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Gossip Of The Clubs: 1891

It certainly is passing strange that none of the club idlers with a leaning toward scribbling and there are plenty of them in this city of clubs has happened to take up the subject with which he was most familiar and treat of clubs from an ethical and philosophical standpoint. Hundreds of young men are being initiated in the fraternity of clubs here in New York every year, and like all novitiates, they are eager for information of the ways of the organization or federation of organizations, which they have just joined. They may search in vain for mental pabulum of this sort, for none is to be found aside from the occasional newspaper squibs and magazine articles on clubs, and these references to the subject are usually of a historical or news character, rather than philosophical. Leaving the newly-fledged club men out of the question, there are many of the older generation who boast club affiliations to whom a compilation of "Don'ts" or Do's" would not come amiss, in the judgment of the more experienced club men. The field is ready for tilling; the question is, who will be the pioneer?

Probably few persons have ever given thought to the wonderful development of the club movement in this city, or to the importance of that organized, and yet unorganized, body, "the club men of New York City." A little more than half a century ago New York had not a single organized club of any importance. Today more than 350 clubs have quarters of their own on Manhattan islands, and at the mildest estimate, "the club men of New York City" number more than 100,000 leaving out of consideration the thousand and one social organization of humble character which are dignified by the name of "club".

Granting that not more than two or three scores of these 350 clubs are generally known and that their total membership does not exceed, say 40,000 men, it is nevertheless a fact that this body of 40,000 men, it is nevertheless a fact that this body of 40,000 men includes nearly all the prominent figures in literature, art, society, finance, the professions, commerce and politics in the greatest city of the continent. There are literary, art, social, financial, professional commercial, and political club organizations, and any man of prominence in any one of these lines is pretty sure to be enrolled in one or more of the clubs toward which his associations and interests lead him.

Although each club is a distinct organization by itself, the club men of New York are really an affiliated body. To a certain extent their interests, customs, and methods are identical. A man expelled from one club is practically blacklisted at all the others, in much the same fashion as prevails in trade organizations, and all clubs acknowledge allegiance to a common code, unwritten though it be. Theoretically, there are 850 independent clubs in New York City; practically, there is one club organization, with 350 branches. The topic of the hour in club circles is the embryonic club, officially known for the present as the metropolitan Club and popularly known as the "Millionaires' Club." The circular invitation to the elect of clubdom to enlist under the banner of the as yet unnamed club has been out for a week or more, and those who have received it and those who haven't are equally interested in its outcome. It has been reported that invitations to join the club had been sent to 1,000 clubbable new Yorkers, but those who should know say that only half this number of the coveted documents have been mailed. Somehow or other the Knickerbockers Club, with its 400 members has fared much better in respect to these invitations than the Union Club, with its 1,200 and more members. The moving spirits in the organization of the new club have protested again and again that there was nothing inimical to the Union Club in their plans, but it is a fact nevertheless that they look to the Knickerbockers rather than to the Union for the nucleus of their proposed resident membership of 1,000 or 1,200.

The organizers of the new club have been forced to admit that they must abandon the designation of the Metropolitan Club, in view of the fact that one of the leading Hebrew clubs of the city, whose house is distant only a stone's throw from the proposed site of the new club's house, long ago pre-empted that name. The circular invitation and the accompanying copies of the constitution, to be sure, have christened the new club as the Metropolitan, but there will have to be a second christening. A rumor that the club's option on the Haminersley property had expired and that the property was again in the market has been floating about town the last week but probably has no foundation in fact. It is a moral certainty that the project will go through, and not the least guarantee of its success is the concession to the progressive spirit of the times in the shape of the provision in the constitution for the entertainment of the wives and daughters of members in the clubhouse.

Clubs, like men, have their day, and it is not unlikely that the beginning of the next century will find the world-famous Union Club occupying third or fourth place among New York's swell social clubs. Already the offspring of the Union, the Knickerbockers, which was founded, twenty years ago by secedes from the Union, has relegated the parent club to second place in point of exclusiveness and social standing, and in the course of time the new Metropolitan Club will probably pose as the leader of New York clubdom.

The Union was founded in 1836, and for the better part of half a century has had much to do with the making of men's social standing in New York. In its infancy it had quarters at 343 Broadway, near Leonard Street, and there remained for six years. For the next eight years it was housed at 376 Broadway, and in 1850 it found a home at 691 Broadway, near Fourth Street. In April, 1855, it took possession of its present quarters at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first Street, celebrating that event by the first and only ladies' reception in all its history. Its slow but sure progress from the once fashionable district below Canal Street to "the avenue" is typical of the northward trend of the business and social life of the city.

The Union Club does not propose to be caught napping by the "Millionaires' Club." One of the very causes of being of the proposed new club is the existence of a waiting list of nearly four hundred names at the Union. Had all the eligible clubmen whose names appear on this list been able to get into the Union the new club would probably have been unable to secure the necessary support. The far-sighted members of the Union who appreciate this fact and realize that the new club would prove & veritable magnet for these men, to the serious injury of the Union, propose to hit back at the club which is threatening the Union's prestige, and have arranged for a special meeting of the Union Club for the 5th of next month to consider a proposition to increase the membership of the Union from 1,200 of 1,500.

The Governors of the Reform Club propose to arrange for a series of monthly lectures at the clubhouse by men of national reputation, who will there put themselves on record on the various topics in which the club is interested. This first of the series will probably be given this month, although a speaker has not yet been secured. The Hon. Edward J. Phelps, ex-minister to the Court of St. James, has signified his willingness to speak at one of these meetings, and will probably appear before a Reform Club audience in April.

At last Wednesday night's meeting of the Governors of the club about thirty men were elected to resident membership, thus bringing the total number of resident members up to 950. As soon as the thousand mark is reached the initiation fee will be doubled.

The remarkably handsome hangings ordered for the club's house arrived a week or so ago and are now in position. Aside from the interior of the library, the appointments of the new clubhouse are now complete.

There are dozens of items of expense in connection with the maintenance of a club which would never be dreamed of by those not familiar with club management. A Not unimportant item is the provision of the necessary liveries for the employees of the club. Last year the Manhattan Club invested between $4,000 and $5,000 in the adornment of its servitors, and the Union League paid out nearly $2,500 for the same purpose.

According to the statement of membership which accompanies the report of the Treasurer of the Manhattan Club, (which were printed in these columns last Thursday,) the club had, on March 1, 1,150 resident members, 500 non-resident members and twenty life members. In the course of the year ended Feb. 28 463 resident members and 206 non-resident members were elected. In the same period the club lost twenty-seven members by death, resignation, and suspension.

By the adoption of the amendments to the Constitution at the annual meeting last Thursday night, increasing the limit of resident membership to 1,500, subjecting all incoming non-resident members to annual dues of $25 apiece and raising the dues for resident members from $70 to $75, the club will materially increase its revenues for 1891.

Even, should the Manhattan take in $4,00,000 or $500,000 during the coming year, it is by no means certain that it will lend the clubs of the city in the matter of income. A club which was hardly thought of, outside of athletics, a couple of years ago, has now entered the field as a candidate for those honors, and it is not unlikely that it will outstrip the Manhattan. This club, the Manhattan Athletic, will have between 3,500 and 4,000 members before the end of 1891 and though its members, as a rule, are not as high livers as the Manhattan men, they will out-number the tenants of the Stewart house two to one, and by mere force of numbers may carry the day.

The income of the athletic club from dues alone will exceed $125,000; the house receipts from the bar, restaurant, cards, & c., may safely be set down us from $800 to $1,000 a day; the bachelor apartments in the clubhouse will bring in perhaps, $15,000 during the year, and all told, the club's receipts for 1891 are likely to be nearer $500,000 than $400,000. But one other club will be in the race with the Manhattan and the Manhattan Athletic and that club, the Union League, will do well if its gross receipts equal $300,000.


Article Information:
Article Name: Gossip Of The Clubs: 1891
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com |Researcher/Transcriber:    Miriam Medina
Source:     New York Times March 22, 1891. p.19 (1 page)
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