The buttoned-up Union League Club is allowing jeans — at least some of the time — in its downtown facility.

“It helps us keep in step with our members, many of whom are younger and dress casual for work,” said Bill Nissen, a Sidley Austin law firm partner who was just sworn in as club president.

It’s a big policy shift in the venerable private club, though members and guests shouldn’t throw away their slacks or khakis quite yet.

Bill Nissen, president of the Union League Club

Bill Nissen, president of the Union League Club

You can wear jeans 24/7 in the Rendezvous bar and adjacent rooms, guest rooms and athletic facility. And denim is allowed most anywhere on weekends. But the Main Dining Room and Wigwam restaurant, the last vestiges of the old-school club, remain off-limits to jeans. Business casual is OK, the club says, but if you arrive wearing denim, you’ll be offered a pair of slacks to borrow for your visit.

The new rules come as the Union League Club renovates its first floor to add a cafe and include work spaces and laptop plugins. “There’s a demand for it,” Nissen said.

This is among many transformations Nissen has experienced over the years. He joined the Union League in 1988, just a few months after it started allowing women members. Now, about 560 of 4,000 members are women.

A Vietnam veteran, Nissen was drawn to the club’s support of military and veterans issues, and civic and government discourse.

In the 1990s, Nissen led a club effort to support a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois. Then-Gov. George Ryan, who instituted the moratorium in 2000, used the Union League as a place to meet with families of victims whose killers were on death row.

“We like to take stands,” Nissen said.

Jim Reynolds takes on teachers

Businessman and civic leader Jim Reynolds took Chicago Public School teachers to task the other day for focusing more on finances than curriculum. He went so far as say the focus on finances is to blame, in part, for violence in the city.

Jim Reynolds

Jim Reynolds | Photo by Allen Bourgeois

“I hear the teachers union talk a lot about pensions but not about what’s going on in the classroom. They need to agree on how kids are going to learn. The curriculum has to be changed so a young person out of high school is qualified to get a job or go on to college,” the CEO of Loop Capital Markets said during the Driehaus Symposium. Kids who can’t find jobs resort to crime, he said.

Reynolds, who also heads a business effort to help get kids off the streets, was the featured speaker at the event for business and civic leaders.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis didn’t attend but had a sharp response to Reynolds’ thinking.

“Parents have watched class sizes grow, after-school programs close and experienced teachers get laid off while bankers like Mr. Reynolds and billionaire tax loopholes were protected,” she said in an emailed statement. “It’s no wonder he’s so committed to avoiding the subject of school funding. I would change the subject, too, if I was head of one of the banks that profited at the expense of Chicago Public Schools students, educators and families.”

Reynolds’ Loop Capital has served as a manager for the city’s sales tax revenue bonds.

For attendees, the straight talk about crime was illuminating. “We have to do more than want for a solution and expect our city to deliver it,” said Eli Boufis, the co-founder of Driehaus Private Equity. It means, he says, businesses need to “get involved.”

Billionaire buys in Malibu

Chicago billionaire Mark Walter has bought a vacation home in Malibu, California, for $85 million.

Mark Walter

Mark Walter

The CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a global investment and advisory firm, bought the beachfront compound from media tycoon David Geffen.

It’s natural that Walter, who has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, would buy in La La Land. He owns the Los Angeles Dodgers, after all.

Walter’s new pad has some notoriety. To keep beach-goers from parking in front of the mansion, Geffen put up fake garage doors. That move prompted a good poke by comedian Stephen Colbert.

A $2 million gift for arts center

An Indiana family has made a $2 million challenge grant to fund the Green Line Arts Center on the Arts Block in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood.

Lori Efroymson-Aguilera and her family hope to inspire others to donate to the project headed by University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life Initiative. Artist Theaster Gates is the director.

The university uses Arts Block as an incubator for local artists. The new center will expand on that.

“Space for artistic experimentation is critical to nurturing creativity and the development of thriving, culturally engaged communities,” Gates said in a news release.

Elissa Hamid Efroymson (from left), Lori Efroymson-Aguilera and Jeremy Efroymson.

Elissa Hamid Efroymson (from left), Lori Efroymson-Aguilera and Jeremy Efroymson. | Photo by John Bragg

Read more Taking Names at