Often times, the most significant commissions are not those that are the largest of those that cost the most money. The work that Joseph Silsbee did for the University Club of Chicago, though modest in comparison with other works, may have been the most important in sustaining his career.
Silsbee was a founding member of the club in 1887 and was hired to design renovations to the third and fourth floors of the Henning & Speed Building for use as the Club headquarters. The officers and founding members of the club consisted of prominent citizens, many of whom were graduates of eastern Ivy League Universities. Several were Silsbee's classmates at Harvard. As the club grew, it's membership list reads like a directory to Silsbee's residential clients.
It is in the meetings of the Literary Club where we get a rare glimpse of Silsbee's interest in architecture theories. His close friendships with prominent club members Frederick Gookin and Joseph Kirkland are worth noting but more important is the fact that Silsbee delivered scholarly papers at the club. Though they were never published, he presented papers on Color in Architecture and Back Yards. The most interesting presentation would have been his contribution to a four-part series given by himself along with architects Irving Pond, Peter Wight and Louis Sullivan in 1895. In this series, each architect pondered the question: "Can Architecture Become Again a Living Art?". The Literary Club stayed in the University Club building until 1906 when it moved to the Orchestra Building in rooms designed by club member, Irving Pond.
In 1909, The University Club moved to its current clubhouse, the masterpiece of architect Martin Roche, on Michigan Ave. The Dearborn Street clubhouse was sold to the Press Club of Chicago. Silsbee was also a member of this club and it is due to the pride that the Press Club had in this building that we have the above images. All of the images are from various club publications now found online. The Press Club stayed in the building until it moved in 1915. It moved back to the building in 1929, where is stayed until the club disbanded in 1939. The entire block, which also contained Henry Cobb's Boyce Building, was demolished in the 1960's.