City Athletic Club To Close

by Rob Dinerman

July 5, 2002  -Squashtalk has learned that the venerable City Athletic Club, home of one of the best doubles courts and swimming pools in all of New York and a major MSRA institution for many decades, will permanently close its doors on August 15th.

In a late-June letter to the club's membership, President Jonathan Rosen confirmed this imminent development, which follows several failed drives to boost the declining membership base and several efforts to come up with enough funding to keep the club financially afloat.

There are now barely 200 members, fewer than a third the number that there were during the institution's heyday, and neither recent attempts to recruit younger members nor a much discussed but never implemented plan to merge with the nearby Harmonie Club nor a pitch to former members of the Downtown Athletic Club who were looking around for a club to join after the DAC shut down last fall met with enough success to save the 94-year-old CAC from this unfortunate fate.

In a subsequent letter, President Rosen informed the members that they are welcome to apply to the Swimming and Athletic Club on Equitable Plaza and/or the New York Athletic Club (both of which are just a few blocks south and north respectively of the CAC) and encouraged them to do so.

Founded in 1908 as a private club for Jewish businessmen who at that time were denied entry to Manhattan's existing private clubs, the CAC became one of the most significant social and business clubs in all of New York under the 35-year Presidency (1909-1944) of Solomon Guggenheim of Guggenheim Museum fame. Located on 54th Street just east of Sixth Avenue in the heart of New York's business district, the CAC hosted important parties, meetings and speeches from political figures and dignitaries from all over the country and indeed the world. The handsome nine-story structure is in the heart of Manhattan's "doubles district" as well, with the University Club just down the block near Fifth Avenue, the Racquet & Tennis Club barely a five-minute walk away on 53rd Street and Park Avenue and the Lone Star Boat Club only a few blocks west on 54th Street and Seventh Avenue.

The City Athletic Club also became a major fixture on the MSRA squash scene, with team entries in the MSRA singles and doubles leagues which were led by formidable figures like Stu Goldstein, winner of the 1978 WPSA Singles title, multiple National age-group doubles champion Mel Sokolow, '69 National Doubles champion Victor Elmaleh, '67 New York State champion John Halpern, league star Jim Prigoff and Newt Kutner, who won the CAC club championship a record 15 times during the 1940's and 1950's.

More recently, ISDA pro doubles stand-out Anders Wahlstedt has been a member and until last month Clive Leach, who is currently ranked in the ISDA top ten, was the club professional after replacing Bobby Martinez following the latter's three decades of meritorious service in that capacity. And Bob Lehman, who for five decades single-handedly produced the MSRA annual yearbook and made it the most popular such document in the entire world, was a CAC member for many years.

The center-piece of the club's athletic facility was its outstanding doubles court, deemed one of the truest in all of squash and equipped with a spacious gallery that made its annual invitational doubles tournament one of the highlights of any season. Originally a pro-am event, it became an amateur invitational before being converted a few years ago to a pro tournament on the burgeoning ISDA tour. Renamed to honor Sokolow following his death in 1992, the Mel Sokolow Memorial Invitational has become an important stop on the tour's 17-event schedule and some noteworthy professional matches, from Gary Waite's dominant performances with Damien Mudge last season and Viktor Berg the previous year to the unexpected advance to the finals last January of qualifiers Wahlstedt and Josh McDonald, have taken place on that storied court.

As recently as this past March, the CAC joined the New York City Doubles Association (NYCDA), which was hastily formed to host the 2002 National Doubles championships after the MSRA declined to sanction the event and provided a crucial venue that enabled the USSRA to properly conduct this mammoth tournament. Notwithstanding these recent moves, there had been rumblings about the club's future for some time, especially due to the graying and thinning of what once was a strong membership base, and the news of the club's imminent demise is therefore a saddening but not surprising development.

Mid Atlantic/NY Squash has been losing hardball squash clubs and courts in the last several years, notably the Atlantic City Racquet Club (which was evicted last summer by the management of Resorts International), the demolition last month of the Yale Club's lone remaining hardball court and the scheduled conversion next spring of the last two remaining hardball courts at the University Club of Washington D. C. into a softball court.

Still, especially in view of the paucity of doubles courts in New York amidst the success of the ISDA tour and the growing popularity of the game, the loss of the City Athletic Club doubles court and of the highly-respected institution itself constitute a heavy psychological blow, on both a squash and a social level, and provide yet another sobering and cautionary reminder of time's relentless passage.

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