Century of Joviality
Henry T. Berry, Lamda ’51 (Deceased)
The First Club
Turn back the clock a century and you will find yourself in an age when a gentleman’s club was indeed a home away from home. You are in Grover Cleveland’s world, a world of hansome cabs, cobblestone streets and gaslights. It is a time when Steve Brody was to gain undying fame by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, and Diamond Jim Brady was to defeat Lillian Russell in a corncob eating contest, 31 to 24. It was in this period when the first DKE Club was to open its doors.
To be exact, it was May 9, 1885, when this greatest of fraternity clubs was born. Its 250 charter members celebrated this momentous occasion with a house warming at their spanking new quarters, 36 West 34th Street in New York City. As it was located previously close to what was affectionately called “The Old Tenderloin,” one can only hope that the Brothers did not take too literally that part of the new club’s constitution which called for “social intercourse…and entertainment.”
The Club prospered mightily and in the fall of ’87 the members jubilantly moved into 435 Fifth Avenue — much more spacious quarters located in the heart of New York’s private club area. The now 360 members could honestly say, “We have everything that is needed for a first class club.”
The Big Bash
The Club’s apex during that century was undoubtedly in 1894 when New York City hosted DKE’s annual National Convention. As any Brother in the Bonds worth his salt can tell you, ’94 was the 50th birthday of our fraternity, and the Dekes did it up brown. One can only visualize dinner at the Rectors or Delmonicos, followed by a trip to Tony Pastor’s Music Hall to hear Maggie Cline belt out her favorite, Throw Him Down McCloskey! The 90’s were probably never hayer than when the Dekes kicked up their heels over the first half-century of DKE.
During the waning days of the last century, interest in fraternity clubs began to falter. The growth of college clubs began to cut into the DKE Club membership. These larger clubs offered infinitely more facilities than could the DKE Club. So, after two moves to smaller quarters, 1903, the DKE Club of New York passed into history, but not the desire of many Dekes to band together.
Led by its president, Whitelaw Reid, an association was quickly formed that would hold the area’s Brotherhood together during the next decade. Its function was to stage a series of dinners throughout the area. The largest of these was to honor Commander Robert E. Peary, U.S.N., when he returned from the North Pole. Brother Peary was the Hero of the hour. He had actually planted a DKE flag in the Arctic ice, a fact that was fully noted by about 600 brothers at the Hotel Astor on December 18, 1909. In the meantime, the seeds of once again having a clubhouse had been nurtured by the Association. Events 3,000 miles away were about to play their part.
DKE Clubhouse Number 5
Europe had gone mad in 1914, and soon hundreds of Dekes from Canada, or as American volunteer, had been caught up in this madness. Travel to and from New York City increased greatly. The Association formed a holding company whose purpose was to buy a new clubhouse. The belief that the U.S. was about to get into the scrap across the Atlantic, and that young Dekes on their way to France should have a meeting place in New York, was an incentive for the Association. In 1916, the building at 30 West 44th Street, formerly the home of the Yale Club, became the new DKE Club.
And what a club it was, a handsome 13-story building of stone and brick in a central location. It was something out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel, featuring an Old English tap room with a walk-in fireplace, five stories of guest bedroom, a gymnasium with a squash court, and rooftop dining facilities. It was all any Brother could ask for an it could not have come at a better time. On April 6th, the U.S. declared war on Germany. To coin a phrase of the day, “the fat was in the fire.”
The Great War
There was still a romantic feeling about the war in 1917, and Dekes did indeed join the colors in droves. The late Brother, Lou Brockway, put it this way. “Hell, we’d been hearing about this thing for three years. We wanted to find out what it was all about. I think just about the Tau Chapter joined up, and most of them stopped in at the 44th Street Clubhouse before they went over.”
But as great as the new facilities were, they weren’t enough for one Brother, Lames Anderson Hawes. He actually went to France and set up a DKE Club annex. It wasn’t much, not as far as clubs go anyway, but it was big enough to act as a meeting place for the Brothers before they left for that slice of hell called the Front.
The war ended, and with it came the great victory of the blue noses and the gangsters — “the 18th Commandment Thou Shall Not Drink.” In true Deke spirit, the Brothers decided to throw a huge party celebrating the end of the war, while also lamenting the death of John Barleycorn.
In the long run, neither of these two held true, but the latter did cut noticeably into the revenues of the Club. Ask any club manager. The sale of spirits supports the dining room. The Brothers were soon looking for smaller quarters.
They were in luck. The Army and Navy Club made a handsome offer for our West 44th Street building, an offer that meant a pleasant profit for the Club. It was accepted.
Armed with this windfall they began looking for a new DKE Club. The result of this search was a six-story edifice across the street from the St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 5 East 51st Street. The front floor of the DKE Club #6 was opened for business in February of 1926.
The Roaring 20s
This, of course, was one of the great periods of New York City. The stock market was going up and so were the women’s hemlines. That lovely rogue, James J. Walker, was mayor and Texas Guinan would greet their thirty customers with the cry of — “Hello Suckers!”
The most popular spot at the DKE Club was the barber shop. Legend has it that one could not only get his locks trimmed there but could also obtain his supply of forbidden beverages. Yes Tony, the barber, was also the Club’s bootlegger. After all, Dekes can get as thirsty as anyone else.
Ladies were “permitted” in certain club areas only, which seems so comical today when one may soon be sharing the fifth floor locker room with a female member.
Wall Street Lays an Egg
Everything came tumbling down in and after the fall of 1929, including our beloved club. It was in 1932, that the Brothers Marsall Edwards and Hawes closed negotations for an affiliation with the Yale Club, and the Dekes have been at 50 Vanderbilt Avenue ever since. When the war clouds gathered in 1941, many Dekes left from the port of New York for service in the European theatre. Before departure, the DKE Club was the mecca for all to drown their sorrows.
Over the years we Dekes continue to enjoy the matchless facilities at our disposal. Since 1951, when I became a member, there have been many changes. A Brother no longer waits for his lady friend in the cubby hold to the right of the entrance, nor has a clear view to the U.N. building while dining on the roof.
Space does not permit tales of the many colorful and well loved club employees who served us so well for more than fifty years. Suffice it to say that their friendship and interest in Deke affairs and the membership as a whole is warmly rememberd and appreciated.
The Club Today
Until 1974, the DKE Club was an independent club within the Yale Club. Then, new tax regulations and the need to centralize billing procedures required a change in our status to associate membership in the Yale Club. However we continue to maintain a close supervision of the membership qualificiations and the conduct of our fellow Dekes. As our charter directs, we give regular parties to promote social interaction among our members, and we hope we shall always be able “to provide them a pleasant place of convenient resort for their entertainment and improvement.”
Today, the relationship between the Yale Club Council and the DKE Club Board of Governors is closer than at any time in our history. The Deke membership feels a part of the Yale Club family. With this strong relationship between the two Clubs, everything is in place for us to begin the next century with a bang! All of this and “the best is yet to be.”