Original Playboy Mansion and Nightclub
In the late 1950s a newly single Hugh Hefner was finally free to start a relationship with his city — the city of Chicago. In his wildly successful Playboy magazine Hefner preached to men about living an exciting new lifestyle, one he couldn’t wait to began himself. After writing about modern, sleek and sexy bachelor pads it was time Hef had his own. And after frequenting the Rush street triangle of nightclubs until the wee hours of the night it was time he had one of those too. Hugh Hefner and Chicago played host to some of the greatest events and social gatherings of all time. Bars were set higher and legends were born.
Looking up at the four story limestone and brick building at 1340 North State Parkway one might think it’s just another beautiful mansion in the famed and wealthy Gold Coast. But if walls could talk these would tell stories of exclusive celebrity parties, sexual freedom and the glamorous lives that walked its hallways. After purchasing the mansion in September of 1959, an exuberant Hefner spent thousands of dollars customizing it to create an environment of complete bliss. A brass plaque on the front door read “Si Non Oscillas, Noli Tintinnare”/”If you don’t swing, don’t ring,” a warning to those crossing over the threshold from the sexually oppressed outer world to the Playboy world. Boasting 72 rooms, the Playboy Mansion was unlike anything Chicago had ever experienced, with a 60-foot-long & 30-foot-wide ballroom grand enough to accommodate hundreds of guests, game rooms, a bowling alley, a retractable roof and more.
Hefner’s honorary guests stayed in the extravagant suites upstairs with access to all mansion amenities including the extensive room service menu from a kitchen that stayed open 24 hours a day. Giant chandlers hung from the ceiling, marble fireplaces lit up the rooms and art created by acclaimed artists such as Pablo Picasso hung from the walls. Hef’s own bedroom was the epitome of pleasure: plush white carpeting, a colossal jacuzzi and the infamous rotating bed. From the comfort of his own mattress Hef could control the stereo, dim the lights, rotate the entire bed towards any direction, and vibrate his guests to sleep (or awake). Semi-permanent guests included anywhere from 25 to 30 playmates housed in what were called “bunny dormitories.” It was a place where one might jump through a cascading waterfall to find Joe DiMaggio surrounded by nude women in the “woo grotto.” A place where sliding down the fireman’s pole to the underwater bar could lead to sipping a martini with “The King of Cool” Dean Martin. You might find Frank Sinatra tickling the ivories, or maybe attend a rockin’ four day party in honor of The Rolling Stones. It was a place of love, sex, drugs and the start of a revolution.
For those snubbed from these privileged events, Hefner created a Playboy Club replicating the ultimate bachelor pad just a bunny hop away. At 116 East Walton Street, nine-foot-tall letters spelling the word Playboy lit up the sky and the entrance of the first Playboy nightclub. At the February 29, 1960 opening party cars lined the street three deep and people huddled together in the cold to wait in line for a glimpse at the “Czar of the Bunny Empire’s” newest creation. For $50 patrons would receive keys stamped with the Playboy logo and lifelong membership to the club. The four-story adult euphoria featured a playroom, penthouse, library, and living room. Pictures of Playmates which were once only viewed in the privacy of ones own home were blown-up and hung on the walls. Famed performers such as Barbara Streisand and a 19-year-old Aretha Franklin belted out notes in the library and jazz artists and comedians took the stage in the living room.
But the main artist and attraction was the Playboy Bunny herself. Playmates seemed to hop from the pages of a magazine to real life in the form of the Playboy Bunny. A tight fitting corset complete with a fluffy tail, floppy ears, and ample cleavage transformed a young woman with no experience into a Playboy Bunny. The 44-page “Bunny Manual” stated that the Bunny must always seem single yet sexually unavailable. Husbands and boyfriends of bunnies were not allowed within two blocks of the club and giving out information such as your last name, phone number, or address could get you kicked out of the bunny den. A Bunny Mother kept a close watch on her “kit” in order to ensure money wasn’t given for illegal favors. Playboy Club regulars wrote to Playboy asking them to feature their favorite Bunnies in articles and pictorial spreads. As the letters piled up at Playboy headquarters editors saw an opportunity to promote the club through the magazine and the magazine through the club. “Dear Playboy” letters were published, sought after bunnies became centerfolds, and in August of 1962 24 bunnies became Playmates. Soon bunnies were not only “actresses” and “scene stealers” in the Playboy Club, some actually took the leap to real stardom with guest appearances in television and radio and in televised bunny pageants. The Playboy club stole the title as the busiest night club in the world when attendance reached 132,000 people during the last three months of 1961.
After many successful years the original Playboy club closed its doors in 1986. However, the building still stands today under an alias name “One Magnificent Mile” and in the year 2000 that stretch of Walton Street was given the name Hugh Hefner way. The only Playboy club remaining is located in Las Vegas at the Palms Resort where a giant neon bunny head lights the entrance. Hugh Hefner no longer calls 1340 North State Parkway home, but it will forever hold the secrets of its young, beautiful, rich and famous guests deep within its walls. In 1993, the building was converted into seven currently occupied single-family residences. Hugh Hefner too has changed, his thick brown hair has thinned and turned to grey, he moves slower than before and had to give up smoking cigars, but somehow he still radiates the Playboy state of mind. Secluded in his L.A. mansion by rolling hills, surrounded by peacocks and tempting women, some say Hef abandoned his city for a celebrity cliche. Others know better; Hefner remains in the great city of Chicago through scandalous stories surrounding the original Chicago Playboy mansion and the Bunny “Tails” told about the first Playboy nightclub.