HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSITY CLUB OF TAMPA
To recount all the memorable occasions and humorous incidents that occurred during the years was prohibited because of space and time restraints and, we might add, unwise to relate in printed form. This must be left to memories of many happy times. Another impossible task was to mention all officers, directors, members and employees who contributed vastly to the vitality of the Club.
And so, with apologies for errors and omissions and with grateful appreciation to these people, their descendants and new Tampa residents who will carry on the traditions of the University Club, we offer our version for your enjoyment.
H.L. “Punky” and Byron Crowder
September 11, 1996
Kudos to our mentor Leland Hawes, Tampa Tribune
Historian, for his sage advice.
In the spring of 1946 (or the latter part of 1945) a group of prominent Tampa businessmen held an informal gathering to discuss the formation of a downtown luncheon club, which would provide a pleasant friendly atmosphere to enjoy good company in comfortable surroundings. The population of the City of Tampa then was 125,000. At the time most of Tampa’s business and commerce and professional offices were located in downtown Tampa. Consequently most restaurants and hotel dining rooms were filled to capacity for noon meals. The formation of a private luncheon club to be called the University Club of Tampa began.
A membership committee chaired by George B. Howell, President of First Savings and Trust Company selected those who would be invited to join. Also on the committee were Carl D. Brorein, Frank Traynor, Eliot Fletcher, David Falk, Ed K. Nelson and Jay L. Hearin. Rules required that members be college graduates with a quota of alumni from each university. A special category, non-college graduates, and non-resident classifications were also included. The founding members numbered approximately 100. Officers of the newly formed Club were President, Truman Green, Tampa Tribune Company; Vice President, Frank Traynor, Florida Portland Cement; Secretary, James Warren, Tampa Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Inc.; and Treasurer, H.L. “Dusty” Crowder, Crowder Insurance Inc. A House Rules Committee chaired by Fred J. Woods included Paul LeBlanc, Howard Franklin, Eliot Fletcher and Jay Hearin.
TAMPA TERRACE HOTEL
Arrangements were made with the Tampa Terrace Hotel to occupy the mezzanine. The Club’s facilities included a dining room and cocktail and bar lounge. The Club was open to members daily from eleven a.m. to midnight. J. C. Wathey, former personnel director of the Ritz Tower, New York City and of the Tampa Terrace Hotel, was hired as manager. Food and beverage service was provided by the hotel. The official opening was celebrated on September 11, 1946 with an inaugural tea for member and their guests.
As the years passed the Board of Directors concentrated on building a solid financial base and increasing the Club’s membership. By 1955 there were eleven Board members in addition to President Russell Bogue and three officers. Committees were divided into four categories: Finance, House, Entertainment and Membership. J. C. Wathey was relieved of his managerial duties, leaving three on the remaining staff.
Entertainment was varied with special parties, gourmet dinners (priced at $7.50 and cocktails were available for seventy-five cents) and stag parties. Dinner was served before the Gasparilla coronation ball and breakfast after the ball. The first Derby Day Party was held on May 24, 1956.
In 1957 plans for modification of the Club’s facilities to include a kitchen for preparation and serving of food were underway. Estimates for equipment and construction reached $18,000. The lease with the Tampa Terrace Hotel outlined a flat rental of $2.25 per square foot or $8400 annually. The hotel was required to furnish space, lighting and power (for air conditioning only) as well as water. Utilities in the kitchen were paid by the Club. Square footage was increased to 4,000. A workman broke his wooden leg moving furniture and a $13.00 expenditure was approved by the Board to replace same. Appropriately the motion was made by Dr. Robert Nelson.
In January 1958 Mrs. Mildred Hart, well-known Tampa caterer, was hired as manager with Miss Hazel Beranek as an assistant. In the year 1959 twelve thousand lunches had been served; private parties numbered seventy-five. Food and bar sales totaled $50,413.91 for the year. J. C. Hartsfield was hired as chef in 1962 bringing the staff to eight excluding waitresses.
That year the active membership reached its limit of 250 dictated by the by-laws leaving a waiting list. Seventy Special members and forty-eight Non-Resident members completed the roster. Currie B. Witt was appointed by President Gus J. Perdigon to chair a committee to investigate facilities for occupancy in the downtown area. Richard Knight of Knight Appraisal Services aided in the search. Club room facilities were overcrowded and kitchen facilities were taxed beyond the point of efficiency. The existing lease expired December 31, 1962 and no additional space could be provided.
Among the committee’s recommendations passed by the membership was an assessment of $150 per member, which would be a non-interest bearing, completely subordinated loan to the Club beginning April 1, 1960. A certificate would be issued to each member to be repaid upon resignation or death. Those funds were held in an escrow account to be used only for purchase, lease and/or improvement of real estate including furnishing and decorating. No funds were to be disbursed without membership approval. Since that time a total of 996 certificates have been issued with 212 remaining outstanding. This assessment has been discontinued.
At consideration was a proposal presented by George B. Howell for space available on the tenth floor of the new Marine Bank building then under construction. After intensive investigation a special meeting was held October 6, 1960 and the membership voted to accept the proposal. There were no dissenting votes.
Planning for the new quarters proceeded under Currie Witt’s direction. Loan monies collected from members totaled $47,360 by November 28, 1960. In addition, bank balances totaled $83,213.31. Paul Smith of Paul Smith Construction Company provided by Eliot Fletcher, with Lee Ward of Paul T. Ward in charge of furnishings and decoration.
A request for a Club liquor license was granted by the state legislature. The Club was indebted to State Senator Sam Gibbons for his assistance.
Careful interpretation of membership eligibility and transfers came under the Board’s scrutiny. At the annual meeting in January 1961 the initiation fee for Actives and Special membership was raised to $250 with Non-Resident remaining at $75. Photographs of past presidents were hung in the foyer on May 31, 1960.
MARINE BANK BUILDING
The first gathering of the membership and the official opening of the new quarters in the Marine Bank Building was the annual meeting on January 17, 1962 presided over by George S. Jenkins. An open house was held on January 20, 1962. The successful move was accomplished well within the $125,000 prescribed. A dining area, private rooms, card rooms and lounge area comprised the Club.
By April membership reached 364 of the 400 limit for Actives with 81 Special members and 67 Non-Residents. Net income for the year was $11,000. Combined with initiation fees received, tax savings and extra dues from increased membership, the Club had sufficient cash to pay for all improvements leaving a $25,000 cash operating reserve.
The by-laws called for a Board of Directors consisting of not less than twelve members, four of whom would be elected each year with a term of office lasting three years. Social functions were restricted to members and their guests; no outside organization was permitted to use the facilities.
The consideration of reciprocity privileges with other private clubs resulted in a number of agreements, the first being with the Commerce Club of Atlanta. As clubs were investigated, conflicts of club rules and proximity of a hundred mile radius of Tampa were reasons for rejection. Today, reciprocity is shared with seventy-one clubs throughout the United States.
In 1962 a committee, spearheaded by Robert Goethe of Rodar Leasing Corporation, located a source for plaques denoting members’ college affiliations. The York Insignia Ltd. of York, England received the order for the plaques, which were to be displayed on a wall in the Club. Alumni were asked to cover expenses for the plaque representing their college. During renovations at the Exchange Bank building the plaques were removed but, unfortunately, never rehung. Subsequently, they disappeared. Today there is a strong interest in replacing the plaques.
Treasurer William N. Downs and George Vass of Bogue Compton and Vass, Club auditor, reported a sound financial condition but warned that more operating income would be needed or the Club would face a deficit in 1964. A dues increase became effective December 1, 1963 with dues for Active and Special categories rising to $180 annually; Non-Resident dues were $90.
Two years after the move to the Marine Bank Building the use and popularity of the Club created the need for additional space. Limits were placed on guests and parties were sold out with waiting lists. Applications for membership grew steadily.
In November 1964 President John Germany appointed Harry A. (Bo) MacEwen to chair a Long Range Planning Committee to review proposals to enlarge, improve and/or move Club facilities. The Exchange National Bank, which had an addition then under construction, made a proposal for the 22nd floor of the building. Included in the proposal was the willingness of the bank to assume the present lease with the Marine Bank, to bear a major portion of construction costs and to pay the University Club $36,000 for the unamortized balance on leasehold improvements. Other advantages included indoor parking and direct elevator service.
An increase in space at the Marine Bank would have necessitated closing the Club for a minimum of three months and resulted in loss of dollar revenue, personnel problems and other intangible losses. A study was made to compare operating costs in the proposed new quarters to present quarters. The Club was in a strong financial condition and the projection of cash flow indicated the move could be made without a dues increase or assessment.
At a special meeting held on April 26, 1965 the recommendation of the Board to move to the Exchange Bank building was explained to the membership. Ballots were mailed to the membership and a polling committee was named. The vote tallied 299 in favor and 105 against, with 29 votes proclaimed invalid by the polling committee. A lease was negotiated with the Exchange Bank by attorney John Trenam and lease with the Marine Bank was terminated. Harry MacEwen of MacEwen and Associates was appointed to execute architectural and décor specifications and to oversee the relocation.
EXCHANGE BANK BUILDING
On May 6, 1966 after less than four years in the Marine Bank building, the University Club relocated to the top (22nd) floor of the Exchange Bank. The formal opening, the Derby Day Party, was held May 7th with Joseph A. Savarese presiding. Among the new Club decorations was the University Club insignia and seal, which had been redesigned by York Insignia Ltd. Years later a revised design was made by Dana M. Groff, Jr.
A backlog of proposals for membership prompted the Board to review procedures for processing memberships. Applications were reviewed by a Membership Committee and sent to the Board for certification. Approved applicants were placed in a “pool” to await a vacancy. Membership in September 1967 rose to 682 Actives and Special combined, and 119 Non-Residents. By March 1968, after a by-law change, the number of Active members rose to 700; Non-Residents stood at 125. Initiation fees increased to $400 for Actives and $75 for Non-Residents. Annual dues were $216 for Actives and $108 for Non-Residents, effective October 1, 1968. Increases were necessary to eliminate monthly operating deficits. With the increase in dues and party prices, Treasurer William N. Downs reported financial difficulties were alleviated, and the annual report reflected another profitable year.
During the decade of the seventies the prestige of the University Club was nonpareil. Membership was highly coveted and pride in membership was reflected in all biographies and resumes. The connotation of a “movers and shakers” club was prevalent as Tampa’s influential businessmen, along with many distinguished guests, gathered, as had been the intent of the founding members, to dine in a pleasant friendly atmosphere where good food and excellent service were provided. This guaranteed an overflowing dining room daily. Gourmet dinners and other parties were sold out with long waiting lists.
From the Club’s inception a faction in the membership known only as “The Card Players” developed a strong camaraderie lasting until the middle eighties. Their presence was felt in many ways by the Board of Directors. In May 1955 five hundred packs of cards were purchased, but by February of the next year, a new supply of cards had to be ordered and the card tables refinished. Any displeasure the players experienced was heard by the Board. In 1959 during remodeling, new wallpaper was hung in the card room. The players reacted immediately and another wallpaper more to their liking was hung.
In the Exchange Bank building the Early American Room on the northwest corner doubled as a card room and small dining room for the avid gin rummy players. Small side tables were provided for food. Often waitresses would cut a player’s luncheon steak into bite size pieces to avoid any game delay. In addition to the noon hour, card rooms were open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for bridge, gin rummy, and poker. This popular past time lasted almost forty years.
Among the regulars were George B. Howell, H.L. “Dusty” Crowder, C.C. “Milo” Vega, George Booker, Robert Rice, Robert L. Goethe, Chester Ferguson, Fred J. Woods, Clarence Holtsinger, Harry Hurst, Grady Lester, Dr. Leonard Annis, Richard McKay, James Cannon, Barton Smith, Ed Wade, Sam Davis and Dr. Robert Nelson.
Other private dining rooms, the Chippendale Room, the French Room, the Spanish Room and the Gasparilla Room were reserved for luncheon meetings or private parties.
As the community grew, so did the University Club until its membership reached its limits; waiting list grew longer. An Intermediate member classification, added in 1975, encouraged younger men to join. A Senior member classification was added in 1980.
In 1979 President William A. Gillen appointed a committee to evaluate Club facilities. The following year President Fred Hirons appointed a Site Committee, chaired by Gillen, to continue the evaluation of crowded facilities and membership needs. Three possibilities were considered: expanding the current Club quarters to include a portion of the 21st floor and remodeling the current facilities; remodeling the current quarters solely; or moving the Club from its present location to the top (38th) floor of the new Tampa City Center building under construction by GTE Realty under the direction of John Renwick and George Gage.
In 1980 the Site Committee and the Board voted to relocate to Tampa City Center. President H.L. “Punky” Crowder called for a special membership meeting December 15, 1980 to present all facts and information, including a detailed financial analysis. In the proposal each member would be assessed $350. Following the precedent established by President John Germany on the vote to move to the Exchange Bank building, a ballot was mailed to all qualified voting members with results to be tallied by a local CPA firm. The contemplated move provoked intense discussion and some controversy because the University Club was a prestigious tenant for any building and its presence attracted other businesses as tenants. As in the move from the Marine Bank to the Exchange Bank, the pros and cons were strongly debated before balloting. There were 567 ballots cast with 400 voting to relocate, 164 for remaining and three votes abstaining. A debt of gratitude was extended to William A. Gillen for work done by him and his committee.
TAMPA CITY CENTER
Under the guidance of President James Urbanski, with H.L. “Punky” Crowder as chairman of the Building Committee, the relocation was completed the last weekend in February without penalty as the lease expired February 28, 1982. Although costs for the move totaled $924,000, cash reserves, the assessment and a $40,000 loan covered all expenditures. The loan was liquidated the following year. Member James J. Jennewein, architect of McElvy and Jennewein, and Robert J. Dean of Dean Redman and Parks were responsible for the layout and interior design. The new Club quarters were in operation on Monday, March 1, 1982.
The University Club continued to be extremely successful and prestigious in attracting as members the finest business, professional and civic leaders of the community. A three hundred sixty degree exposure of the burgeoning City of Tampa could be viewed from several vantage points throughout the quarters. In March 1983 financial statements showed a million dollar operation with $1,500,000 in sales for the fiscal year and $119,000 profit for inventory adjustment. President Harold Gibson was praised for his accurate pro forma projections.
When Mildred Hart retired in 1983 she was awarded a generous financial pension and the heartfelt gratitude of the patrons she had served so faithfully. She had created her own quintessential standards for Club operation to which all adhered. They ranged from exceptional cuisine to impeccable attire, training and behavior of all employees. Her extensive and colorful vocabulary commanded instant obedience by the staff. A once-a-year appearance at the annual meeting was the only glimpse most members had of her throughout her twenty-five year tenure.
The man behind the scenes who had worked hand-in-hand with Mildred Hart was Cuisenaire J.C. Hartsfield. His bonhomie and rapport with members paralleled the quality of food he prepared. J.C. had the respect of all Club members.
The excitement of Super Bowl activities in 1984 permeated the halls of the Club during the week with gourmet dinners, a private luncheon hosted by CBS television network with Pat Summerall and John Madden as hosts, and cocktails and hors d’oeuvres served before the game followed by a buffet dinner. Peter Duchin provided music for one private party. Music for the other occasions was provided by Jack Golly, member and local bandleader who had entertained at functions since the late fifties.
An overall review of Club finances and performance was undertaken by Presidents J. Thomas Touchton and James F. Ferman, Jr. to reach quality objectives and standards. Administrative costs and expenditures, including Club refurbishing, were rising necessitating a raise in dues and initiation fees in December 1984. Initiation fees for Actives rose from $1750 to $2500; Intermediates from $250 to $500; Non Residents from $525 to $750. Monthly dues were raised to $50 for Actives; Intermediates and Non-Residents to $25.
In addition to daily luncheons many other functions were held. Gourmet dinners and stag parties, today called “mixers”, have continued throughout the years. The parties allowed members to become better acquainted with their peers and to meet prospective members.
One popular party, Derby Day, which began in 1956, was discontinued because of state restrictions on gambling. Approximately 300 members would gather for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres followed by a dance. Bets were placed, often on every horse, to insure a winning ticket. The odds were unlike any offered at race tracks as Dr. Leonard Annis calculated odds on total money collected. Betting windows were manned by staff members. Decorations provided appropriate atmosphere and waitresses dressed in colorful silks served mint juleps. Large television sets, courtesy of Frank Frankland, were placed in strategic places.
Easter, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day brunches, Christmas tea dances, seafood dinners, Luaus, Cognac Tasting, Cigar Smokers, Jamaica Nights and Dinner before the Theatre filled the Club’s calendars. Gasparilla festivities included dinner before Ye Mystic Krewe’s Coronation Ball and breakfast following. With the change in the Gasparilla parade route, pirates in colorful piratical costumes ended the day-long parade at the Club for grub and grog.
Beginning in the late eighties Father/Son/Daughter Banquets, July 4th family picnics and children’s Christmas parties were added as the Club became more family oriented. Guy King III, as Entertainment Chairman produced the first Spring Gathering, a lavish display of food and wines, on April 13, 1991.
By July 1996, three new classifications of membership had been added: Corporate, Honorary Associate and Special Associate, bringing the total to seven. Residents (whose nomenclature changed with the merger of Active and Special) total 504; Intermediate 40; Senior 147; Non-Resident 74; Corporate 11; Honorary Associate 2; Special Associates 3. As of this writing, the total membership consists of 781 members.
As you enter the Club atop the Tampa City Center, a large oak paneled foyer, serviced by brass trimmed elevators, connotes the ambiance of a traditional English club. A spacious reception area features comfortable furniture for relaxation and conversation. A number of accessories and a console date from the original Club. Photographs of past presidents, old English prints and paintings and the Club’s gold crest adorn the walls.
Large pewter chandeliers provide lighting for the Hillsborough Room which accommodates 180 seated patrons. The Harbour Room, seating 100, is adjacent to the bar and cocktail lounge. These rooms overlook Tampa’s Hillsborough River and Hillsborough Bay. The view from large picture windows extends to the Tampa Convention Center, the new Florida Aquarium and the Ice Palace. On clear days the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is visible. Three private dining rooms, the River Room, Gasparilla Room and Ybor Room complete the 16,000 square footage.
Failure to mention loyal employees who had served the Club over the years would be an omission in Club history. Hazel Beranek, Supervisor of Food service; Mary Lou DeNome Herzfeld, Assistant Manger and receptionist; Carlos Ebra, bartender; Myrtle Willis, bookkeeper; Dorell Hart, Administrative Assistant; Paul Johnson, Busmen Supervisor; Mildred “Willie” Wilson, Dining Room Supervisor; Ineko Thomas, Doris “Anne” Lyons and Felizitas “Feli” Holton, waitresses with seniority in tenure, and many other waitresses, busmen and kitchen aides contributed greatly to provide the high standards demanded in superior club operation. Thanks to them the reputation of the University Club is known throughout the United States.
It should be noted that the core—the very essence—of the University Club is its membership. The continuing support of these participating members sustains the Club and marks it as an institution worthy not only of its past but also of its future. This feeling, this “sense of belonging”, guarantees the Club’s place in the very fabric of life in Tampa.
LONG LIVE THE UNIVERSITY CLUB OF TAMPA!