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Chicago Athletic Association

The Gilded Age glistened with jewels and polite conversation, billiards and cognac. Rank was easy to spot: you were either rich or not rich at all. The early 1900s were the last big hurrah for millionaire landowners and captains of industry, before markets crashed and women’s dresses inched higher than their ankles.

Pass me the caviar, darling . . . oh, those days were grand.

Picture then, the opulence of the Chicago Athletic Association completed in the same year as the 1893 World’s Fair, otherwise known as the World’s Columbian Exposition (also the first year Chicago exceeded one million people according to census data). Architect Henry Ives Cobb designed the eighteen-floor building that sits along Michigan Avenue in the heart of the Loop. Eventually, with the passage of time, the popular physics rule held true: what goes up must come down. After years of being one of Chicago’s crown jewels, the CAC closed its doors in 2007. The building fell in grave disrepair until developers with an insightful eye snapped it up and returned the club last year back to its original splendor. Today, it stands as one of Chicago’s swankiest hotels.

Low Voltage Solutions was engaged from October 9, 2014 until CAC’s opening the following spring. LVS Project Manager Nick Siwak said he was shocked when he first walked through the place. Years of neglect showed their hand. “The place was a dump. They demoed everything and opened up ceilings. The transition was phenomenal. Like a classic car – you want to leave it as is. But times changes, technology changes. It’s a part of life. Although CAC has kept its vintage look of the 1920s, we were able to give them the daily use through the technology of 2016.” Chock full of amenities and rich architectural details, the 241-room hotel sports a bocce ball court, poker tables, dark wood-paneled walls, bars and restaurants. Cindy’s, the rooftop bar and restaurant, overlooks Millennium Park and offers an outdoor seating and fire pit area. The original CAC logo, which looks strikingly similar to the Chicago Cubs big “C,” dots the walls throughout. No small surprise that Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormick, and, wait for it, William Wrigley were all founding members.

Working within an existing building is oftentimes a challenge. A historic building designated with landmark status is even more so. Unlike new construction where access for cabling is straightforward, crews must work around tight spaces and unexpected surprises. LVS supplied voice and data cabling, one main telephone closet, 4 IDF (distribution) closets throughout the vertical risers, a CCTV and security system, installation of 85 cameras and servers, and a card reader system. In addition, the company connected all the closets with copper and fiber optic cable. “We installed an audiovisual and music system in the Michigan Street and Madison Street ballrooms so that DJs can just come in and plug into the system with his or her equipment when hired for special events like weddings and other parties.”

LVS installed a full audiovisual system in one of several boardrooms. While guests might hear the rich sounds of Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, the background music is unobtrusively hidden among 72 speakers throughout the building. A distributed antennae system, similar to wireless access points, allows topnotch mobile phone service and Internet access.

Rob Benline was LVS’ foreman on the project, the one “in the trenches” as Siwak points out. “He had to juggle the ins and outs of our means and methods to put in the cable and wiring, coordinate with the HVAC guys, and the general contractors to make sure we knew the protected architectural areas,” said Siwak. “Because it was a historical building, you couldn’t restore it as easily. We didn’t have full rein like in typical construction where you have drywall and a drop ceiling.” Benline was onsite daily for nearly ten months supervising a crew of up to six electricians.

“The client loved our work. We have a continued relationship with them. We know that building better than anyone else – the niches within the construction space,” commented Siwak.

LVS has a growing reputation for historical renovation work with successful projects like the 1929 Deepath Inn project in Lake Forest and CAC. “This job had some of the most complex challenges. We didn’t have the luxury of new construction or a box build-out. We had obstacles every day that we had to dodge,” Siwak said, adding, “Here’s what I learned: Never take anything for granted. Because of all those obstacles, we had to think on our feet and adjust our approach. It was cool to see it all complete.”