The Philadelphia Club in 1916.
|Headquarters||Thomas Butler Mansion, 1301 Walnut Street|
|Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the surrounding region|
The Philadelphia Club, founded in 1834 and located at 13th and Walnut Streets in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the oldest city club in the United States, and one of the oldest gentlemen's clubs. Notable members have included General George Meade, author Owen Wister, and many members of the Du Pont and Biddle families.
The club's founders were a group of men who met to play cards at Mrs. Rubicam's Coffeehouse at the northwest corner of 5th & Minor Streets in Philadelphia. In early 1834,they moved around the corner to the Adelphia Building at 212 South 5th Street, taking the new building's name as the club's name. "The Adelphia Club" held its first recorded meeting on March 21, 1834. The following year, its members moved to the Joseph Bonaparte house at 260 South 9th Street, and changed the club's name to "The Philadelphia Club." In 1843 they moved to 919 Walnut Street, and in 1850 the club moved to its current location, the Thomas Butler Mansion at 1301 Walnut Street.
American Civil War
The Civil War period was a difficult time for the Club. The Union was well represented but there were many influential members who were Southern sympathizers with family and financial interests in the American South. The East Reading Room was reserved for Radical Republicans the West Reading Room for Copperheads. The sliding doors between them were kept closed. Roland Evans, a Copperhead, having been insulted by a scalawag, knocked him down with his cane and was expelled from the Club. He sued for reinstatement, claiming lack of due process and a fair hearing, and won in the Court of Common Pleas. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court split, leaving stand the lower court opinion in his favor, whereupon he entered the Club, went to the bar, ordered a drink, and resigned.
Amidst this environment, in 1862 some members of the club split away and founded the Union League. After the war, many former members were readmitted to membership in the Philadelphia club. For a time soon after the war the two clubs had the same president, George Boker.
Following Proclamation 87 - Celebration of George Washington's Birthday made by President Abraham Lincoln on February 19, 1862, Philadelphia celebrated the Birthday of President George Washington with a military parade procession on Broad, Walnut and Chestnut Streets. The parade occurred on February 22, 1862 and was led by Major General Robert Patterson. The Club celebrated this occasion with a tribute President Washington. Philadelphia artist Joseph Boggs Beale recorded the Club's tribute in his diary:
“The club house, 13th & Walnut, was illuminated with candles at every pane of glass, & had a beautiful American flag hanging so that the light on it showed it several squares away. In one of their windows they had a pure white marble head of Washington & the American flag (silk) covering the pedestal & this was set off with a dark red background and brilliantly lighted from above.”
In 1931, during Prohibition, the Philadelphia Club was raided by members of the Philadelphia Police Department, led by Bronislaw Wielbaba, in an effort to seize illegal spirits and wine. According to Weilbaba's testimony, the police captured 401 quarts, 118 pints, and a 1-gallon jug of alcohol during the raid of member lockers on February 2, 1931. The only arrest made was of the club manager.
Design of the Butler Mansion is attributed William Strickland, and was one of his few residential commissions. It was built as a city house for Thomas Butler, only son of South Carolina U.S. Senator Pierce Butler. Thomas Butler died before the building's 1838 completion, and it stood vacant until its 1849 purchase by The Philadelphia Club. The club added a billiard room, moved the kitchen to the basement, and opened its new clubhouse in 1850. It was altered in 1888-89 by Frank Furness, who designed a rear addition and expanded its kitchens and main dining room. Wilson Eyre renovated its interiors a decade later, and additional alterations were done by Horace Trumbauer in 1905 and 1908, and by Mellor, Meigs & Howe in 1916.
George C. Boldt, hired in 1876 as a dishwasher, rose to become the club's steward, and married the former steward's daughter. With financial backing from club members, he built the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, and later went on to build the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and manage the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Jimmy Duffy, the noted Philadelphia Main Line caterer, was the club's bartender from 1895 to 1929.
In addition to card rooms, dining rooms, smoking rooms, and a bar, the Club contains a library, a large collection of Philadelphia prints, a collection of game trophy heads donated by Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and lodging rooms on its upper stories.
Presidents and guests
Among the club's guests have been twelve U.S. presidents: John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, William McKinley, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald R. Ford, and George H. W. Bush; soldiers and sailors George B. McClellan, William Tecumseh Sherman, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, George Dewey, George Goethals and Jack Keane; writers, artists, actors and musicians: William Makepeace Thackeray, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry Irving, Charles Kemble, Edwin Booth, Booth Tarkington, John Barrymore, Joseph Pennell, Leopold Stokowski, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Bram Stoker, Eugene Ormandy, Louis Kahn and Roger Scruton; and other public men Talleyrand, Stephen A. Douglas, Lord Randolph Churchill, Grand Duke Alexander, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Duarte Pio, Henry Cabot Lodge, Winston Churchill, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and Henry Clay.
In its first 119 years, women were admitted to the club on only three occasions: balls in January 1851 and January 1869 and the centennial reception in October 1934. In May 1953 the membership voted to allow women guests at dinners. Many restrictions have since been eased, but women remain excluded from membership. In the mid 1970s, the club hired a woman barber, Isabella Judith Devaney, who worked there for 18 years before leaving due to health issues.
Disputed status as "oldest club"
It is occasionally reported that the Philadelphia Club is the "oldest club," "oldest private club," "oldest gentlemen's club," or "oldest city club" in the United States. However, three social clubs are older: the South River Club in South River, Maryland (a fishing club that meets four times a year), was founded c.1690/1700; the Schuylkill Fishing Company in Andalusia, Pennsylvania (which meets informally at the Philadelphia Club during winter months), was founded in 1732; and the Old Colony Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts (which meets on Friday nights and special occasions), was founded in 1769. None of these offers the facilities of a traditional gentlemen's club – regular hours, paid staff, a bar or restaurant, lodging rooms – that are associated with the English model of city clubs in the St. James's district of London.
Notable members, past and present
- Ambassador Walter Annenberg
- William Wallace Atterbury
- Edward Fitzgerald Beale
- Edward Julius Berwind
- Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle
- Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr.
- Francis Beverly Biddle
- Captain James Biddle
- Livingston L. Biddle, Jr.
- Curtis Bok
- George Henry Boker
- Sec. Adolph E. Borie
- General George Cadwalader
- John Cadwalader, Jr.
- Alexander J. Cassatt
- George William Childs
- William Thaddeus Coleman Jr.
- Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr.
- Anthony J. Drexel
- Franklin D'Olier
- Henry Francis du Pont
- Pierre S. du Pont, IV
- Wilson Eyre
- Mayor Edwin H. Fitler
- Thomas Sovereign Gates
- Thomas S. Gates, Jr.
- Robert Goelet
- T. Truxtun Hare
- Howard Henry
- George Howe
- John G. Johnson
- William Draper Lewis
- James McCrea
- Robert Lincoln McNeil, Jr.
- General George Meade
- Spencer Penrose
- Eli Kirk Price II
- Samuel Rea
- Sec. George M. Robeson
- Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
- Joseph George Rosengarten
- Robert Montgomery Scott
- Thomas A. Scott
- Frank Thomson
- Ambassador Charlemagne Tower, Jr.
- Mayor Richard Vaux
- Ethelbert Watts
- Piers Wedgwood, 4th Baron Wedgwood
- Francis Wharton
- George D. Widener, Jr.
- Isaac J. Wistar
- Langhorne Wister
- Owen Wister
- Clarence C. Zantzinger
An April 2008 assessment from Philadelphia Magazine:
The Philadelphia Club, 1301 Walnut Street; 215-735-5924. The oldest and most guarded of the city’s old-guard clubs sits, with increasing incongruity, at the edge of the Gayborhood — but the Philadelphia Club makes no adjustments to passing fads. Unmarked outside but for a discreet awning logo, it is said to be one of the oldest men’s clubs in the U.S., feeding the city’s elite since 1834. Inside the three-story building, the Philadelphia Club is — except on occasional nights when members gather around the piano to sing — kept deathly quiet by members eating Old Philadelphia lunches of chicken salad and fried oysters. The blue bloods hang out to play an archaic domino game called sniff. This is the hardest club in town to join, limited largely to old Philadelphia families. Walter Annenberg applied for membership once and was blackballed — though he was eventually accepted. Was he turned down because he was Jewish? Because he made enemies? Who knows.
Founded: 1834. Number of members: 400. Notable facilities: Rooms for napping. Wait list: Unknown. Demographics: Pretty damn white, although it reportedly got into the token-Jew business in the 19th century. Notable members: Socialite Robert Montgomery Scott. Food: Members mention the ham and veal pie. Crustiness: As crusty as that ham-and-veal pie.
- Issenberg, Sasha; Miller, Blake; and Patel, Roxanne. "Members Only," Philadelphia Magazine (April 18, 2008).
- Rivinus, pp. 8-9.
- Klaus, pp 7.
- Lincoln, Abraham. "Proclamation 87 - Celebration of George Washington's Birthday February 19, 1862" American Presidency Project
- Beale, Joseph Boggs. Education of an Artist: The Diary of Joseph Boggs Beale, 1856-1862
- "Illegal alcohol at the Philadelphia Club" (photograph and caption) Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (February 27, 1931) on the Temple University Libraries website
- Thomas, George E.; Cohen, Jeffrey A.; and Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: The Complete Works (Princeton Architectural Press, revised 1996), pp. 66, 280.
- Furness addition photo from Flickr
- Philadelphia Register of Historic Places: 1956; National Register of Historic Places: 1984, contributing property to East Center City Commercial District.
- Rivinus, p. 38.
- Rivinus, 24-26.
- Rivinus, 30-32.
- Whitaker's Almanack 2008. A&C Black. 2008. p. 649. ISBN 978-0-7136-8554-1.
- Bell, Malcolm, Jr. "Major Butler's Legacy." (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987)
- Freedman, Paul. (2017-04-07) "The Fascinating History of Food at Private Clubs." 
- Klaus, William R. "This Old House." ( privately printed, 1999).
- Lippincott, Horace Mather. "The Philadelphia Club," Early Philadelphia: Its People, Life and Progress (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1917), pp. 300–02.
- Rivinus, F. Markoe. The Philadelphia Club, 1934-1984 (privately printed, 1984).
- Wister, Owen. The Philadelphia Club, 1834-1934 (privately printed, 1934).
- Wainwright, Nicholas B. "Education of an Artist: The Diary of Joseph Boggs Beale." [file:///C:/Users/fd-ecn/Downloads/42995-42834-1-PB.pdf]
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