The building was originally designed as an exclusive and restrictive private club, the South Shore Country Club, by the architectural firm of (Benjamin) Marshall and Fox. These architects, renowned for their hotel and apartment building designs throughout the Chicago-land area, are best known for their design of the Drake and Blackstone Hotels. They constructed the original structure, the South Shore Club House in 1906 in the Italian Resort Style resembling a summer palace. Of the original structure, the only remaining portion is the ballroom (now Robeson Theater) on the south end of the existing cultural center. In 1916, after the membership expanded and the building became socially important, the old clubhouse was moved to the south section of the grounds and became the golf club (no longer in existence.) For decades the South Shore Country Club was a playground for Chicago's rich and famous.
In the 1960's, the club could not adapt to the times (failing to vote to open up to all who could pay, and also to changing leisure lifestyle ways) and was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Over the next few years the biracial Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club pushed to have the club restored. In 1974, the Chicago Park District purchased the club and renovated it using the interior color schemes developed by the original architects Marshall and Fox.
The Park District eventually developed a plan under a unique three-party agreement which included the Coalition to Save th
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