A welcoming home in the midst of a bustling city
The Helen and Bryan Lathrop mansion, designated as a Landmark by the City of Chicago in 1973, has been the home of The Fortnightly of Chicago since 1922. Lathrop House, designed by Charles Follen McKim, was completed in 1892 in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition. It has great architectural significance among post Chicago Fire construction as it is a notable example of the Georgian Revival style, which was uncommon in Chicago.
The design is symmetrically Georgian with the exception that the entrance is off center. Dramatic bays that run the full height of the façade punctuate each end of the mansion. The ground floor includes a foyer, dining room, drawing room/library, parlor, and, most famously, a billiard room with a stage at one end, doubling as a concert space. (The billiard room was expanded to create the Fortnightly’s current ballroom.) McKim designed special wall racks for billiard cues that could be rotated to reveal shelves of books. The bay windows on the second floor provide separate bedroom and dressing room suites for the Lathrops. These are joined by a sitting room in the center of the floor.
The Lathrops were a socially prominent Chicago family. Bryan Lathrop arrived in Chicago in 1865 after studying art, music, and landscape in Europe. He became a successful real estate developer. His background in the arts and his interest in the growth of Chicago led to his patronage of the Chicago Symphony. He helped purchase the land and build its current performance home, Orchestra Hall (now called Symphony Center). Lathrop’s civic involvement also included the Art Institute of Chicago, the Newberry Library, Saddle & Cycle Club, Caxton Club and Chicago Literary Club, to name a few.
Born in Vermont, Helen Aldis Lathrop was a popular hostess and social leader. She joined the Fortnightly in 1879. The Lathrops were renowned for their hospitality and generous public spirit. They acquired the largest collection of Whistler etchings in the country which they donated to The Art Institute of Chicago, and they hosted many Chicago Symphony concerts in their home’s well-known billiard room, most notably at Thanksgiving each year.
The Lathrop home is the only remaining mansion on Bellevue Place. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In 2014 Landmarks Illinois awarded the Fortnightly the prestigious Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Stewardship for its preservation of Lathrop House.
The House was purchased to become the home of The Fortnightly in 1922 and has long been considered an oasis, a tasteful place where members continue to enjoy literary and artistic presentations as well as discussions of issues of social concern and intellectual curiosity in an atmosphere of grace and friendliness.
The Historic Preservation Foundation of the Fortnightly (HPFF) was established in 1998 to support preservation of the Lathrop House as well as Chicago architecture in general. It is a separate 501(c)(3) organization. For further information, please contact us.
The Fortnightly can arrange access to its historic landmark clubhouse for scholars and groups with an interest in architectural history and preservation. For further information, please contact us.
Drawing credit. The Art Institute of Chicago.