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City Athletic Club Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-533

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the history of the City Athletic Club, from its founding in 1908 to its disbanding in 2002. The materials primarily consist of membership applications and supporting application material submitted by the applicants. Notable in the collection are the Board of Governors meeting minutes, spanning the 20th century, that provide rich detail into the founding, administration, and activities of the Club during periods of economic boom and bust, war, and social change. The collection also includes minutes of the Athletic Committee and the House Committee, as well as photographs, lantern slides, newsletters, printed ephemera, reports, a scrapbook, and plaques documenting the activities of the club.

Dates

  • undated, 1908-2002

Creator

Language of Materials

This collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Applications for membership submitted between 1951 and 2001 are closed due to privacy concerns and will be closed until 2051. Three folders of the Board of Governors meeting minutes (Box 161-163, Folders 161/4, 5 and 6) are closed.

Use Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility or informational content. For more information, contact:



American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, NY, 10011

email: reference@ajhs.org

Historical Note <extptr actuate="onload" altrender="The Arrow - A Publication of the City Athletic Club" href="http://digital.cjh.org/webclient/DeliveryManager?pid=1944022" show="embed" title="The Arrow, May 1917"/>

The objects of this organization shall be: to encourage all manly sports and to promote physical culture; to maintain a club house and athletic grounds for the use of its members, and generally to add to their comfort and entertainment.

– Constitution and Bylaws of the City Athletic Club, circa 1909 1

The City Athletic Club (CAC) was founded with 46 members at an August 19th, 1908 meeting held at the Hotel Brevoort in Manhattan. Ralph Wolf was elected acting chairman and Stanley M. Isaacs elected temporary secretary.2 Temporary founding committees were authorized for club admissions, establishing the Club's constitution and bylaws, building facilities, and finances.

A second, larger meeting announcing the incorporation of the CAC was held at the Hotel Astor on November 12, 1908. Isaacs (the son of Myer Isaacs, former head of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, as well as former publisher of the American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger), was quoted in the American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger at the opening: "We have had this project under consideration for some time. Many of us, all Jewish young men, have long felt the difficulties that the Jew has experienced when he endeavored to gain admittance to any of the leading clubs in the city. The objections usually were two-fold. Either the club was entirely social, card parties being the predominant feature, or else the doors of the organization were closed to the Jew, if not by direct legislation, then through such discrimination that no self-respecting Jew could care to be enrolled. Recognizing these difficulties, a committee… started this movement to combine physical development with social activity…"3

At that second meeting, Edwin C. Vogel, Chairman of the Membership Committee, presented a list of 500 charter members.4 The CAC was formally incorporated and members adopted a permanent constitution and bylaws, elected the first Board of Governors, and ratified its selection of 48-50 West 54th Street as its permanent home. Invited initial members were not required to pay an initiation fee. However, by February 1909 an assessment fee of $75 per member was levied to fund an extensive CAC building renovation, turning the former school into a social club. The assessment fee was waived if members opted to purchase a $1000 gold bond.5

The CAC building had originally been slated to open as St. Margaret's School for Girls. However, the school fell through near completion and Solomon R. Guggenheim (mining magnate, art collector, and philanthropist), acquired the building, leasing it for the benefit of the CAC for 21 years at a starting rent of $15,000 per year.6Isaacs noted in the American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger that the nine-story building's top two floors would be converted to an indoor running track, "one of the largest indoor tracks in the city, surpassing in size that of the New York Athletic Club," the CAC's more well-established and older rival, founded in 1868.7

The CAC opened on December 8th 1909, with an announcement inviting members and their friends (men and women), to inspect the premises with a buffet served and entertainment later in the evening for members only.8The extensive interior alterations, started by architects, Herts and Tallant, and finished by Albert S. Gottlieb, included two bowling alleys in the basement; a 60,000-gallon swimming pool; a Turkish bath (steam, dry sauna, massage, needle, and vapor baths); a barber shop; squash courts, a running track; a two-floor gymnasium; a library and reading room; a lounge, bar, restaurant, and grill room; and a billiard room.9The lower floors of the building were rented out as rooms for members with an annual rent ranging from $600-$1050 per year.10

Hundreds of members of the City Athletic Club served in the military during World Wars I and II (see the Complete War Record of the City Athletic Club, Box 176, Folder 7), and membership dropped during these conflicts.11 After the Great Depression of 1929, membership fell from 810 members to 735 by the spring of 1931. While this was the lowest membership level since the club opened twenty-one years earlier, CAC President Guggenheim ensured members that even though membership had dropped, the CAC itself had adjusted its means accordingly and had so far come through the financial crisis in a good position. Though between April 1931 to April 1942, membership dropped to 516, the club was healthier financially and it still managed to entertain 2,339 Armed Service personnel through its Committee for Entertainment of Servicemen. The lowest CAC membership number during the war was 472 as of October 1942 as at least 110 members of the club were off in the Armed Services.12

In 1962, the mayor of New York City, Robert F. Wagner, quit the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) in protest of the non-existent admittance of African Americans to the club and the extremely low presence of Jews. Wagner's father, a New York Senator, had been a member of the NYAC and Wagner himself a member since the mid-1950s. The New York Times reported that Wagner had "heard allegations about the club's policies," but had not known any direct discrimination issues.13 Though it seems the issue of African American admission to the CAC may not have come up over the course of the club's history, the issue of women in men-only clubs would eventually affect all private clubs in New York City, including the CAC.

A committee was formed at the Board meeting of November 28, 1983 to study the practicality of women eating lunch with members in addition to their current ability to attend dinner functions at the CAC. Originally the minutes stated that this was due to overcrowding and lack of bathroom facilities, but the line was deleted from the final minutes. Ultimately, the CAC decided to keep the status quo and limit women in the club to dinner and weekend lunch.14The issue of women members in the club would be addressed consistently throughout the following years. In September 1984, the Board reported on the New York City Council passing an anti-discrimination law regarding private clubs. Originally, New York City's Human Rights Law did not extend to private clubs, but Local Law 63 upended that, concluding that only benevolent orders or religious corporations could limit members based on gender. A total of forty-two private clubs in New York collected $100,000 in funding to fight the legislation and challenge the constitutionality of the law.15By 1988, the issue had gone before the Supreme Court of the United States who upheld the New York City Council's Local Law 63 allowing women into private clubs.16 But the CAC still didn't comply with the new law as noted in the June 3, 1991 minutes where the question of allowing women into the club for lunch was brought up yet again. Minutes of January 27, 1992, stated that the Board read positive and negative responses regarding the decision to let women in for lunch.17The CAC attempted to keep its private club status intact by no longer receiving third-party checks.

In the meantime, the 1980s brought a decline in food service revenues, a mainstay of the club in addition to member dues. Prices for food climbed, while the Board refused to establish a minimum food and beverage pricing for members of the club. Expenses outweighed the revenues. By 1984, the CAC had steadily maintained over 1,000 members, but in comparison, the New York Athletic Club maintained 10,000 members and was able to generate more income for building upkeep, salaries, athletics, and programming. Ideas of raising prices by 7%-8% would put the club's restaurant over the prices of other private clubs in the city but food and beverage was averaging a loss of $100,000 per year and a solution to the revenue problem was needed. They agreed to hiring a consultant and increasing private party functions to address the deficit.18

By November 1985, the Board was discussing whether to sell its air rights (the ability to sell the space over buildings so that others can build over them), to the Whitney Museum of American Folk Art, then located at 49 West 53rd Street.19The CAC had approximately 20,000 square feet of air rights that could be sold. The Club's insurance payments went from $33,000 a year to over $100,000, depleting the CAC's cash.20 At the same time, the club needed to update their equipment and maintain ongoing expenses for the facility. The club also wanted to expand their facilities and hoped that selling the air rights would help in this endeavor.

In 1989, the membership voted to approve the sale of air rights to the Whitney. While dining income had steadied due to private party income, the club lost money in other ways, for instance, the Message Department showed a loss of $76,000 for nine months, the building itself had a constant list of repairs and equipment replacement, and membership was declining. An increase in membership dues helped raise revenue.21In 1990, the Board reported that the some monies from the air rights sale had been received, an outstanding loan had been repaid, and the deal itself was progressing.22 However, after much delay, a devastating blow was handed to the club in 1992: after years of negotiating, the air rights deal with the Whitney officially was terminated.23

An April 29, 1992 letter to the members talked specifically about the poor economy and struggles facing private clubs. Membership was steadily dropping, forcing the CAC to cut services due to loss of revenue, and the Club owed banking debts in the form of loans taken by the CAC for building maintenance. Board President Edward Dunay concluded, "We will continue to closely monitor our expenses, but generally, I feel that there is no area that we can further cut without a noticeable service impact on our services. We all joined the City Athletic Club because it was a special place, and I shall do everything I can to maintain the quality and service our members want and expect."24In answer to the deficit, the Board decided to assess members an extra fee depending on how far they lived from the Club. Feedback from membership urged the Board to allow spouses use of the club with their husbands, to make the squash courts up to regulation so they could be rented out for tournaments, to make the dining room more creative and invite women for dinner, to create a master plan for the facility, and to establish a marketing committee. By 1993, an increase in dues and switching to a different bank improved the club's finances considerably.

In 1994, the Legal and Legislative Committee began looking into how to dispose of the assets of the club and disburse proceeds to members in case the club had to shut down.25That same year, two members resigned over the club's continued no women policy.26 Finally, on April 24, 1995, the first proposed bylaw amendment was approved by the Board, unanimously allowing women to become club members upon approval of the larger membership, though it wasn't brought to a full membership vote until two years later. Discussions were ongoing with the Harmonie Club to merge, and discussions to sell their building under the weight of a large property tax bill also began. By March of 1997, the Board continued discussions with other clubs in regards to merging, but ultimately, the club's options were limited, with one Board member stating that nothing that the Board was doing would work and that the club was doomed.27

Talks began with the Museum of Modern Art to sell the CAC's air rights to the museum and a deal was struck in 1997, bringing an influx of cash to the Club. Also in 1997, women were officially voted in, and the first female member was approved.28 Despite the changes, membership still declined and further merger attempts fell through. The City Athletic Club disbanded in 2002 and the building was sold to the Museum of Modern Art in 2003.

Chronology of Presidents

1908
Ralph Wolf
1909
Frederick Lewisohn
1909-1944
Solomon R. Guggenheim
1945
David A. Aronson
1946-1947
Albert H. Arnstein
1948-1957
Everett F. Gordon
1958
Henry Woog
1959-1961
Edwin Brucks
1962-1963
Burton A. Zorn
1964-1969
Milton Blum
1970-1973
Maurice J. Blumenthal
1974-1978
Milton Blum
1978-1983
Richard M. Kessler
1983-1988
Richard M. Ticktin
1988-1991
Harry H. Gordon
1991-1996
Edward Dunay
1996-1999
David Lurie
1999-2002
Michael Todres
2002
Jonathan Rosen
References

Gray, Christopher. "Streetscapes/50 West 54th Street, Former Home of the City Athletic Club; 1909 Jewish Response to Exclusion Based on Bias." New York Times, June 22, 2003. Accessed October 1, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/22/realestate/streetscapes-50-west-54th-street-former-home-city-athletic-club-1909-jewish.html

Footnotes

  1. 1"Objects," Constitution and Bylaws of the City Athletic Club, circa 1909. From the Board of Governors minutes, August 1908-October 1910. City Athletic Club Records; I-533; Box 177; Box 1; American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY
  2. 2Ibid.
  3. 3The City Athletic Club. November 20, 1908. American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger (1903-1922).
  4. 4A list (pages 34-54) of charter members with addresses may be found in the Board of Governors minutes from 1908-1910, Box 177. A booklet of founding members may be found on page 125.
  5. 5Board of Governors Minutes, August 1908-October 1910, pages 132-133, 135. A copy of an original bond may be found on page 160 of the minutes.
  6. 6Ibid., page 90.
  7. 7Ibid., The City Athletic Club. 1908. American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger (1903-1922).
  8. 8Board of Governors minutes, August 1908-October 1910, page 219.
  9. 9City A.C. to Have a Palatial Home. December 20, 1908. New York Times. Accessed December 11, 2013.
  10. 10Board of Governors minutes, August 1908-October 1910, page 195.
  11. 11The collection contains a plaque dedicated to the memory of six men (and members) who gave their lives during World War I and World War II. Other information about the Club is from the 80th Anniversary Edition of the City Athletic Club's Constitution, Bylaws and House Rules.
  12. 12Board of Governors minutes, 1929-1932, pages 138-139; Board of Governors minutes, 1939-1942, pages 79 and President's Report, April 16, 1940.
  13. 13Mayor Quits Club Over Bias Charge; He Notes Allegations That the New York A.C. Bars Negroes and Jews Accused by 2 Groups Wagner Quits New York A.C. After Hearing Charge of Bias Rules on Entry Attorney General Quit, February 10, 1962. New York Times. Accessed December 10, 2013.
  14. 14Board of Governors minutes, 1982-1986, Box 161, Folder 1, pages 257, 389.
  15. 15Ibid., page 275.
  16. 16New York State Club Association, Inc., Appellant v. City of New York et al. Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Initiative. Accessed October 1, 2014. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/487/1
  17. 17Board of Governors minutes, 1991-1992, Box 6, Folder 1, page 23; Board of Governors minutes, 1991-1992, January 27, 1992.
  18. 18Board of Governors minutes, 1982-1986, Box 161, Folder 1, page 258.
  19. 19Ibid., page 259.
  20. 20Ibid., page 271-272.
  21. 21Ibid., page 155.
  22. 22September 24, 1990, minutes of the Board of Governors, 1986-1990, Box 161, Folder 2.
  23. 23Board of Governors minutes, March 30, 1992, page 3.
  24. 24Ibid., April 29, 1992.
  25. 25March 3, 1994, Board of Governors minutes, 1994-1997, page 5, Box 161, Folder 3.
  26. 26Ibid., June 27, 1994, April 25, 1995, page 119.
  27. 27Ibid., March 24, 1997, page 224.
  28. 28Ibid., May 12, 1997, page 237; October 20, 1997, page 250.

Extent

69.05 Linear Feet (66 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 27 record cartons, 6 oversized boxes, 2 lantern slide boxes, 1 oversized folder and 1 sports trophy)

Abstract

The City Athletic Club (CAC) was a New York City-based, Jewish, athletic, social, and gentleman's club, founded because Jews were rarely admitted to the established clubs at the time. Over the years, the CAC expanded its facilities, but its membership began dwindling in the 1990s, and the club closed in 2002. The City Athletic Club Records primarily consist of membership applications with supporting documents, but also contain a complete set of Board of Governors minutes, committee minutes, photographs, lantern slides, newsletters, printed matter, ephemera, and plaques.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

The collection consists of two separate donations. Most of the collection was donated by Michael Gyure in 2003. An addition of photographs and two oversized certificates were donated in 1993, donor unknown.

Processing Note

This collection was originally processed into 177 manuscript boxes. Later, manuscript boxes 70-177 were consolidated into records center boxes. The location numbers (box and folder) have changed to reflect this. The boxes are now numbered based on the old boxes they contain and the folder numbers have changed to maintain their original designation. For example, what was in Box 71, Folder 4, can now be found in Box 70-74, Folder 71/4. In addition to this, please note that the first 69 manuscript boxes of this collection were consolidated into 62 boxes; therefore manuscript Boxes 63-69 no longer exist.

In 2015 and 2016, four linear feet of material (accession 1993.11.001 and a box of misplaced membership applications), consisting of photographs, negatives, two oversized certificates, and two linear feet of membership applications, was integrated into the collection. The oversized certificates were added to Series IV; the photographs and negatives were incorporated into Series III; and the membership applications were incorporated into Series II, Subseries 1.
Title
Guide to the City Athletic Club Records, undated, 1908-2002 I-533
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Rachel Alexandra Tutera with the assistance of volunteers Jerry Brotman and Katie Rovanpera. In 2015-2016 an additional four linear feet of material was processed by Patricia Glowinski
Date
©2013
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 2016.: In 2014, a revision of the finding aid, including editing and adding a previously written, unpublished historical note was completed by Patricia Glowinski. In 2015 and 2016, four linear feet of additional material, consisting of photographs, two oversized certificates, and membership applications, was incorporated into the collection and the finding aid was updated by Patricia Glowinski.
  • March 13, 2017.: Added City Athletic Club Squash/Tennis Championship trophy. Tanya Elder.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States