What can an apartment building in Logan Square that once hosted royalty tell us about Chicago’s Norwegian American community?
Geoffrey Baer is here with the story of the Norske Club in this week’s Ask Geoffrey.
The building at 2350 N. Kedzie in Logan Square seems to be home to apartments or condos, but the building itself is different from typical Chicago apartment buildings. What’s the story?
—Ken Larson, Batavia
Our questioner is correct – this building today is indeed condominiums, but it doesn’t quite resemble the classic Chicago three-flats or six-flats.
Why is that? Well, the building was once home to a social club for Norwegian Americans appropriately called the “Norske Club,” or “Klub,” as it’s sometimes spelled.
Opened in 1917, the club was a gathering place for events and parties, exhibits, music and theater performances and dinners celebrating Norwegian heritage.
It has a distinctive Scandinavian touch, as you can still see in the dragon motif trim along the roofline – a popular Norwegian symbol from the Viking era.
Two club members who just happened to be famous Chicago architects designed the building. One was Joachim Giaver, who among other things oversaw fabrication of the Statue of Liberty’s structural frame designed by Gustav Eiffel.
The other was Frederick P. Dinkelberg, who helped design New York’s famous Flatiron Building and Chicago’s Railway Exchange building with Daniel Burnham. Both architects had come to Chicago to work on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Norske Club members were originally male middle-class professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on. Women were allowed to join around 1940, according to one former club president we spoke with.
And fans of the Masterpiece series “Atlantic Crossing” on WTTW will be excited to know that this building hosted two of the drama’s main characters, Norway’s Crown Princess Martha and Prince Olav, in 1939. That was the year before the princess returned to the U.S. as a refugee and struck up a possibly not-so-innocent relationship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Olav would actually return to the Norske Club as king decades later.
In the 1970s, events at the club became less frequent as many Norwegian Americans moved out to the suburbs. The building was converted to apartments in the early 1990s.
So why was the Norske Club located in Logan Square?
Starting in the 19th century, Logan Square and Humboldt Park were the epicenters of Chicago’s Norwegian American community, with a main commercial district on North Avenue.
For decades, Humboldt Park hosted the Norwegian Constitution Day parade every May 17th, celebrating the signing of the country’s constitution in 1814.
It’s now held annually in Park Ridge. After being canceled for the pandemic last year, it’s coming back on May 16.
In the early 1900s, the Norwegian community even found a way to pursue their passion for ski jumping in famously flat Chicago.
They found a slope west of the city in Fox River Grove to build the Norge Ski Club, which is still going strong and is an important training center for Olympic ski jumpers.
And as with many immigrant groups in Chicago, Norwegian culture is reflected in their churches, too.
The last remaining Norwegian church in the city is the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, or Minnekirken, a Chicago landmark and one of the most identifiable buildings in the neighborhood.
The church is really the center of Chicago’s Norwegian American community, and many residents come from the suburbs and all over the city for services and events.
Just this month, the church is about to embark on an ambitious restoration of its front façade, after extensive water damage was discovered. It’s partially funded by a city grant, and the church is raising the rest privately.
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