street.”

The golf course's presence impacted residential development on the North Side beyond a few country club estates. The year the club purchased the new land, McGuire & Orr subdivided the area northwest of the club, perhaps anticipating demand. This subdivision, the Ridge Boulevard addition, led to the construction of the first sewer built west of Ridge Road to drain into the North Shore Channel. In 1912, builders Cochran & McGluer were advertising an apartment building located at Broadway and Kenmore as being “fifteen minutes from Edgewater Golf Club.” The developer responsible for Edgewater Golf Club itself, William Ludwig Wallen, was active in areas both east and west of the Club, most notably the area around Clark and the street bearing his name. Henry Schoolcraft’s 1922 Arthur Avenue Addition, located directly south of the Club bounded by Western, Devon, and Damen, prominently touted close proximity to the club in advertisements. The practice of listing Edgewater Golf Club as an amenity persisted in marketing surrounding residential developments into the mid-1960s.
A 1925 advertisement for real estate bonds for the Edgewater Golfview
Apartments are still extant at the corner of Arthur and Leavitt.
Proximity to the golf course is a primary selling point.
Edgewater Golf Club had an early history of transience, which almost continued into the 1920s. In 1923, the club purchased a 175-acre tract of land in Glenview for around $160,000 ($2,291,940 in 2017). Adjusting for inflation, this amounted to around $90,000 in 1910, meaning that the club paid 40% less for twice as much land in Glenview. This time, the club was not buying and selling at a loss. Much had changed in the real estate market over thirteen years, and by 1923, the value of the Pratt and Ridge tract had escalated to nearly $615,000 ($8,809,632 in 2017). While the club could have made a huge profit by moving to Glenview at that time, three months after it was purchased, that land was sold to the North Shore Country Club.

Although little interest apparently happened at Edgewater Golf Club between 1923 and 1953 other than the usual “society notes” twaddle and much ado about Chick Evans, the Glenview affair is a common issue with urban golf courses. By economic necessity, golf courses are built at the fringes of urban areas where land is cheap and plentiful. In turn, they incite residential demand, driving up property values. The invisible hand exerts pressure on the course owners until the price becomes too great to resist. Either the golf club dissolves and fades into memory, or it is rebuilt at the current urban fringe, where the process repeats itself. In 1926, then-president Judge Dennis E. Sullivan told the Edgewater club members, “The club and its property will not be sold... real estate agents are hereby warned to keep off.” Ultimately, his advice was not heeded.

Edgewater Golf Club had long been sought after for development when an unnamed firm offered to purchase the land for $900,000 ($8,202,800 in 2017) in 1953. The plan called for high-rise apartments on the site, but the membership rejected the sale. Another proposition was made in 1964 by the Sturm-Bickel Corporation, which would have involved exchanging the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Niles and $800,000 ($6,291,750 in 2017) for Edgewater’s land, but this was also rejected.

The membership finally voted to sell the club to the Kenroy Realtors and developer Jupiter Corporation in 1965 for $7.6 million ($54,132,552 in 2017), giving the developers a November 1, 1967 deadline to come up with the money. There was an immediate backlash from community organizations, first the Nortown Civic Council and later the Allied Northside Community Organization led by Laurence Warren. Community concerns were primarily related to overcrowding and congestion. 50th Ward Alderman Jack Sperling quickly sided with community opposition, introducing a resolution calling for the city to purchase the land for use as a park.

The developers failed to deliver the purchase price when the deadline rolled around. Sperling and 49th Ward Alderman Paul Wigoda introduced a resolution that passed November 1, 1967, downzoning the park from R4 to R2, effectively disrupting the developers’ plan to build high-rises and making the purchase price un-economical for single-family housing. However, this action activated a condition in Kenroy’s contract with Edgewater Golf Club, giving them a year extension to come up with the money to purchase the property. As a result of the zoning change, Jupiter Corporation pulled out of the deal, leaving Kenroy as the primary buyer.

The sale was successfully completed a year later, in November 1968. Solomon Cordwell Buenz was hired to design the development, producing something very similar to Sandburg Village. Designed to house 8,900 people, the “Edgewater Village” plan called for 3870 units; 1408 rentals, 192 efficiencies, 528 two-bedrooms, 2328 condominiums, and 134 townhouses. These were to be clustered around “pedestrian precinct malls,” each containing 1000 apartments with underground parking, retail, play areas, and swimming pools. Each of the three malls would have one building of twenty stories and five of nine stories. Also included in the plans was a shopping area with parking, a public school, and restaurants. The clubhouse would have been converted into a public restaurant and a private health club.

The Chicago Plan Commission and the Planning and Development Commission both approved the plan initially, and Sperling’s earlier resolution was repealed. The golf course was then rezoned to a planned development site. However, Mayor Richard J. Daley soon began urging the attorney general and Governor Ogilvie to acquire the land. Kenroy then filed a suit to compel the Building Commissioner to issue a construction permit. The circuit court ruling forced the city to grant a permit; however, in a resolution introduced by Daley, the city council repealed the zoning change, allowing for planned development, and the Building Commissioner refused to grant a permit.

The State of Illinois began to take action on the matter earlier in 1969 when the House Conservation and Water Resources Committee passed a bill calling for purchasing the golf club as a state park. The bill, allocating $950,000 ($6,317,500 in 2017) towards the purchase of the land, passed the House and Senate in June 1969, and Governor Ogilvie signed off three months later. The governor was criticized for the delay by Daley and Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon. The governor, in turn, suggested that powerful alderman Thomas Keane “had a piece in the action.” The State offered $8 million to Kenroy for the land, but the company raised the asking price to $35 million. Negotiations between the state and Kenroy broke down, and the state filed a condemnation suit in February 1970. However, a compromise was reached when it became clear the state would likely not be able to afford a price set by a jury. The western two-thirds of the property was then sold to the state for $8 million in the summer of 1970, financed through federal grants.
A 1971 proposal for the design of Warren State Park. The sections south and east of the park labeled “future commercial” and “future hi-rise townhouses” were sold to the Chicago Park District in 1974. Albion and Hamilton streets would have been cut through the property. This design was criticized as being cluttered, and the Allied Northside Community Organization lobbied the city to acquire the remaining land.
Kenroy retained thirty-two acres, ostensibly with the intention of constructing a high-rise complex. The Allied Northside Community Organization wanted the entire property as open space and continued to lobby the mayor and park district to purchase the remainder. In 1972, the park district offered $6 million, but Kenroy raised his asking price to $12 million just as he did with the state. After the state turned the park over to the park district, the Chicago Public Building Commission bought the remainder of the property through condemnation proceedings on behalf of the park district in 1974 for $10.3 million.

When Governor Ogilvie accused Alderman Keane of having “a piece in the action,” he was almost correct. He just suspected the wrong alderman. In April 1974, 49th Ward Alderman Paul Wigoda was indicted for accepting a $50,000 bribe from Kenroy for rezoning the Edgewater property from R4 to a planned development site. The rezoning was used at first to activate a clause in Kenroy’s contract with Edgewater Golf Club so that they would have additional time to come up with the total purchase price. Also, the rezoning sought by the developers increased the value of the land, allowing Kenroy to effectively defraud the state and the Public Building Commission. The Public Building Commission purchased the land only two months before Wigoda’s indictment. The park district subsequently sued Kenroy for $15 million in damages, but the case dragged on until 1982, and it remains unclear whether or not any money was recovered.

The years of litigation between the final sale of the property in 1968 and the first construction phase of Warren Park in 1977 saw the property slip into disrepair. The clubhouse remained shuttered and abandoned, dead trees were left untended, and trash and debris were strewn around. The state installed basic fixtures like picnic tables and barbeque stands, but the park was, for the most part, unstructured.
Warren Park, Chicago
In spite of its condition, the park was well-used by area residents at the time the park district began construction. Numerous recreational facilities were installed, including a nine-hole golf course, skating rink, bicycle trail, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and a toboggan hill.

In the novel "Crossing California," Adam Langer describes the condition of the park in late 1979: “Once an exclusive country club, it was now a vast expanse of overgrown grass, of cracked tennis courts, muddy soccer fields, rusted charcoal grills, and one toboggan hill, a former garbage heap now known to the kids in the neighborhood as Mt. Warren.” Warren Park has been greatly improved since that time. Although long in coming, Laurence Warren and the Allied Northside Community Organization showed great foresight in fighting to retain the golf club as an open space.

I have personally heard from many people that lived in the West Ridge and the Rogers Park communities of Chicago and either tried to join the Edgewater Golf Club or applied to be a golf Caddy but were rejected for being Jewish. Personally, I was born, raised and lived for 40+ years just 4 blocks away from the Edgewater Golf Club, but I had no interest in golf and did not know the club was Anti-Semitic. 

by Serhii Chrucky
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. This is still a contested area with the most recent plans for elderly housing on the park site a hot issue. I have lived within 4 blocks of the park for now nearly 20 years. Thanks for the history.

  2. Another great read. I would drive down Pratt on the north side of the park and wondered why the homes there had such elegant architecture and space. Now I know why!

  3. Definitely anti-semitic. All my Catholic friends got caddy jobs but not me, very obvious when they asked me what church I attended

  4. A great read; thanks for the research and detailed presentation! I live 3 blocks west of the west edge of the park and use it often.

  5. Visited this park in the mid 1970's, and my perception wasn't that it was a place ruined, but rather one overtaken by nature. My friends and I wandered about the grounds noticing the majestic lilac bushes in full flower (and of course, picking some), beautiful old trees, etc. The still-standing clubhouse brought to mind the Gatsby era (at that time recently recreated in the movie with Robert Redford & Mia Farrow) so we swanned about in our bell bottom jeans awhile, pretending to be "Jay's & Daisy's".

  6. Thanks for the history. I worked a summer at Warren park when it was a state park. Must have been around 1971. I was part of a crew of three that were maintaining the clubhouse, cutting grass, and clearing out dead trees. Strangely enough while cutting logs, and older gentleman was wandering the park and introduced himself as Chick Evans. I didnt know who he was at the time but we had a pleasant conversation about how he played golf there many years earlier. He must have been over 80 at the time. My girlfriend (now my wife) would meet me for lunch and we'd sit under one of the old trees there. Almost deserted at the time, you would never know you were in a big city. Glad to see it is still nice open space.

    1. This article was good. Your story gave me chills. Cant believe you got to meet The Legend. He made the path for 1000's of young caddies to attend Elite Universities

  7. I caddied at Edgewater in the early 1960s and there were no Jewish members however 3 of my best friends who were Jewish were caddies, we all were hired at the same time in June of 1960. No one ever asked me what church I went to.

  8. This is a great piece and review of the demise and later partial resurgence of a beautiful property. I grew up 1/2 block north of the course, in the Pratt / Oakley area from 1944-1966. Married in ‘66 our first apartment was only a half block further north on Farwell & Oakley, so Edgewater had a prominent place in my memory for a significant part of my life. Living in Michigan since ‘86 I recently went on line to see the current status of Warren Park, as well as the other Park District courses and was pleasantly surprised to see this article.


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