Home Future payments The Standard Club sells its building but struggles to survive

The Standard Club sells its building but struggles to survive

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Depending on your age, you can walk around downtown Chicago and see a lot of things that no longer exist.

The mind’s eye could evoke Carson’s, Trader Vic’s, Mayor’s Row, Stop & Shop, Kroch’s. Rose Records or maybe whole buildings like the pocket sized Showmen’s League of America on Randolph Street whose facade had pictures of circus elephants. At least Marshall Field’s is surviving as Macy’s, and the retailer is trying a new approach with discounted products reminiscent of the old days of bargains. Maybe nostalgia dressed for a new era will sell.

For high society, there has been a picking of places where affluent and well-connected people congregate in good taste. Gone are membership venues like the Chicago Athletic Association, now a hotel, and the Tavern Club, now an event space. The University Club of Chicago and the Union League Club of Chicago continue to clash.

The Standard Club, long a center of Jewish life, was part of this elite group where members could dine, drink, swim and socialize with their peers. You can also stay overnight. But the club permanently closed its stately 13-story home at 320 S. Plymouth Court in March 2020, an event accelerated by COVID-19 but unrelated to it.

The Standard Club had lost members and revenue, and bills to repair Detroit architect Alfred Kahn’s 1926 building were piling up. In 2019, club officials asked members for extra money to continue, but it wasn’t enough. The club has sold the building and its future is uncertain.

President Scott Glazer pointed out that the club still exists. The more than 300 members are paying reduced dues, participating in virtual rallies and are eager to hear a “reimagining committee” think about how to move forward once the pandemic passes, Glazer said.

The building was however sold at the end of February. The buyer was once hotel investor Remo Polselli, with a business address in Newport Beach, Calif., and a checkered history. The reports indicate failed businesses in Michigan, including a failed attempt to revive a ski resort near Traverse City. Polselli served time in federal prison for tax evasion. Records show he was released in December 2004.

At the end of February, Polselli paid $9 million for the Standard Club building, records show. However, the club gave him a mortgage of $8.6 million. He could not be reached for comment. In March 2021, he acquired the 359-room Chicago hostel at 162 E. Ohio St., which was closed for the pandemic. The hotel’s website says it won’t reopen until December.

First Lady Michelle Obama is seen here in 2010 at the Standard Club greeting attendees at a political fundraiser.

A financial adviser, Glazer insisted that the price recorded for the Standard Club building did not reflect the price it had actually sold for, but he declined to give another figure. It is possible that Polselli paid more for facilities and equipment. Glazer agreed that the financing from the seller could allow the club to take over its building if Polselli does not maintain its payments.

The club’s property committee reviewed Polselli’s track record and recommended the sale, Glazer said. “We structured a deal which took the pressure off us,” he said, noting that the down payment enabled the club to settle its debts and keep two employees.

Experts speculated that the building’s most likely use would be a boutique hotel, though doubted the depressed market was ready for such a situation. Most believed the club were struggling to find a buyer, but Glazer said two previous sales deals had not gone through. In the first, the club retained the right to use part of the building, but decided to drop that stipulation, he said.

“We had to pivot,” he said, and make tough calls. They included moving the archive, containing information on titans such as Julius Rosenwald and Max Adler, to the Newberry Library. Much of the club’s artwork – another requirement for venues of this type – has been sold to members or auctioned off by Sotheby’s. On behalf of the club, Sotheby’s online archives said it sold a lithograph by Jasper Johns for $201,600 and an Andy Warhol depiction of the Marx Brothers for $50,400, along with pieces by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro.

In the meantime, Glazer said members enjoy reciprocal privileges at Union League Club and Birchwood Club in Highland Park. Such cooperation is remarkable because the reason the Standard Club exists is because places like the Union League used to shun Jews. The overt discrimination of private clubs ended long ago, although it took a stubborn Union League until 1987 to end its ban on women becoming members. Today, clubs are inclusive and members energize many civic causes.

If the arc of the moral universe bends in the right direction up there, there is hope for us down here.

Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar speaks at a 2016 luncheon at the Standard Club.

Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar speaks at a 2016 luncheon at the Standard Club.