For more than a century, Cleveland has hosted important social clubs as places to gather and socialize for prominent citizens. Some, like the Rowfant Club on Prospect Avenue, encouraged intellectual pursuits like the study of books. Others, such as the Hermit Club, near Playhouse Square on Dodge Court, were more social in nature and devoted to theater and the arts.
One of the oldest such clubs is the Union Club, 1211 Euclid Ave., incorporated September 25, 1872 – next month, celebrating 150 years of continuous operation.
The Union Club of Cleveland located on Euclid Avenue as it appeared in 1906The founding members included a cross section of Cleveland’s most influential citizens. Among the founding members were notable Cleveland figures Samuel Mather, Henry B. Payne, and William J. Boardman.
In a distinction likely to remain unique, over the years club membership has come to include five US presidents: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and William Howard Taft.
In 1872 the club purchased the former home of George B. Senter, located near the intersection of what is now East 6e Euclid Street and Avenue. Built in 1842 for prominent banker Truman Handy and designed by Jonathon Goldsmith, the Union Club paid $60,000 to make this two-story brick structure its first home. Senter, had died two years earlier, in 1870, after a notable career in politics and the military during the Civil War. He was responsible for the logistics of several training camps and served as mayor of Cleveland during the war.
An ardent Unionist throughout the war, it fell to Senter to proclaim a day of mourning on the day of Lincoln’s death, April 15, 1865.
Ten years after the Union Club established its headquarters on Euclid Avenue, the establishment provided a dining room and lounge for the ladies, but continued to deny them membership, a gender-biased policy that was later revoked. firmly rejected.
Beginning with a membership of 81 men, at the turn of the 20e Century, the club’s roster included more than 500 men. On June 25, 1901, the Union Club was incorporated as the Union Club Co.
The club was in dire need of a new clubhouse and the move to new quarters was not far off – with members buying what was once the Castle family home in East 12e Euclid Street and Avenue.
The new pavilion was designed by Charles Schweinfurth, who was at the height of his reputation as a Cleveland architect at the time. He had come to town in the early 1880s to design large houses on Euclid Avenue. The club originally commissioned a design from renowned New York architecture firm McKim, Mead & White. The company’s plan was rejected in favor of the Schweinfurth plan, thus depriving Cleveland of a building designed by Stanford White.
Built of Berea sandstone in an Italian Renaissance style, the new structure was ready for use by the end of 1905, dedicated for a ball in the clubhouse on December 6. Membership had by then grown to nearly 1,000, still all male.
For most of the 20e Century, women were relegated to second-class status, given a side door to enter, and confined to a separate dining room. Some argue convincingly that the side entrance provided privacy and protection from traffic, noise, and confusion on the sidewalks of Euclid Avenue.
The ladies’ dining room was said to provide a pleasant environment, free of cigars and discussion of business, which may not have been of interest to the women who dined there. In any case, it reflected different times and very different standards.
The 1983 appointment of Karen Horn as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland made the archaic policy of the Union Club untenable. She was the first woman to be granted full privileges and literally opened the doors to other women as they could now enter the clubhouse through the front door for the first time in 111 years. club history.
Having undergone a facelift over the past 20 years to remove a century of industrial pollution, the club’s exterior today has the warm glow of sandstone and an appearance that attendees of the Union Club’s inaugural ball would quickly recognize.
Spanning three centuries, the club thrives today – an unmistakable landmark dating back to when Euclid Avenue was renowned as Cleveland’s grandest street.