Union Club Still There, Still.

September 28, 2011

Graciously lifted from the archives of The New York Times:

The site of the Union Club, which peers down from the crest of Lenox Hill at 69th Street and Park Avenue, is appropriate for an institution generally considered the cynosure of men’s organizations in New York.

At the moment, the building is concealed by scaffolding, but the real showstopper is its inventive interior.

Organized in 1836, the Union is considered the first men’s social club in New York, or at least the oldest. The club was known as particularly conservative. According to the historian John Steele Gordon, a member of the club, it did not expel its Confederate members during the Civil War years. Some members took exception to this and withdrew to found the Union League Club, now at 38th and Park. In the 1870s, other members, who thought the Union’s standards of admission had fallen, went off to form the Knickerbocker Club, now at 62nd and Fifth Avenue. The Brook and Metropolitan Clubs were also offshoots.

In 1901, the Union built an ebullient limestone clubhouse at the northeast corner of 51st and Fifth. But, according to “The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich” (W. W. Norton, 2003) by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, the members voted in 1927 to move uptown, to a quieter and less crowded location. They sold the 51st Street clubhouse, with an agreement giving them five years to move, and began a leisurely hunt for property that led to 69th and Park, the center of a concentration of mansions, even though apartment houses lined the rest of the street.

The club hired William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich, who had already designed the Knickerbocker, the Brook and the Colony clubhouses.

Mr. Delano’s desire for a simple design was not shared by club members, Mr. Pennoyer and Ms. Walker note, citing a quotation from his memoirs: “The Building Committee insisted on a good deal of ornament inside and out, which they were used to at the old club.”

Thus, although the Knickerbocker Club is slim and elegant, the Union clubhouse, opened in 1933, is chunky with rusticated limestone and a huge angled mansard roof so big it looks like a Fifth Avenue mansion gone wild.

Nonmembers usually get no farther than the entry hall, but even there it is possible to see past the strange elliptical columns, up into the spectacular coffered dome of the main hall, which is in the form of a Greek cross. The room to the left, originally the lounge and writing room, runs the full width of the Park Avenue facade.

To the right is the card room, which displays Mr. Delano’s witty and inventive decorative abilities at their peak, with a frieze of hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs running around the ceiling, and carved reliefs of face cards across the marble mantelpiece.

“I had great fun in designing every detail — all the electric light fixtures, mantels, ventilators, etc.,” Mr. Delano wrote in his memoirs, which were published in 1950. The same spirit informs the frieze of flying fish on his Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport.

The same spirit can be seen in the backgammon room, where the wall vents are patterned like backgammon boards, and in the library, whose light fixtures are shaped like the planet Saturn. The lounge off the squash courts is one of the astounding rooms in New York — its patterned ceiling in gold, buff and green billows in like a festival tent.

The Pennoyer-Walker book has historic photographs of the building inside and out, but also sumptuous color photographs by Jonathan Wallen. (Many of them are accessible on Amazon.com, with the “search inside” function.)

In its December 1932 issue, Fortune magazine painted a picture of the club’s 1,300 members as “men who are, rather than men who do.” This meant, above all, old families who did not need to strive, either professionally or economically, with surnames like Gallatin, Iselin, Pyne, Wilmerding, Goelet and Pell.

The Union clubhouse had five dining rooms, a humidor with 100,000 cigars, and, according to The Herald-Tribune, an early television set, a radio in each room and “much modernistic decorative art.” From a 1933 photograph of the library, it is possible to make out the title of only one magazine: Esquire.

By the 1950s, membership at urban social clubs was dwindling because of the continued movement of well-to-do families to the suburbs and the quickening pace of city life. The New York Times reported in 1954 that the Union was down to 950 members. Four years later, according to The Times, the Knickerbocker Club was considering an invitation to join its 550-man membership with the Union Club’s 900 members, but the plan came to naught.

A 1969 article in The Times bore the slightly surprised headline “Union Club Still There.” The president, Edward C. Brewster, was quoted as saying, “We want no salesmen here, nobody who pushes himself and barges in,” adding, “The Yale Club can absorb that kind, I suppose.” Mr. Brewster had graduated from Yale in 1932, according to his Social Register listing.

Dartmouth Rugby Splits Opener

September 18, 2011

Dispatched from the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club wire service:

On a beautiful Labor Day weekend in Hanover, Dartmouth kicked off their fall season with a pair of tough tests against top Canadian sides Queen’s University and McGill University as part of the Dartmouth Rugby Classic, presented by Rockwood and Royall Rugby.

Although The Big Green had a tough opening game against Queen’s, losing 36-0, they bounced back nicely to defeat McGill 32-15 to get a split on the weekend. Overall, both games were good experiences that helped a 1st XV looking to break in several new starters, according to Captain and No. 8 Paul Jarvis, Darmouth Class of 2012. “I was very excited to see the team progress over the weekend,” he said. “We still have a ways to go in terms of technique in contact and winning set piece ball, but the team really showed glimpses of greatness this weekend.”

Dartmouth was back on their heel right away in their first game against Queen’s, as the opening kick off didn’t go ten meters, giving the Golden Gaels a scrum at midfield. From there, they quickly moved the ball down the field, taking it to the five-meter line in only a few phases. It was then that Jarvis got hit in the head by an opponent’s knee while going for a tackle, suffering a mild concussion.

As he lay on the field still reeling from the injury, Queen’s quickly moved the ball wide to get their first try. As the guests made the subsequent conversion, Jarvis was able to walk off the field under his own power, but was unable to return to the game. “It was immensely disappointing to get hurt so early in the season,” he said afterwards. “Fortunately it’s only the preseason, so I should be back within a few weeks at worst. In the mean time, I’ll contribute to the team in other ways and work on my recovery.”

With their captain sidelined and down a try only two minutes into the game, things somehow only got worse for The Big Green. A few minutes later, they would have a kick deep in their own territory blocked, leading to a mad scramble in the try zone for the ball. While fullback Madison Hughes, Dartmouth Class of 2015, was able to hold up a Queen’s player to prevent the try, the Golden Gaels would not be denied that easily as they deftly moved the ball wide from the subsequent scrum to get their second try and go up 12-0. They would add another only two minutes later as they once again went wide, this time from a lineout to increase the lead to 17-0. Ultimately, Dartmouth would not be able to recover from their slow start. “The first ten minutes against Queen’s evidenced our relative inexperience with one another on defense, as we conceded three fairly routine tries at the very start of the game,” said co-captain and flyhalf Bill Lehmann, Dartmouth Class of 2012. “From that deficit, it was always going to be difficult to catch up.” While the match became a much more even contest as it went on, any hopes of a Dartmouth comeback would be dashed right before halftime, when a Queen’s player caught the ball off the goalpost after a missed penalty kick and then proceeded to run it through the hands for another try to make the score 24-0. The Golden Gaels would add two more tires in the second half to bring the final score to 36-0.

The Big Green would have a much better opening, and much better go of it overall, in their next game against McGill. Where they had been stifled by the Queen’s defense the day before, Dartmouth was able to move the ball well against the Redmen. Dartmouth was especially effective when they were able to get it with pace to their speedy back three, who in turn created several line breaks. The team was able to open the scoring this way, as center Owen Scannell, Dartmouth Class of 2013 was able to hit Hughes, who took it from around the 22-meter line into the try zone to give The Big Green a 5-0 lead.

Hughes would strike again about ten minutes later, once again burning the McGill defenders on the edge to increase the advantage to 10-0. He would finish off the hat trick five minutes later, and would add on the conversion for good measure to make it 17-0. All in all, Hughes was far and away the best player of the day, tallying 22 of the team’s points (three tries, two conversions, one penalty). “It felt great,” Hughes said when asked about his performance after the game. “After yesterday’s loss, it was important for the team to turn around and perform better today. I was really happy to be able to help do that and we got the result we wanted. Hopefully we can build on this and get a winning streak together.”

While McGill was able to respond only a few minutes later with a converted penalty to make the score 17-3, the outcome of the game once would again be put out of question right before halftime. Except this time, it was the Big Green who put the game away, as prop Lawrence Anfo-Whyte, Dartmouth Class of 2013, burst through the McGill defense on a set strike move from a lineout and took it the distance to bring the lead to 24-3. That lead would prove too big to come back from for the Redmen. Although they would score two tries in the second half, good defense from Dartmouth, along with a Hughes penalty and a try by wing Kevin Clark, Dartmouth Class of 2014, would be enough to let The Big Green hold on for the 32-15 win.

Dartmouth will next be in action Saturday, Sept. 10th as they host the Granite State Cup in Hanover. The one-day tournament will see the Big Green’s 1st and 2nd XV sides taking on college teams from all over New Hampshire and Vermont. The action will kick off at 9 am at the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse, located at 9 Reservoir Road in Hanover, 1.8 miles north of the Hanover Inn, off of Lyme Road.

Collecting Pipes

September 9, 2011

Collecting smoking pipes is a fine old hobby… the older the pipes, the finer the hobby. When philately was young, it was ancient.

The requirements are near to non-existent: own more than one pipe. Smoking them is optional; owning them is enough, though owning and smoking them is best. And the agglomeration need not be out-sized, or costly: though hand-worked meerschaum may command hundreds of dollars in shops, an elementary briar is nothing to sneer at.

One benefit of collecting pipes, instead of other ephemera, is that pipes remain useful once collected. Unlike postage (once you use a stamp – that is, lick it and attach it to a letter – it leaves your assemblage, likely for good), pipes can be used and re-used, yet the collection remain whole. Indeed, use can even improve the timbre of the cache considerably. There is no interest in new pipes, save the interest of breaking them in. The stories belong to older pieces.

Most pipe smokers turn collectors, though not by intent: they begin with one pipe, add a second, and two quickly becomes five. The scale is manageable, but the collection is born. Collecting pipes is a natural, pleasurable consequence of smoking them.  True, not every pipe can be smoked; some are too old, too dry, too fragile. Those tend to be too expensive, also, for the tyro. For collectors of means, however, pipes fall within one of two categories: those collected for beauty, history or value, and those collected for smoking.

Per the costlier specimens, time is money: the older the pipe, the more murderous to bank balances. Still, meerschaums with forty or fifty years’ history on them can be had reasonably at most antique and curio shops, in addition to the porcelain pipes so popular in central Europe a century ago.

This is not to discourage the purchase of new pipes: collectors on the make should purchase whatever modern pipes suit their tastes and budget. They can be smoked regularly, not just admired, and such interaction with pieces of the collection will increase the pleasure of collecting itself. Afterall, everything new will one day be old. It will have its own history. In terms of your pipes, their history might as well be yours.