A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 3

Posted on October 4, 2017 by

generations 2004Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part III: A New Club Appears

Missed parts I and II? Start at the beginning.

A quarter-century after the Suburban Club opened to much fanfare, Jacob Epstein would assist the next generation of movers and shakers in forming a second Jewish country club. As featured speaker at the first anniversary celebration of the Woodholme Country Club in May 1928, Epstein “spoke of the value and need of another Jewish golf club in Baltimore, “ reported the city’s Jewish Times. “The theme of Mr. Epstein’s address was the advantage club membership meant to the promotion of good citizenship and health.”[1]

Citizenship and health benefits notwithstanding, the newspaper refrained from disclosing the underlying reason for the club. It didn’t need to, since everyone knew. Socially, a “complete schism” still existed between German and Eastern European Jews, in the words of a Suburban Club member. The founders of Woodholme, though economically successful and mostly Baltimore-raised, were children of Eastern European immigrants and would not be eligible for membership in the older club. Not only did cultural differences – real or perceived – continue to separate the two groups, but exclusivity has always been part of the rationale for country clubs. As the Suburban Club’s official history acknowledges, “One gets the impression that the Board cherished the idea that Suburban Club membership was a desirable social attainment and should be limited to the ‘right’ people. However,” the history points out, “during the Club’s long history, one would be hard put to find as many as a score of applications turned down.”[2]

There was no need to turn people down, since “Russians” knew better than to apply in the first place. “You sort of knew where you belonged…it was a strict line that you couldn’t cross over,” one person explained. A Woodholmite who came of age in the 1930s recalled, “I didn’t want to go over to the Suburban Club because I felt like I wasn’t wanted. Our generation as a group felt that way.”[3]

18th Green and Fairway at the Woodholme Country Club, April 24, 1930. Photograph by the Baltimore News.

18th Green and Fairway at the Woodholme Country Club, April 24, 1930. Photograph by the Baltimore News.

Rather than make a fuss, his father’s generation simply did what the Suburbanites had done when faced with a similar situation: they created a club of their own. In 1926, members of the Amity Club, the in-town social club of affluent Eastern European Jews (located, naturally, on Eutaw Place) began to discuss forming a country club. They too moved quickly. Bu the time they incorporated as the Woodholme Country Club in May 1927, they had already acquired the former Dr. Cook estate in Pikesville and were putting the finishing touches on their clubhouse (the old Cook mansion) and a temporary 9-hole golf course. Their gala opening on a Sunday in June 1927 featured a golf tournament in the morning and a dinner dance at night. Rabbi Adolph Coblenz of Chizuk Amuno, a Conservative congregation, gave the invocation at the afternoon dedication services, an unsurprising contrast to the Suburban Club’s close ties to a Reform congregation, Oheb Shalom.[4]

It’s fitting that the location chosen for the new club was on Woodholme Avenue off Reisterstown Road, the second great artery of Jewish Baltimore that runs parallel to the first, Park Heights Avenue, where the Suburban Club sits. The two clubs in fact represent steps along the same path followed by both Baltimore branches of European Jewry, if several decades apart. As Gil Sandler observes, “The so-called uptown Jews (read ‘German’) and the downtown Jews (‘Russian’) had many differences but shared one common aspiration: to become ‘American’ as quickly as possible.” For people who managed to fulfill the American dream of wealth and success, this meant indulging in the activities of American high society.[5]

Similar aspirations translated into different priorities, reflecting the societal changes that had taken place between the founding of the two clubs. In the fast-paced 1920s, Americans no longer paid much attention to spiritual uplift or sylvan escape. It was a sports-crazy era, with golf at the height of its popularity. In his dedication speech, instead of a rhapsodic ode to rural life, club president Ben Hornstein (an executive with Jacob Epstein’s American Wholesale Corporation) “presented the club with a large silver loving cup to be competed for annually by the membership on the golf links.” The club hired noted Scottish and American golf course architect Herbert Strong to build a championship 18-hole course, instructing him “to spare no expense in creating as fine a course as his ability and ingenuity would permit.” When it opened in spring 1930, it was – and remains – one of the best golf courses in Maryland.[6]

This is not to say Suburban didn’t develop a sports tradition of its own. Through the years, athletics for men and women played a major role at both Clubs. In fact, club life revolved around two pastimes: sports and socializing. Both these activities deserve a close look.

Continue to Part IV: Sporting and Cavorting

Notes:

[1] “Woodholme Country Club Tenders Membership Banquet,” Jewish Times, May 4, 1928, 17.

[2] The Suburban Club, 41.

[3] Various interviews.

[4] “The Amity Club – The Woodholme Country Club” (1992) (Jewish Museum of Maryland Vertical Files, courtesy of Woodholme Country Club); Articles of Incorporation, Woodholme Country Club, May 9, 1927; “Woodholme Country Club Officially Opened,” Jewish Times, July 1, 1927.

[5] Sandler, Jewish Baltimore, 45.

[6] “Woodholme Country Club Officialy Opened” (first quote); “Woodholme Country Club Tendesr Membership Banquet” (second quote).

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