Chicago’s Standard Club asks members for financial help

The 150-year-old institution warns of possible closure as it struggles to pay bills.

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The Standard Club at 320 S. Plymouth Ct.

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The Standard Club earlier this year celebrated its 150th anniversary. But now the club, where leaders in Chicago’s Jewish community gather to socialize and talk business and philanthropy, faces financial trouble that threatens its existence.

Its board sent a letter last month to members who have equity interests in the club advising them of onetime assessments to help it pay its bills. The assessments, which would be in addition to regular dues, is a short-term answer to help the club maintain its “viability and relevance,” said the letter, signed by Jon Levey, on behalf of the board.

It said the funds “will be used to cover existing deficits, payables and near-term operations while we carefully explore a series of strategic options for the club, including but not limited to, the sale of assets — all options will be on the table.” Members who don’t pay the assessment will forfeit their equity, losing the right to vote on the club’s future, the letter said.

It was dated Nov. 19. A copy was provided to the Chicago Sun-Times. Levey, president of Highland Park Bank & Trust, did not return a call Tuesday.

The assessments were $1,650 for life members, $3,350 for premium members under age 40 and $5,000 for those over 40.

The club occupies a 13-story building at 320 S. Plymouth Ct. that dates from 1926. The letter said the club faces “an aging infrastructure and has some significant capital needs.”

It asked members to attend “town hall” meetings in early December. The club has long emphasized confidentially about its internal workings and has refused to disclose information such as the number of its members.

Garth Walker, recently hired as the club’s general manager, declined to discuss the letter or the club’s finances. He said he believed the club also levied an extra assessment on members about a decade ago during the last financial crisis in the U.S. “It’s business as usual here,’’ he said, noting that there’s a full calendar of events and family gatherings.

Chicago’s old-line private clubs have struggled with aging demographics and changing styles for dining and entertaining. With three-martini lunches, heavy meals and generous expense accounts out of favor, Chicago stalwarts such as the University Club and the Union League Club have revised menus, redesigned facilities, reduced membership dues for younger people and planned new programs.

A prominent casualty was the Chicago Athletic Association, which closed in 2007, although its facility at 12 S. Michigan has been turned into a posh and popular hotel. If the Standard Club has to close, a similar reuse of its building could be considered.

Its lineage dates from when other private clubs wouldn’t take Jewish members. Those discriminatory practices, which included a ban on women, have been abandoned for decades, but it still takes money and connections to join the elite clubs.

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