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First Look: The New Tank and Stagg Court Gymnasium at the Chicago Athletic Association

The new spaces are not what you expect from a hotel.

Next month, the Chicago Athletic Association will unveil its restored gymnasium and pool areas, at last completing the 241-room Chicago hotel. Today, we bring you a first look at both the pool and gym spaces and offer this out of the gate: The Tank pool area and Stagg Court Gymnasium are not what you would expect from a hotel.

In fact, there is no swimming at the Tank and no cutting-edge workout equipment at Stagg Court. That’s because both have been transformed into unique event spaces set to host public and private programming, everything from concerts and performances to art installations and artist-led bingo nights. 

Located on the first-floor behind the stunning Grand Staircase, “The Tank” pool area once housed a 40-meter pool that resembled Lex Luthor’s underground lair. Famous members such as Johnny Weissmuller, a competitive swimmer who won five Olympic Gold medals and also played Tarzan in the original films of the 1930s and 40s, used to swim here. It was pretty fabulous.

And it seems a little tragic to think the pool is no more. Especially when John Pritzker, part owner of the new CAA and Chairman of Commune Hotels and Resorts, told us back in May during Chicago’s first look inside the CAA that it was a “how-could-we-not” hotel project. (John, how could you not keep the pool?)

Despite first reactions, reinventing the pool area made sense for one important reason: public access. Since the hotel opened, the CAA has made a point of creating inclusive playful spaces that are available to both guests and locals. Next door to Shake Shack and steps from the main entrance on Michigan Avenue, the Tank invites you in—guest or local—just as it should. 

The original pool has been covered with a steel deck and tile mosaic that nods to the pool with a design mirroring four swimming lanes. The room itself was landmarked, so the original tile around the pool still exists as do the original marble walls, ornate marble ceiling, and balcony. Rumor has it that live performances in partnership with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Children’s Choir, and local music producers are in the works. Even when the space is closed, you’ll be able to peer into it from an upper mezzanine balcony.

On the fourth floor, Stagg Court Gymnasium still looks in many ways as it did back in its heyday, when it served as the association’s double-decker basketball court and gym. The floor has been restored, two new vintage-style basketball hoops have replaced the originals, and a new shuffleboard lane and a fencing strip have been added. Athletic programming for Stagg Court is a definite, even though the CAA tells us that more often than not, this will be a place for public and private events. Looking over the gym from the original upper-level running track, and picturing more intimate concerts and shows, suddenly we get the genius behind the plan.

Stagg Court Gymnasium opened last week and the Tank officially opens later this week. Upcoming events include a free and publicly available art installation in Tank, created in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Biennial (the Biennial kicks off on October 3), and an artist-led monthly bingo series in Stagg Court Gymnasium beginning November 5, with bingo cards designed by the host artist.

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