Saturday, January 13, 2007

Columbia Club Blues

An Indianapolis landmark is at a crossroads according to this week's Indianapolis Business Journal. The Columbia Club, a 118-year-old private club, is facing financial stress as a $5.5 million loan the club took out a few years ago to make renovations comes due this summer. The IBJ's Peter Schnitzer reports the club has been losing money in recent years, and it recently dumped its general manager after hiring an outside consulting firm. The club is still losing membership even after the Athletic Club closed in 2004. It's membership, according to Schnitzer, now stands at 2,100, which is about a third less than it had in the late 1990s.

There's no mistaking the beautiful architecture and rich history of the club's building on Monument Circle. I must confess that I was drawn to it when I moved to Indianapolis in 1990, and I became a member of the club in 1993. At that time, Circle Centre Mall hadn't opened and there still weren't many restaurants downtown. I soon figured out, however, that the club just wasn't my cup of tea.

Anyone who has ever been a member of the Columbia Club quickly learns that there are about a few dozen members who make the club their life. The rest of the members just sort of join for social/networking reasons and visit the club only on occasion. These die-hard members are there early in the morning, at lunchtime, after work and even weekends. The die-hard members I often found to be very materialistic and driven by the need to appear as having made it in this world. The incessant name-dropping, cigar puffing and superficial ways of these folks was unbearable. The only time these folks wanted anything to do with you was election time, and then you were their best friend.

Outsiders may find this hard to believe, but these people would actually spend several thousand dollars campaigning for a position on the club's board. Direct mail pieces, candidate slates, ads in the Columbian (yes, it has its own magazine) and drinks on me were all a part of their campaigns to win a coveted seat on the board. A cynical employee once told me they coveted the position for the prestige and the free booze and food some of them managed to finagle out of the position. I'll never forget a fight in the French Room between two competing board candidates. A three hundred fifty-pound attorney exchanged shoves with a much smaller guy. The big guy's custom-made suit was fit for a homeless man after the bout ended without bloodshed.

While we're on the subject of the French Room, it is one of two bars in the club. When I first joined, the Harrison Bar on the first floor was the only bar. It is truly one of the city's classic bars as far as appearances go. Later, the members who live and die at the club decided they needed their own private bar where non-members would not be permitted. Thus, the French Room (named after a local liquor distributor) on the third floor was born. One of my favorite stories is how quickly the French Room got broken in. Soon after it opened, a prominent local businessman threw a blow out bachelor party for his son in the French Room, which included several ladies of the night. According to eyewitness accounts, the live entertainment soon became lude and lucivious. Lines formed to the bathroom for purposes other than to use the facilities. Reports indicated there were more than a few used condoms strewn about the place before the party ended.

During each legislative session, many lawmakers take up residence in the Columbia Club. As a consequence, the club is a popular hangout for lobbyists who like to spend a lot of money wining and dining legislators. As a former lobbyist, this made it all the less attractive to me. It can create more than a few awkward moments when a legislator thinks you're game for buying his drinks or meals simply because you're a lobbyist. For the lobbyist who's all about doing business that way, it's the place to be.

Before I finally dropped my membership, I found that the club's fitness facility was about the only use I was getting out of my membership. But even there, I found the encounters with the men who used the fitness facility for what I would call a "gentleman's workout" more than a little annoying. That would be the ones who simply get naked and spend their entire time rotating between the showers, the whirlpool and the steamroom, catching as many glimpses of other naked men as humanly possible during the process. There was more than one occasion when I felt like telling these trolls they should take their routine to a gay bathhouse. One retired doctor actually had the gall to bring what appeared to me to be young hustlers he picked up off the street as guests with him to the fitness center. That was more than some of the regulars could stand. The fine doctor was told by the staff not to bring his guests back. I found a lot of the members at the Columbia Club tolerated gays as long as they remained in the closet, like one of its board members who in between marriages visits the local gay bars.

The only real part I miss about being a member of the Columbia Club was checking out the delinquency list in the main hallway on the first floor. Like many private clubs do, the Columbia Club allows members to charge drinks and meals to their membership card. At the end of the month, you are billed for your next month's membership dues along with any charges you accrued the prior month. It's suppose to work like an American Express card where you pay off the full amount of the bill each month. A few members, however, were constantly in arrears. To shame these people, the club listed the member's name and the amount of his/her arrearage. The list usually confirmed to me who the people were who like living well beyond their means.

So if the Columbia Club should close its doors as a private club, I shall not shed any tears. I fear not that it will reopen as a charming, luxury hotel. There is a real history in that building which should be preserved for posterity. But the private club can go as far as I'm concerned.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh come on. Give it a break, AI. You sound bitter and you hardly ever do that. If you've got time to write vacuous posts like this your recent ruminations mulling quitting were certianly not sincere.

The CC is odd and quirky but it is a private club and the membership can behave as oddly as they like. Problem is, the market will not reward such behavior with membership of folks like you, me, and others.

You are undoubtedly correct in that if it should fail it will resurrect itself as a boutique hotel with a spectacular lobby and great ballroom.

Wilson46201 said...

Exactly what are the qualifications for joining the Columbia Club anyways? I doubt if the bar is too high.

My only experience inside the Columbia Club was to try to find somebody to complain to after Governor O'Bannon died and flags everywhere downtown were flying at half-staff except for the Columbia Club. I know they have the reputation of being too staunchly Republican but not lowering the flag for a recently deceased Democratic Governor? I finally found somebody in Club management that said they'd lower the flag.

What is telling is that an outsider like me had to remind them of common courtesy and decency...

Anonymous said...

Similar to any country club I would assume. I'm sure you need to be recommended by a member and then pay lots of dosh and then you're granted membership.

Wilson - don't BS us with your phoney patriotism. If someone didn't have a flag lowered at half staff for Presidents Ford, Reagan, or even Nixon you'd not said a word. To you common courtesy and decency only comes with a jackass next to the party affiliation.

Advance Indiana said...

The Republican association of the club has long since faded away. John Gregg was a regular at the Columbia Club in his days as a legislator and Speaker. The only qualification for membership is that you have a sponsor and be able to pay the initiation fee. They'll accept about anyone who wants to join because they need members. Anon 1:28, I'm only bitter about the thousands of dollars I wasted on my membership there. That money would look a lot better sitting in a retirement account right now.

Advance Indiana said...

Wilson, I'm sure the flag incident had nothing to do with the political affiliation of O'Bannon. Based on my experience there, it was more than likely the result of an inattentive staff member.

Advance Indiana said...

For the non-believers, both the fight betweent he board candidates and the famous French Room party earned brief mentions in the Star's "Behind Closed Doors" column

Wilson46201 said...

AI, that was exactly my point: the staff and management simply was out of touch. It was just ironic that such a Republican crowd would fail such a simple civic duty.

hailstone, please save your invective for others than fellow commenters - cant you find a Mayor or President someplace to excoriate to vent your spleen?

Anonymous said...

Your description of some of these CC members is dead-on AI. It always irritates me how special parking privileges on the Circle are afforded some of these members you speak of. You and I get our cars towed. These people park for free for hours.

myherowilson said...

Leave it to Wilson to spew his left-wing b.s. on a topic that is so non-political. Damn fool, give it a rest for once please. Do the actions of the members of a private club really affect your pathetic life that much that you have to boo-hoo about it here. Seriously, you make me want to puke.

Wilson46201 said...

Folks: this post is about the Columbia Club - if you haters want to spew against me or other commenters, get your own blog. Anonymous namecalling is so juvenile and unproductive!

I make no comment about the internal activities ("lewd and lascivious") of a private club but about their sloppy and disrepectful external manifestations...

FWIW, Senator Julia Carson was one of the first African-American females to be permitted in the Columbia Club. It was long an all-white male bastion but with its meetings of legislators and lobbyists, Black lawmakers were allowed as guests...

myherowilson said...

Yes it is about the Columbia Club, until you have to through your agenda into it. Leave it to you to turn the act of failing to fly a flag correctly on a given day into Watergate. You just don't get it and never will.

Wilson46201 said...

"throw", not "through"

Homonyms are a bitch, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Wilson 8:32 PM
Why don't you get your own blog so that you can promote all of the corruption of Democrat elected officials you support. You have one-sided comments and have attacked other bloggers who don't believe as you do regarding the leadership in this city. Get a life, you are not that informed or socially accepted. The only reason you want names are so you can further dumpster dive on them, and while you are at it take a bath.

Anonymous said...

Wrong 8:32 PM Response:

Some bloggers need to do their history homework,

Atty. Harriet Bailey Conn, republican, deputy attorney general, Henri Gibson,(D) 9th district coucilwoman, 11th District National Committee Woman and other prominent African American Women, Mrs. Louise Terry Batties, educator and socialite
were on the scene way before any one knew who Carson was. Check it out.

As a guest maybe, not a member. Carson was not one of the first African Americans to be permitted in the Columbia Club.

myherowilson said...

I love it, Wilson has no response to my post except for to correct me on the incorrect usage of "through" Sorry I made a typo, but when my post is so true you have nothing else to go on, you fling whatever you can back. Sucks to be called on the carpet and have no real response, doesn't it Wilson?

Anonymous said...

Can Wilson be blocked? AI, it would help keep your otherwise excellent blog the preferred blog for me.

Anonymous said...

I belonged for a few years in the 90s because my company wanted me to join a downtown club, and I got to choose. I chose CC because of location and the restaurant was great and the service impeccable. BTW, their famous Chicken corn chowder is well-imitated by Campbell's Chunky in a Can these days.

State Rep. Marilyn Shultz (B-Bloomington) tried in vain for a couple years to enter one of the men-only facilities there. It made the news. Finally, they relented. I think it was the early 70s.

I used the health club facilities three or four times and got hit on each time, rather crudely, by older, married, rotund members who, as AI stated, routinely wandered the place. Otherwise known as cruising.

And a prominient wealthy arts supporter from northern Indiana, whose family company everyone should know if they look down at manhole and water line covers, used the CC as a young boys' meeting place for years.

I think he still does.

It's a relic of the past and like AI, if it dies, I won't cry. They ought to be able to survive on 2100 members.

Advance Indiana said...

Blogger does not give me the capability of blocking an individual blogger. The only thing I can do is turn on the moderator feature, which requires me to screen every single comment. I did that for a brief period when someone kept spamming the site because of a disagreement they had with something I wrote about. It's very time-consuming and fills up my e-mail inbox. Wilson has upset several other bloggers, who've openly complained about him as well. Matt Tully complained about him awhile back. After he called me a racist, I told him to stop posting on this site until he apologized. He never apologized and the insults keep coming. I can delete his posts, and he'll just come back and post 20 more. Apparently, his life these days consists of trolling area blogs and posting comments for the sole purpose of getting under people's skin. In doing so, he's revealed himself to all in a less than favorable light and completely undermined his credibility.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps everybody shoud just boycot Wilson's posts. Sort of a shunning. Might work.

Wilson46201 said...

Perhaps some folk should spend more time at the new office at 42nd & Post to earn some money instead of trying to ban folk that expose phoneys...

Anonymous said...

The Columbia Club, like any social institution has runs its course. Why the shrinking memberships in such organizations like the Shriners, or disappearing Jaycees. People have found that they were good for 'socializing in the name of community service.' Now everyone is busy trying to advance their career or driving their children to all the extra activities created.

Just like the dinosaurs disappeared with the ice age, so shall so organizations.

Anonymous said...

(OK, I'll bite)

42nd and Post, is that a new IMPD regional office?

Anonymous said...

42nd and Post, is that a new IMPD regional office?

Sure as hell isn't a congressional office for Julia Carson. She wants her office close to a bar. And a nice view of downtown.

Anonymous said...

Hail, that was kinda unnecessary

The question was legit

(waiting for an answer)

Anonymous said...

Upadte:
Word has it your number one dumpster diver has spending a lot of time in the Center Township Assessor's office since the first of the new year searching property records on city-county Council candidates. I wonder who he plans to smear in the Primary this year. Does he get paid for the research?

Wilson46201 said...

Jocelyn: Deloris Taylor misinformed you - I was in the map room once this year researching some public property. Sorry to disappoint you and your snitch!

Anonymous said...

Wilson, you are wrong again. You love to call her name, don't you. Once again, get a life!

Anonymous said...

As a former member of the Club's managment staff I was neither "inattentive" nor "out of touch". What I was, however, I could not change and that was a young female trying to survive in an industry dominated by male managers and their testosterone. There are many of us who sat in the management offices of that club trying to bring a fresh perspective to the table, trying to have our voices heard. But at the end of the day if we couldn't sit there politely with our hands folded in our laps or involve ourselves in insidious flirtations with the higher-ups - our voices fell on deaf ears. So now we bring our fresh perspectives and attentiveness to other organizations who appreciate our hard work, efforts, and vision.

The fish stinks from the head down. Hopefully a new fish will breathe some life into such an important fixture in our great city.

Anonymous said...

Wilson is an idiot and desires attention anyway he can get it. Poor thing.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that the late, great Democratic stronghold, the Indianapolis Athletic Club did not admit jews, women or blacks unless they worked there. A private club is just that, a hideout for those who wish to conduct business, social activities, sex or dining in private. And the members pay $135 a month for that privilidge. Ask anyone who attended a party at the infamous 823 Club in the IAC...what went on there stays there.