Dress is more casual and more activities are family-oriented, but club remains a prized spot for seaside dining and social functions
NOW: Lunch at the Delray Beach Club means an ocean view and conversation for (clockwise from front left) Gwen ‘Lucy’ Drake, Nancy Graham, Joan Hurley, Claire Logan, Polly Cardozo and Mary McDougall. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Mary Thurwachter
As the Delray Beach Club prepares to mark its 50th year with three days of celebration Feb. 15-17, longtime member Carol Craig reflects on how things have changed.
Craig has a unique perspective, since she was both an employee — social director and admissions secretary for 20 years — and then a member after she retired in 1999.
The private club on A1A south of Linton Boulevard was a very different place in earlier years.
“It was different because the membership was mostly seniors,” says Craig, who lives in Boynton Beach. “It was mostly a dining club that was beautiful because it was set on the ocean. But the outside facilities were sparsely used.”
The private social club was much more formal than it is today. When it opened, it had 300 members. Today it caps membership at 600 and has a waiting list.
“It was men in jackets and ties every night, women in dresses — and formal evening gowns probably every two weeks,” Craig says.
Craig remembers calling her mother after a “casual” poolside evening years ago to tell her about it. “Mother,” she remembers saying, “do you know what these people consider casual? The women wore one string of pearls instead of two. The men were still in their jackets and ties and the women were in dresses, stockings and heels.”
Not many outside activities took place beyond the pool and beach.
“Tennis was quite popular,” she says. “Everybody had their times when they played, and all the other players respected that time. If it was Wednesday at 9 o’clock basically you knew who was out on the court because they always played Wednesday at 9 o’clock.
“We only had one big tennis tournament a year, the Jerry Gobrecht tennis tournament, named after Jerry because he had a heart attack and died on the court at a relatively young age. He and his wife, Joan, were charter members and Joan is still very active.”
The tournament, Craig says, felt like a mini Wimbledon. Most of the members would come to watch. Carol Craig (shown here in 1986) worked 20 years at the Delray Beach Club. She joined the club as a member in 1999. Photo provided
“Now they have a tournament every other weekend,” she says. “But they still have the Jerry Gobrecht tournament. We’ve got two women’s teams and a men’s team that travels. It’s very, very different. It’s very, very competitive. We played for fun. Things change.
“There weren’t a lot of children because it was basically a club for those 60 and up,” Craig observes. “The activities we had were geared toward those people. There were dinner dances and there was a cocktail lounge. We had a guy who played the piano and organ, and after dinner everybody would go in the cocktail lounge and have an after-dinner drink. That was very, very big. In those days, it was hard liquor. Nobody drank wine. And they would have their highballs ahead of time.”
Members liked the club at 2001 S. Ocean Blvd. the way it was, Craig says.
“However, we would not have survived without the younger generation coming in,” she says. “They changed the ambience of the club tremendously. We needed that young blood to come in and revitalize the club.
“And with younger people naturally come changes. Their wants are different. The men don’t want to put on jackets and ties. They want everything casual. There is not as much drinking as there used to be — a lot of wine. However, there’s nothing after dinner. Everybody goes home.”
Changes through time
Indeed, younger members want different amenities, more family-oriented.
Kerry Filippone, president of the board of governors, has been a member for five years.
“We moved down here from Westchester County outside of New York and joined soon after,” she says. Her husband took a job in Boca Raton and she took her three children to the club often from their home in Delray Beach.
“Since I had children and was involved in the club, I started on the family committee and then the long-range planning committee and kind of went on from there,” says Filippone.
“The club is one of those places that if you want to get involved, everybody is very encouraging.”
The club makes a real effort to involve all generations.
“There is quite an active family committee now that does a lot of programming geared toward the families with younger children,” Filippone says. “We offer babysitting on certain nights when we have events, which is a great feature.”
Seems there’s always something going on.
“We have family bingo outside, we’re doing stuff on the beach, and on Father’s Day last year we had a father/child surf camp,” Filippone says. “Last year we had a ladies night for all the women in the club. That’s a fairly new development.
“And we have games night for the family. My daughter attended with me and she’s 20 and there were women maybe in their 70s and 80s also participating. Many generations were participating together. And we have a men’s poker night once a month. There is real camaraderie among the men.”
Bridge has always been popular, but soon canasta will be on the agenda, as well, and perhaps mahjong.
“We have ladies fashion lunches,” Filippone says. “The exercise programs have grown considerably since I joined the club. Now they have yoga and pilates and exercising in the pool. We recently got upgraded equipment in our gym. That seems to be a big draw for people. And there’s the tennis program. It just seems like there’s stuff going on around the clock over there.”
In the beginning
Phyllis Kramer (formerly Spinner), a Delray Beach resident since 1955 and one of the club’s first members, says the Delray Beach Club was a godsend when she was raising her three children in the early days. They spent many hours at the pool.
Back then, club members especially liked the original Grille Room, a more intimate version of its current incarnation. It was, Kramer says, a “cozy, informal room open late at night,” and members enjoyed countless hours socializing as a piano player entertained.
Kramer’s first husband, John W. Spinner (called Jack), was a lawyer and a founder of the club in 1969. His father, Fred, a prominent developer, owned all of the surrounding land and developed the seawalls. Jack Spinner and close friend Bill Plum worked together to start the club. Some of the 10 investors came from Pine Tree Golf Club, where Spinner was a member.
Spinner and Plum, who had experience in banking, flew to Baltimore to talk to contractor Charles A. Mullen about building a beach club on land he owned.
To gauge interest in starting the club, the men put out one advertisement. They received more than 150 $200 checks toward a $500 initiation fee even before the site was finalized.
“We went looking for a chef and a manager,” Kramer remembers. “We went to Fort Lauderdale and Boca and had dinner at different places and interviewed different chefs. The club was very small then, and very nice. I loved it. The opening party actually was on Feb. 16, 50 years ago.”
This year on Feb. 16, a formal dinner with a band will mark the 50th anniversary. On Feb. 15, a cocktail party will be held, and the club will wrap up the celebration Feb. 17 with a family barbecue party beside the pool.
Kramer says many pleasant memories were made at the club.
“We hosted many birthday parties there and I had a beautiful Christmas brunch there, about 100 people, years ago,” she says.
Last year she had a Christmas dinner for family members, including her three children and their children.
“I’ve made wonderful friends there,” Kramer says.
One of them was George Kramer. They married after she had been a widow for 18 years and Kramer’s wife had died. “He’s a wonderful man and we have a good time together.”
Mullen bought and developed the club, which architect Samuel Ogren Jr. designed. Plum was the first manager. The first gala dinner dance took place after construction of the 23,000-square-foot, two-story clubhouse.
The property, which includes the clubhouse and grill room, pool and tennis courts, was renovated in 2006.
The club offers complimentary beach and pool concierge service, locker rooms with saunas, two Har-Tru tennis courts, a fitness center and complimentary fitness classes.
Kenyon Investment Group of Greensboro, N.C., purchased the club in 1978, and in 1980 it became member-owned, as it remains today.
Shane Peachey has been manager at the club for 11 years. Members are still called “Mr., Mrs. or Miss” by the 77-member staff, and good times and camaraderie remain hallmarks of the social club by the sea.