What is in this article?:
- The Visionary: East Bank Club Founder Daniel Levin
- Law, Politics and Real Estate
- The Origins of the Club
- Still Hard at Work
- Sidebar: The Famous and a Future President Work Out at East Bank Club
- Sidebar: Longtime Employees Lead to Success of East Bank Club
- Sidebar: Club Industry Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients
East Bank Club founder and CEO Daniel Levin is the 2013 recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. He will receive the award Oct. 24 at the Club Industry Conference and Exhibition in Chicago. Photo by Brian McConkey.
It is 9 a.m. on a Monday in August at East Bank Club in Chicago. The weekend sun-worshippers have come and gone, having enjoyed their time on the club’s 60,000-square-foot sun deck. The members from the morning rush have completed their workouts and are settled in their downtown offices.
Yet the buzz still remains in the club. Patrons from the neighborhood are enjoying their morning. Children not yet back to school are taking swim lessons, dribbling basketballs or creating arts and crafts at the club. A pregnant woman dressed in her workout clothes enters the club. Just before she checks in, a friend spots her.
“How are you feeling?” she asks her.
Other members hustle through the front doors. As they check in, they can pick up copies of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times that are stacked up for them. In 2013, people still read copies of newspapers at East Bank Club, which offers just about everything for everybody.
More than 33 years ago, none of this was around, and the surrounding River North neighborhood in downtown Chicago was all but dead. As one longtime Chicagoan described it, you wouldn’t want to drive through the area back then, not even during the day.
That all changed in 1980 when 50-year-old real estate developer Daniel Levin opened East Bank Club. Some people were skeptical that this health club idea would fly, especially in this area, which was once a railroad turnaround, complete with barns and sheds. The health club industry as a whole was still young, and not many big city, large multi-purpose clubs existed at the time.
At the pre-opening party that December, however, eager members rushed to get to their lockers.
“Oh,” Levin thought. “This may work.”
And it has. Today, East Bank Club has 11,400 members and 650 employees. This year, the 450,000-square-foot club was No. 18 on Club Industry’s Top 100 Clubs list with a reported $55 million in 2012 revenue. For the past several years, East Bank Club has been the highest-ranking single club facility on the Top 100 Clubs list.
“The whole club, I had no idea it was going to be as successful as it is,” Levin said earlier this year. “When we opened, we thought if we had 4,000 members, that would be great.”
Some of those members have included famous celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Billie Jean King, Rahm Emanuel and a then-little-known University of Chicago School of Law professor named Barack Obama. They have all blended in among the not-so-famous members, who are treated with the same respect as anyone else, many club staff members say.
As the Club Industry Conference and Trade Show returns to Chicago next month, Club Industry will honor Levin for his work at what has become a Chicago institution with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Levin joins the likes of Joe Gold, Jack LaLanne and last year’s recipient, Joe Cirulli. Many of the 10 previous recipients worked their way through the health club industry as bodybuilders or fitness trainers. Levin took a different route, and although not as well-known throughout the fitness industry, he shares the same qualities as all the other recipients: a vision and a keen business sense.