If a member from the 1930's caught in a time warp wandered back into the Club in 1999, which elements of Club life would be familiar and which have changed? Well, of course the view IS the same; the harbor, swimming, and tennis activities would be recognizable, and the upstairs dining room with its splendid furnishings, formality and burnished wooden floor remain much as they did then. Our visitor would also find comfort at the Club bar, where solitude is respected but a congenial atmosphere invites conversation. However, as we shall see, much has changed in order to preserve the unique Club spirit and yet remain attractive to new members.
Maintaining a country house atmosphere depends on being able to enjoy a meal, a round of paddle tennis, or a hand of bridge with friends and a family in the assurance that these pleasures will not be interrupted. The Club is in this context a sanctuary, which shields its members from the pressures of routine duties and business concerns. The combination of well-maintained plantings, lake air, colorful harbor, and traditional architecture and furnishings are ingredients creating a sense of separation from the commerce of everyday life. And the attraction and loyalty to the Club from many members is the feeling that it performs this function better than anywhere else.
Our time traveler would acknowledge these qualities without of course knowing the enormous effort which has gone into their enhancement. For in the early and mid-1990's, successive Boards of Governors were required to make choices to see how best to retain the cherished values of Club life as it is known and appreciated and at the same time to appeal to both new and veteran members through an imaginative program and improved services.
In the early years of the decade, a drop-off in formal dining was noted which was the product of changing demographics and lifestyle. In the past, declining usage was attributed to a recessionary environment but here the number of members, particularly Regular members, had decreased 12% by 1995 from five years before. A consultant was contracted to advise the Board.
Recommendations included the rearrangement of the physical inventory to elicit more member participation and the attraction of younger members who would prove critical to the future of the Club. Dedicated members set to work to implement changes. Most visible was the creation of the screened-in dining porch with canopy and a Lake Level patio, along with a reconfiguration of the Lake Room to serve as the primary dining area for the Marine Bar. Also appealing to younger families was the renovation of what had been the Junior Sailing team room into a children's room with video capabilities. This combination provided yet another venue to attract family and informal dining.
At a less observable level, the process of food delivery was simplified through modifications to the kitchen and its expansion into what had been the Governor's Room. A common menu for formal and informal dining was implemented and the Sports Grill hours and days of operations were increased. The cost issues of meal preparation and expanded participation received attention with worthwhile results.
To support the facilities changes, the program of activities was broadened far beyond what had been primarily a holiday and seasonal calendar. For the millennium year, it has grown to include the reintroduction of summer Harbor Lights cocktail parties, two family bingo events, two ladies' luncheons, the annual visit of Mike Carney, and a number of dances and candlelight dinners to keep every member involved. To maintain this level of frequency requires imagination, leadership, coordination, and follow through.
An added bonus for Club members is the growing list of guest privileges at other Clubs. For many years, the Little Club has enjoyed usage arrangements with local country clubs, notably The Country Club of Detroit, Bayview, and The Grosse Pointe Yacht Club (for a full list, see page titled, "Reciprocal Clubs"). More recently, this outreach has been extended to include reciprocal privileges with the Wianno Club on Cape Cod, the St. Francis Yacht Club on San Francisco Bay, and the Key Largo Anglers Club in the Florida Keys. These Clubs, situated in the country's most prominent vacation destinations, offer a marvelous opportunity to participate in the mainstream of regionally prized institutions.
It should be evident that the endearing qualities of life at the Little Club have been preserved and enriched. Through the attention of members and a willingness of the Board to commit time and capital in venturing forth beyond the safe and the known, the Club has broadened its scope and improved services. In combination, these efforts have multiplied the traditional events of the Christmas and boating seasons, the tennis group now enjoys a series of midweek matches and suppers, and a passenger elevator is in the bid stage. Of crucial importance, new members have been attracted to bring the roster back to levels of the previous decade.
To return to our member of the 1930's, who was last seen leaning against the upstairs bar, a walk down to the shore would reveal a much expanded harbor with slips for 76 boats - many craft much larger than before. The Junior Sailing program now flourishes with the enrollment of 31 students for the 1998 season, and with new purchases of Flying Juniors and Optimist Class boats. The Club received national attention with the sponsorship of the Optimist Dinghy Championship Races in 1990, the High School Championship Race in 1994 and The Grosse Pointe Club Junior Sailing Program itself received the Jack Sutton Trophy for DRYA Program of the Year in 1998. The fall cruise to The Old Club has joined the DRYA Regatta in becoming an annual tradition.
We think our visitor from the past would be pleased with the stewardship observed retaining the right mix of conviviality and formality, tradition and progress. The spirit of the Club might be best articulated by a member's son, age three, who referred to the Club continually as "summer" despite the season. The reference relates to the sporting vigor of the members, the relaxing atmosphere, and the event-like quality of visiting the Clubhouse. We hope from this sketch the reader will comprehend the devotion members have to this small island of tranquility - the special place we call the Little Club.
History was written, updated and edited by Mr. Douglas Marshall.