Detroit in the 1800's and the early part of this century was very much a club town. The Detroit Boat
Club, recently closed, dated from 1839. The Detroit Club organized in 1882, and the first incarnation of the Detroit Athletic
Club was founded in 1883.
In those early days, business and transportation moved at a snail's pace. Offices and businesses closed
at noon for a couple of hours and the men went home to lunch.
The Detroit Club
Two bachelors, James R. Campbell Jr., and Samuel T. Douglas, who presumably had no one to go home to,
met by chance one day and came up with the idea for a downtown club where "men of culture could associate to mould into form
that atmosphere and enthusiasm which are important factors in club welfare and where they could give interested attention
to the development of art , civics, literature, and other elements in the permanent upbuilding of the city."
When Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan was a dinner guest at the Detroit Club in 1959, 500 angry picketers
marched and threw eggs outside the club.
With an original membership of 10, they held their first luncheon meeting in a little wooden house
on Lafayette between Wayne and Cass. For several years afterward, the members met in a house at the corner of Fort and Wayne.
The original charter was signed by 101 men. The current clubhouse at 712 Cass was built in 1891, an architectural blend of
Romanesque Revival and Italian Renaissance.
It was a select group of men who hobnobbed for lunch, dinner, or a game of billiards, or who used the
club for "summit meetings." Since the very beginning in 1882, the club was a place where decisions were made. Its membership
was a blend of big business, the professions, and the men who have contributed to the cultural growth of the city.
In the early days, they were pioneers in lumber, real estate, and railroads, and men holding office.
An early member was General Russell A. Alger, a prominent lumberman who had a distinguished career
in the Civil War, served as Governor of Michigan, as Secretary of War for President McKinley and as a U.S. Senator.
Hugh McMillan, the club's first president, was a founder of the Michigan Telephone Company, and had
interests in railway, electrical, mining, manufacturing, steamship, and bank businesses.
James B. Book, heir to vast commercial and real estate interests, was a member as was Charles B. King,
the man who drove the first car on Detroit streets in 1896. These early men were followed by the men who made their fortunes
with the automobile, chemicals or steel.
The list of dignitaries entertained at the club is long: Presidents Truman, Hoover, and Roosevelt;
Prince William of Sweden, Empress Zita of Austria, and the Duke of Windsor; Margaret Truman, Charles Lindbergh, Gene Tunney,
Admiral Byrd, John D. Rockefeller and Edward G. Robinson.
When Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan was entertained at dinner one night in 1959, 500 picketers,
most of them Hungarian freedom fighters and refugees from Eastern Europe, shouted insults and threw raw eggs.
Founded in 1892, the Yondotega Club was built on the river at 518 E. Jefferson. The name is an Algonquin
word for 'beautiful view.' Strictly an eating club, it is one of the most exclusive clubs in the United States, with a membership
of around 150. Only when a member dies is a new member admitted.
The mysterious Yondotega Club (this is the original clubhouse at 518 E. Jefferson) is one of the most exclusive
clubs in the nation.
When the Chrysler Freeway was built, the old clubhouse was torn down, and a new one built in 1959,
further up Jefferson between Riopelle and Russell. No woman ever crossed the threshold of the old building. The gates open
for the traditional Wednesday night dinner.
Dining and cards are the pastimes in the Yondotega Club ('the Yon' to intimates). The food is rumored
to be fabulous, and has been consumed by James McMillan, Frederick Alger, Ernst Kanzler, Wendell Anderson and assorted Briggs',
Buhls, Fords, and Fishers. Visitors who have enjoyed the food? The Prince of Wales, Admiral Byrd, and Teddy Roosevelt.
As for cards, in a trial contesting taxes in 1938, members testified that after a deck of cards was
used once, it was donated to charity. Also unearthed at that trial, the existance within the club of a side organization,
known as "Kibitzer's Foundation for Needy Friends to Encourage Scientific Card Playing." The Yondotega Club continues, behind
its wall of secrecy, to host fine dinners for its elite membership.
The University Club:
The University Club was founded in 1899 in Swan's Chop House at the northwest corner of Woodward and
Larned. George P. Codd, a University of Michigan baseball pitcher, congressman and mayor, was the first president. After one
year at Swan's, they moved to the old Walker block for nine years, then to the Walker residence at Fort and Shelby until 1913.
The club then moved to the McMillan mansion at Jefferson and Russell, the former home of U.S. Senator James McMillan, which
had been built during the 1870's. During this period, ladies were only allowed in on New Year's Eve.
The University Club on East Jefferson originally was a place for college graduates to gather and compare
The members built their final home in 1931 on the same site on East Jefferson. It included squash and
racquetball courts, leaded glass, antlered trophy heads, and the dining room: a two story great hall. There were 20 bedrooms
on the third floor for permanent occupants and 4 for visitors. The main entrance was on Russell, but the ladies' entrance
was through a 'delightful garden' on Jefferson.
Members had to have graduated from a University or other establishment of higher learning although
in 1985, in an effort to attract new members, the club was opened to those who had completed two years of college. Early members
included Dexter Ferry and Albert Russell, and the club was the location for many blue-blood bachelor parties and society wedding
Residents of the guest rooms in 1962 included two brokers, a manufacturer, several business executives,
a group of lawyers and a Chrysler Personnel chief. The first woman, Susan Reck, a stockbroker, was admitted in 1978.
The University Club went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992, and the building now houses the YWCA.
The James McMillan Mansion on Jefferson was an early home of the University Club.
The chestnut panelled dining room had a magnificent view of the city.
The clubs usually featured dark paneling and leather upholstery that reeked of the smoke of expensive cigars,
like this University Club lounge.