Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Athletic Club

Since the 19th century, Detroit has been home to two social clubs known as the Detroit Athletic Club (DAC).  The original DAC was organized in 1887 as a place for men to congregate and enjoy watching or participating in numerous sporting events.  The old DAC field and clubhouse, located on land bordered by Woodward, Cass, Canfield, and Forest, provided spacious grounds and a full gymnasium for track and field, baseball, basketball, football, bowling, cricket, and large-wheeled bicycle racing.  The Club was an eminent member of the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU), hosting its inaugural track and field competition and winning AAU national baseball championships in 1890 and 1892.  Despite excelling at a wide array of sports, the original DAC lacked the social facilities and organizations to generate sufficient revenue for its operations.  The old Club was subsidized through 1913 by the generosity of its member and past president John Kelsey.

With the decline of the original DAC and the rapidly growing popularity of social clubs at the time, there was the need for a rejuvenated sporting club.  Henry B. Joy, famed president of the Packard Motor Car Company who was a founding member and 3rd president of the new DAC, was once reported to have said he wanted “to get the men of the automobile industry out of the saloons on Woodward Avenue.”  He did not wait long to put a plan into motion; by 1913, prominent businessmen, many members of the automobile aristocracy and guided by Henry Joy, had laid the plans for a new Detroit Athletic Club building at the 251 Madison Avenue.  The final act of the original DAC in 1913 was to sign over the charter and all formerly won trophies to the new DAC board of directors, officially allowing them to use the renowned title for their new endeavor.

The new Detroit Athletic Club building was commissioned in 1913 to be built by world-famous architect Albert Kahn.  The ornately detailed six-story structure was inspired by a trip Kahn had made to view Renaissance architecture in Rome and Florence, and in particular the large fourth floor windows were designed after the Palazzo Farnese in Rome.  The Renaissance-inspired structure was planned with three distinct sections: the first and second floors housed social rooms like the entrance hall, billiard room, grill, and lounging room; the third and fourth floors were intended for athletics, housing the locker rooms, gymnasium, handball courts, swimming pool, and Turkish baths; and the fifth and sixth floors were residential rooms.  The building was completed in 1915, marking the complete establishment of the new Detroit Athletic Club that remains to this day.  Though changes and modernizations have been undertaken through the years, this layout remains basically as Kahn had intended it, and the richly crafted details of the building are still apparent to this day.

Through the 100 years of service to its members, the new DAC has upheld its original plans to create a club that supports both athletics and a strong social organization.  From its grand opening on April 17, 1915, the Detroit Athletic Club was one of the first clubs of its type to allow the women of member’s families in the clubhouse, and over the years it has greatly expanded its programs and facilities that cater to women and the entire families of members.  On the Club’s 30th anniversary in 1945, the members voted to curtail the celebration in order to open the building up for three days to wounded veterans, with over 1000 enjoying entertainment and sports at the facility.  With the help of its own monthly DAC News publication, the past glory and continuing success of the Detroit Athletic Club will be celebrated for the foreseeable future.

Written by Brent Maynard

 


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