- Historic Sites
The Great Club Revolution
What with all this democracy things will never be the same
December 1954 | Volume 6, Issue 1
To the new generation the old men’s clubs seem, in prospect as well as retrospect, forbidding indeed. The Knickerbocker which, from the purely social standpoint, is perhaps the most eminent club, has difficulty attracting new members despite the fact that, through Nelson Rockefeller’s largesse, it may now inhabit its ancient clubhouse, located on Fifth Avenue and 62nd Street, rent-free for ten years and ten years more if Rockefeller is still living. The Brook Club is also struggling despite clubdom’s wealthiest membership (numbering an even 400 souls), the most attractive of all the small clubhouses, the most lavish of all accoutrements and a remarkable system where members do not even trouble to sign checks but are trailed by a faithful servant who unobtrusively tots up their account. There are struggles, too, in the giant Metropolitan. Located on Fifth Avenue across Goth Street from the Harmonie, the Metropolitan still boasts the drive-in turn-around from carriage days, a Stanford White castle and such publicity-conscious members as Grover Whalen, Dale Carnegie, Spyros Skouras, Floyd Odium and Samuel Pryor; despite all these and Conrad Hilton too, both insiders and outsiders agree that it isn’t what it used to be.
The Union Club also has its difficulties. The move from Fifth Avenue and 5151 Street to Park Avenue and 69th, across the Avenue from, of all places, the Russian Consulate, was the beginning of the end; as one dissatisfied younger member puts it, “Who wants to go into a dining room where you’re the only one there except for Thomas J. Watson who’s explaining to someone how he got Eisenhower to be president of Columbia?” Even the Century, easily the most distinguished club from a Who’s Who standpoint, has its problems. Ed Streeter, humorous author and president of the Harvard Club, recently elected to the Century, complained to a fellow member that he didn’t like it because he didn’t know anybody. “You’re not supposed to,” he was told. “You have to work at being a Centurion.”
Although clubman J. Carvel Lange, one of the foremost stock market prognosticators, maintains that club memberships nowadays “vary with the Dow Jones averages,” the underlying fact of the great club revolution would seem to be that there is no genuine new generation to take the place of such time-tested veterans as Vincent Astor, Harold Vanderbilt, Winthrop Aldrich and Myron Taylor; all of these men belong to virtually every club but the S.P.C.A. and Boys Town. What should be the new generation has, in fact, many doubts on the score. “Honestly,” says young Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, “I don’t know what clubs Alfred belongs to, and what’s more I don’t think he does either.” R. Stuyvesant Pierrepont, Jr., who frankly classes such downtown lunch clubs as India House, the Recess, the Lunch Club and the Downtown Association as “pigeon clubs,” believes that now the pigeons, aided by expense accounts, have come home to roost uptown. “At the Metropolitan or the Union League or the University,” he says, “you might do a $ 10,000 deal, but you’d use the Knickerbocker or the Union or the Racquet for $100,000 and then, for $1,000,000, you’d move on to the Brook or the Links.” In the midst of such figures, ex-clubman Edgar Ward becomes philosophical. “The whole club thing nowadays,” he says, “is sort of like English titles. To an American they’re still very impressive, but to an Englishman the Earl of Warwick isn’t necessarily any more social than just plain Mister Charles Winn.”
Certainly there are others who would not agree with this philosophy. Robert Montgomery, who has recently joined the Racquet, Brook and Links clubs, and Fred Astaire, who wore, as a private joke, a Brook Club blue, green and yellow hatband in “The Band Wagon,” are perhaps the foremost joiners today. Among other things they have proved that actors, long regarded socially as something out of a zoo, are now admissible in the best clubs. So far about the only club Montgomery and Astaire have missed is The Leash. This club, founded in 1926, “to promote interest in the thoroughbred dog and to study and apply principles of scientific breeding,” is the only club which does not have a by-law stating that no dogs are allowed in the clubhouse. Otherwise there is no appreciable difference in its function or, for that matter in these trying times, its lack of function.