Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Detroit Athletic Club Turns One Hundred

The Detroit Athletic Club (DAC) is a private social club in the sports and entertainment district of downtown Detroit. Its doors opened April 24th, 1915. The club celebrated its centennial this year with the dedication of a 2.3 million dollar sculpture project commemorating the club's original mission--supporting amateur athletes.

Henry Ford's renowned architect Albert Kahn designed the six-story Italian Renaissance Revival building which boasts a grand staircase, a hotel, meeting rooms, a ballroom, banquet facilities, restaurants, Grill Room bar, exercise facilities, a lap pool, a gymnasium, a basketball court, a spa, an eight lane bowling alley, and a glass enclosed rooftop lounge with a cigar bar.

Many Metropolitan Detroit residents are unfamiliar with this Detroit institution, located at 241 Madison Avenue on the corner of John R. Street. Today, DAC claims forty-four hundred members from two thousand companies. Twenty-nine hundred resident members have voting rights and--at last report--pay a $3,500 entrance fee and $300 to $400 dues per month, depending on the level of membership. The club has four hundred intermediate members (ages 21-33) and eleven hundred non-resident members scattered around the country and internationally.

The DAC survives on membership dues and new growth. The club encourages the families of its members to participate in club events and fundraisers. The sons and daughters of Detroit's business elite comprise a good portion of DAC's intermediate membership. Their children benefit from this arrangement as they have for generations.

Henry Ford was an original member, as has every generation of his descendants since. The DAC has been the most prominent locale for Detroit's business power-brokers to network with the city's movers and shakers. The club's founding members once controlled ninety percent of the world-wide automobile business. Many of the economic decisions affecting the Detroit area were discussed over cocktails at these exclusive gatherings.

Olympic-sized lap pool.

During much of DAC's history, Jews, African-Americans, and women were denied membership. One by one, those barriers were overcome. In 1986, women were finally admitted and currently make up twelve percent of the club's members. Today's club is trying to shed its good old boy heritage.

A strict application process is in effect. Potential members must have a sponsor, six members to write recommendation letters, an intensive interview, and approval by DAC's membership committee. This private club reserves the right to deny membership to anyone.

Geoffrey Fieger
Earlier this year, Geoffrey Fieger--best known as Dr. Jack Kevorkian's lawyer--was summarily rejected after filing for club membership. Fieger's sponsor delivered the bad news personally. The DAC never sent a formal letter of rejection nor was Fieger told why he did not measure up.

When asked why he was rejected, Fieger commented, "The DAC has a long history of bigotry, and I'm a lawyer for the underdog. The club's hierarchy are deeply ensconced in that old tradition."