A lovely gift from Mr. Valentine
A lovely gift from Mr. Valentine Credit: Jordan Larson

The largest Boys and Girls Club in Chicago is home to an indoor swimming pool, dance studio, game room—and a set of 40-foot tall totem poles.

Named for its donor, a furniture manufacturer and philanthropist, the Louis L. Valentine Boys and Girls Club at 3400 S. Emerald was first built in 1922, though the building burned down and was replaced by the current building in 1938. According to Deanna Peterson, an employee at Valentine, the club was built with children’s imaginations in mind, and the totem poles at its entrance are meant to stand as protectors of the children that pass through them.”.

The totem poles were Valentine’s idea, and he even traveled to Washington state to choose the two red cedar trees that would be used. The building was finished and commemorated shortly before Valentine’s death in 1940, but the totem poles hadn’t yet been installed. In a letter from the West & Wheeler Corporation in charge of the poles’ construction, J.W. Wheeler wrote, “the attorneys for the estate advised me there was no money left to pay for delivering these poles to Chicago, and advised me to sell them for what I could get, but I refused to do so.”

The totem poles ended up getting shipped to Chicago free of charge, due to some generosity from the Great Northern Railroad, and were added to the building in 1941. They were then blessed by a Native American tribe, and blessed again in 2010 after the originals had been restored and repainted.

The Bridgeport location is still going strong, with a high membership and plenty of classes on subjects such as money management, digital media, street smarts, and visual arts.

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