2014 brings us the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the Montauk Club, which is officially marked in March, the year of the Club’s incorporation in 1889. But the work to establish the Club began a bit earlier, in September 1888. Many of the Club’s original founders were members of the Carleton Club (located at the corner of St. Mark’s Place & 6th Avenue, now an apartment building) but dissatisfied with its size and location. The Carleton Club chose to stay in place, so in December 1889, 25 men (of course) gathered at the home of N.Q. Pope, at Park Place & Vanderbilt Avenue, to discuss the new, as yet unnamed, club. A committee was formed, meeting at the offices of local broker Leonard Moody, at 276 Flatbush Avenue. Mr. Moody has been called the “father” of the Club and you will find out why in future posts.
Leonard Moody’s name is not often mentioned in connection with the founding of the Club, but he was a very active participant in its formation, and may be the reason our Club has survived to its 125th year, while every other Club of the era has closed. Mr. Moody (1839 – 1905) was a very successful Brooklyn broker at a time when Park Slope was the most affluent area in the country. The organizing committee met at his office at 276 Flatbush Avenue; he put the down payment on the site where the Clubhouse was built; probably leased the interim Clubhouse at 34 8th Avenue; and chaired the Building Committee. In May 1889, after the architect was selected and preliminary plans approved, Mr. Moody left for an extended trip to Europe (not that there was any other kind of trip to Europe in 1889). When he returned in September, he found the Building Committee hard at work at what today we call value engineering: that is, figuring out how to change the plans to reduce the cost of construction. The cost estimate had doubled as the plans were finalized. Moody would have none of it, and basically strong-armed, brow-beat and guilt-tripped the committee and other members into coming up with the money to build the Clubhouse as planned. Today, when we wonder why the Club has endured, usually two theories are put forth: one, the stubbornness of the members (yea, us) and two, the magnificence of the structure we are privileged to use. Thank you, Mr. Moody.
March 20, 2014
March is the month during which we celebrate the birthday of our Club, as the Certificate of Incorporation was filed on March 13, 1889. The Montauk Club is officially 125 years old! But before the Certificate could be filed, the new members–who had grown in number to over 100–had to select a name. This was not an easy task, since there were hundreds of other clubs in Brooklyn alone.
It seems that each and every one of the 100 men who gathered at the special meeting called to select a name had a suggestion. Suggestions included the Parkway Good Name Club, the Stanley or Livingston Club, the Park Club, and the Washington Club, among others. At the vote at the end the evening, the “Montauk Club” narrowly edged out the “Setalcott Club” as the designated name.
Both the Montauketts and the Setalcotts were Long Island Native American tribes. In October, 1910 NY State Supreme Court Justice Abel Blackmar found that the Montauketts had released all their “right, title, interest and claim to the rights and privileges in the land known as Montauk Point.” He also found that the Montauketts no longer lived as a tribe. The Montauketts are now seeking reversal of this decision through the 2013 Montaukett Act, which was recently passed by the NYS legislature and will be working with the NY Secretary of State to continue the process. More detailed information can be found on their website, www.montauknation.org.
May 14, 2014
Just a few years after the Club took possession of our Clubhouse at 25 Eighth Avenue, there was a bit of a problem with the books. Nicholas Houghton had been the Club’s bookkeeper pretty much since the beginning. In March 1894, it was discovered that Houghton had been pocketing checks to Club suppliers and withdrawing the equivalent sum from the Club bank accounts, so the books “balanced”. The theft (of over $5,000) was discovered when vendors, long unpaid, refused to extend more credit to the Club. Houghton absconded to Columbus, Ohio, where he had relatives.
Houghton was apparently quite popular at the Club, because no attempt was made to bring him back from Ohio. He finally returned and surrendered a year later, thinking he could negotiate his way back to his job as bookkeeper. He was unsuccessful in that regard, and finally pled guilty to embezzlement. In the meantime, many Club members (but not the deceived Treasurer) signed a petition requesting clemency for Houghton. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison, but served only 20 months, when his sentence was commuted by the Governor in December 1896. Houghton must have been quite a persuasive fellow!
May 15, 2014
Under the headline “Heathen Fare to be Served”, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported in June 1889 that a Chinese meal would be served at the Montauk Club’s temporary home at 34 8th Avenue, a first for any Club on the eastern seaboard.
The event was not a success. The food was described as “fearful”, with the soup tasting like “mush and gunpowder”. It took liberal servings of the “Widow Cliquot” to redeem the evening. After an investigation, it was reported that the intermediary tasked with hiring a renowned Chinatown chef had pocketed most of the fee and engaged a chef of lesser quality; it was vowed that Chinese food would never, ever be served at a Club event again. To my knowledge, that vow has never been broken.
August 2, 2014
In the early days, much of the success of a Club rested on the shoulders of its steward, or Club manager. Though a Mr. Curry served as steward in the temporary location at 34 8th Avenue, it was determined that our magnificent Clubhouse required a powerhouse steward. Ads were placed, candidates applied and interviewed, and Mr. Gustave Brehme, steward of the Hamilton Club, was hired. He was enticed by the princely sum of $3000 per year, and the right to order the wines and liquors for the Club.
In so doing, the Club either scored a coup or engaged in “unclub-like behavior”. Or perhaps both. The Hamiltonians felt that such behavior should be highly condemned as opposed to all the rules of Clubdom. Several members of both Clubs threatened to resign from the Montauk Club in protest.
A year later, in May 1892, Mr. Brehme was arrested for assaulting a elevator boy at the Club, who had take a little too long at his dinner break. (Certainly, un-clublike behavior!) Nonetheless, Mr. Brehme was a popular and highly respected steward for the Club. He remained the steward until November 1902, when he and the Club chef, David Davenal, resigned to open the Montauk Restaurant in Manhattan. (Apparently, hanging on to a good chef was a challenge even then.) No further information about the Club’s namesake restaurant is available, and Mr. Brehme passed away in 1913.
November 11, 2014
For important buildings, the laying of the foundation cornerstone is conducted with great ceremony. And so it was for the Montauk Club, despite the weather (cold and snowing) on December 14, 1889. David Boody (soon to be elected to the House of Representatives and then Mayor of the City of Brooklyn) gave a speech, General Stewart Woodford spoke about the Montauk Indians, Rev. Thomas Nelson offered the benediction, and Charles Moore, the first President of the Club, laid the cornerstone which contained “periodicals of the day and records of the Club”. Please join us at the Victorian Dinner on December 19th to commemorate this event.
February 17, 2015
According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (which covered the event in four full columns on the front page) “everybody who was anybody in Brooklyn society” attended the Montauk Club’s first women’s reception on January 6, 1892. In fact, approximately 1,500 people attended. A floral effigy of Wyandanche, Chief of the Montauketts, stood watch in the reception area. The buffet table in the main dining room on the third floor held a centerpiece replica of the Grande Eau fountain at Versaille, constructed of sweets baked by Chef Brehme. The coat room was set up in the bowling alley. The Eagle named virtually all of the 1,500 attendees, and described the gowns worn by the ladies. It was “one of the most successful social affairs ever given in Brooklyn”.
March 16, 2015
The terra cotta frieze over the main entrance to the Club on 8th Avenue which depicts the laying of the cornerstone was both highly unpopular at the time of its installation and contains a mystery for us now.
Both the architect and the Building Committee deny having commissioned the piece, which the raises a couple of questions: 1) Who was responsible for designing and installing this panel; and 2) Why is the panel dated 1890? The Club was incorporated in 1889; both the groundbreaking and the laying of the cornerstone occurred in 1889; and the Club was completed in 1891. So 1890 represents what, exactly? If anyone claimed credit for the panel, it was never reported and remains a mystery. Moreover, it seems to have led to a celebratory mistake in the life of the Club. In 1911, much was made of the Club’s having reached its “majority”–i.e., the age of 21. But the Club turned 21 in 1910 (from the date of its incorporation) and the clubhouse turned 21 in 1912 (from its completion in 1891).
April 7, 2015
And why did we give him so many birthday parties? Every April from 1892 to 1926, with the tradition ending only with his death in 1928, just short of his 95th birthday. He was never a resident of Brooklyn or a member of the Club, except for the honorary membership he was given, and there is no record of him attending any Club events other than his annual birthday dinner.
It might be easier to describe what Mr. Depew was not. He was a politician and one-time presidential candidate (he ceded his delegates to Benjamin Harrison at the 1888 convention) and a business man, but not at all like Donald Trump or even Mitt Romney. He was an attorney and a railroad tycoon, but he called for government regulation of the railroads and backed wage increases for railroad workers. He was a political pundit and renowned entertainer but no Jon Stewart or Jimmy Fallon. He was a vegetarian (at the turn of the last century!) and supported women’s rights (at least the right to attend his birthday dinners, once every five years.)
His birthday dinners were one of the highlights of the Montauk Club year. They were covered by newspapers throughout the country and in Europe. His after-dinner speeches were printed verbatim in the newspapers, and were broadcast live on radio starting in 1924. In case you’re interested, collections of his speeches at the Montauk Club are still sold on Amazon.