History

 

GETTING STARTED

In the autumn of 1872, when Cleveland had only about 100,000 residents and an industrial economy was just beginning to blossom, some civic-minded citizens got together to form the Union Club. Consistent with their lofty hopes for a more vibrant and prosperous city, the founders had high ambitions for their new club, expecting it to be more than a place of relaxation and entertainment. An article from the September 24, 1872, edition of the Cleveland Leader captures their vision: “The Union Club is to be by no means a mere hall of conviviality. It will be a place where cultured gentlemen will meet to read and discuss the topics of the day... Properly conducted, such a club becomes the social and intellectual force of a community, the stimulant of a broader culture, and worthier growth.”
 

ICONIC FOUNDERS

The 81 charter members were nothing less than the bone and sinew of Cleveland’s civic and political leadership, a dynamic group that included such luminaries as William Bingham, Sylvester Everett, William Gordon, Marcus Hanna, Samuel Mather, Henry B. Payne, Amasa Stone and Jeptha Wade. These charter members contributed $600 each to acquire, as the club’s new home, the Truman Handy mansion on Euclid Avenue just west of East 9th Street, a grand three-story brick landmark in the classical tradition with a two-story portico supported by Ionic columns. From its beginning, the Union Club was the center of social and commercial life, the place where the city’s leaders met and mingled with people of accomplishment and culture. Many of Cleveland’s great business and cultural achievements were first conceived and initiated within its sociable parlors and dining rooms.

By 1900, the membership had increased to 500 with a long waiting list of influential people clamoring to join what had become the most selective and prestigious club in Cleveland. Qualified candidates often had to wait as long as 10 years for admittance. The roster included former President Rutherford B. Hayes and then President William McKinley, inventors Charles Brush and Caesar Grasselli, businessmen William Rockefeller and David Norton, and famed surgeon George Crile.

The fortunes of the club coincided with the extraordinary success of the City of Cleveland. With its exploding population and booming industries, the city had become an economic and political powerhouse by 1900. Meanwhile, the Union Club’s facilities, which had been spacious and accommodating 30 years before, had become seriously overcrowded and outdated for its growing membership.

 

NEW CLUBHOUSE

At the 1903 annual meeting, the Union Club made the momentous decision to build a new home, one that could comfortably accommodate a much larger membership. Mrs. William B. Castle, the widow of the visionary mayor who in 1854 orchestrated the merger of Cleveland with Ohio City, had agreed to sell (for a favorable price) the Castle property at East 12th and Euclid Avenue. With a building site secured, the membership voted to retain Charles Schweinfurth, Cleveland’s most accomplished architect, to design and build the finest club in America, a splendid place that would exemplify Cleveland’s prosperity. In December 1905, the new clubhouse opened with a gala reception amidst much civic excitement. With its refined and stately classicism, Schweinfurth’s massive building constructed of Berea Sandstone was immediately recognized as an architectural jewel in the bustling center of Cleveland, widely admired for its quiet dignity and tasteful design.


Having occupied its historic home for more than 100 years, the Union Club has long been recognized as a social and cultural force in the Cleveland community, a magnet that attracted civic-minded leaders who helped shape our city and our country. During its long history, the club has had five United States Presidents — Grant, Hayes, Garfield, McKinley and Taft — as members and all but Grant hosted events at the club. Six members were United States Senators — Henry B. Payne, Marcus Hanna, Charles Dick, Theodore Burton, Robert Bulkley and Atlee Pomerene. Nine members were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Two members were Justices of the United States Supreme Court, and nine were appointed to Presidential cabinets.

UNIQUELY CLEVELAND

During its distinguished history, the venerable Union Club has survived several stock market crashes and national depressions, two world wars, explosive industrial growth followed by gradual decline, civil unrest and rioting. Throughout the good times and bad, members saw themselves as stewards, responsible for preserving their cherished club so entwined in Cleveland’s history. In keeping with this sense of stewardship, the membership in 2003 overwhelmingly approved the Second Century Program, an ambitious initiative that revitalized the club and restored its landmark home, ensuring its influence in Cleveland for generations. Today, members thoroughly enjoy premier, state-of-the-art amenities from the Second Century Program, dynamic programming and events, a strong and diverse membership and a Union Club that is relevant and thriving.

 
Since 1872, the Union Club has been a stalwart, yet agile, contributor to the business and civic life of Greater Cleveland. During war and peace, through boom times, economic downturn and resurgence, and from the days of the telegraph to the explosion of the Internet, the Union Club has been the place where Cleveland’s interesting and influential citizens gather to do business, share friendships, and celebrate the city they love. Today, in these extraordinary economic times, the Union Club remains strong. And as always, members are united in their commitment to ensuring that this venerable institution — so entwined in the region’s history — retains its relevance for generations to come.