Deutsche in Chicago
On this day in 2011, the Germania Club Building in the city’s Old Town neighborhood was designated a Chicago Landmark. The history of this neighborhood club can be traced back to the Germania Männerchor, a men’s chorus comprising German American Civil War veterans who sang at President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral ceremonies in Chicago in 1865.
Chicago’s first substantial German community took shape in the 1850s when immigrants from Bavaria and Württemberg settled around what is now the Near North Side. Traces of that early group can still be found in that area, such as the Glunz Tavern (1888) and St. Michael’s parish, which was established in 1852 to serve a German Catholic congregation. Choirs thrived within the German immigrant community, as they were a vital social network and helped preserve ethnic identity. The Männergesangverein (1852) was among Chicago’s earliest ethnic choral societies, followed by the Germania Männerchor (1865) and the Concordia, an offshoot that split from Germania in 1866.
The Germania Männerchor became known as the Germania Club shortly after its founding and had the distinction of being the city’s oldest German American organization. When their building was completed in 1889, it served as a focal point for Chicago’s German American community through much of the twentieth century. It was designed by W. August Fiedler, a German immigrant and club member who was a partner at the architectural firm Addison & Fiedler. With its round-arched window openings and thick-masonry walls, the Germania Club Building’s design combines stylistic features of the Romanesque Revival style, as well as the neoclassical style, as seen in its pedimented windows, projecting cornice, and columned entrance portico. Inside, the building features grand historic spaces, including a ballroom with thirty-five-foot-tall walls and a large dining room. The Germania Club Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
The club was briefly called the Lincoln Club during World War I when anti-German sentiment was strong in the United States, but reverted to its original name in 1921. Amidst an evolving neighborhood and increased options for socializing, the Germania Club dwindled in numbers until it was disbanded in 1986. The Germania Club records, which are now housed in the CHM Research Center, includes sheet music and account ledgers.
Learn more about the history of Chicago’s German community in our Encyclopedia of Chicago entry.
Image: An undated photograph of the Germania Club at Clark Street and Germania Place, Chicago. CHM, ICHi-015118; W. T. Barnum, photographer