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

Posted on October 4th, 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


[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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A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 2

Posted on September 27th, 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 II: A Rural Retreat

Missed part I? Start at the beginning.

As immigrants poured into the cities and urban life became ever-more industrialized in the late nineteenth century, elites sought to escape to the nearby countryside. While hunting clubs had long provided recreation for the wealthiest segment of American society, new-style country clubs catered to a growing number of city residents who had money and leisure, but did not care to “ride with the hounds.” The clubs gained popularity with the rise of a game recently imported from England featuring a little white ball and acres of gently rolling hills. By 1900, the Baltimore-Washington area boasted several exclusive golf (or “country”) clubs, while the Jewish social elite of New York and Chicago organized clubs of their own. AS a history of the Suburban Club observes, “It was understandable, then, that members of Baltimore’s Phoenix Club on Eutaw Place, learning of these other rural enterprises, talked about having their own country club.”[1]

The men acted quickly. Within a month of organizing, in November 1900, they incorporated as the Suburban Club of Baltimore County, hired an architect, and chose a site for their retreat. All three decisions made perfect sense. The architect, Joseph Evans Sperry, had recently completed work on the handsome new Temple Oheb Shalom on Eutaw Place, where many of the club’s founders worshipped. While no one now recalls how the name “Suburban Club” was chosen, it fit both the new club’s location and the spirit of the times: suburbia, though not a novel concept, was becoming a vital part of the urban scene, as transportation improvements enabled people to reside farther away from their workplaces.[2]

As for the location, the plot of land northwest of Baltimore that overlapped two country estates in the sylvan village of Pikesville offered several advantages: it was suitably remote from the city, yet accessible, since the local trolley company planned to extend its line to Pikesville; it featured a hill that Sperry considered the perfect setting for a clubhouse; and the neighborhood, unlike the northern suburbs east of the Jones Falls, was not barred to Jews. The site would prove so ideal that to this day former Suburban Club president Julius Westheimer asserts that “we’re right exactly where we should be.” Decades after the club opened its location at the intersection of Park Heights and Slade Avenues became a center of Jewish Baltimore. In part, this was because the same residential restrictions that existed when the Suburban Club was built later channeled future generations of upwardly mobile Jews to the northwest suburbs. Also, as other Jewish institutions took root in the vicinity and commercial-residential districts with a Jewish flavor were established, Pikesville naturally attracted people who wanted to participate in Jewish community life.[3]

Suburban Club building, March, 1909. JMM 1985.90.20

Suburban Club building, March, 1909. JMM 1985.90.20

But when the Suburban Club’s grand opening took place in November 1901, the club was still in the countryside. That was the whole point. A cherished belief of the late Victorian era held that the healthful benefits of a rural environment offered physical and spiritual relief form the illness-producing stresses and strains of city life. The countryside was not merely for recreation, it was also for uplift. Suburban Club’s first president, Sam Rosenthal, perfectly reflected this view in his speech at the grand opening:

“Here, far from the madding crowd of the pent-up city, its busy streets, its steaming pavements, the hum of manufacturing industry and the wheels of commerce, we may in this lovely solitude look through nature up to nature’s God. Here, environed by all that is lovely in rural charm, we may forget the cares of business, forget the perplexities of debit and credit…and abandon ourselves in contemplation of those things which take us away from the cares of the bustling world of trade and life us nearer to those things which relate more closely to our sentimental welfare.”[4]

Quite a poetic vision, coming from a man who spent most of his days pursuing business success. Rosenthal’s life story shows that German ancestry enabled worthy young men to reach the heights of Jewish society without coming from a leading family. Born in Baltimore in 1855, he attended public schools and started work at age fourteen as a cashier in his uncle’s dry goods business. He eventually became a partner in Strouse & Bros. clothing manufacturers. In a career marked by all the signs of a classic Victorian overachiever – avid pursuit of business, hobbies, and charitable endeavors – Rosenthal found time to help organize both the Phoenix Club and the Suburban Club.[5]

All the leading families, of course, were present to hear his speech, as hundreds gathered for the “brilliant” reception that opening the club. An “ingenious arrangement” of newfangled “electric incandescent lamps” spelled out the word “Welcome” on the sloping entrance to the clubhouse, perhaps symbolizing to the guests their sense of belonging to an accomplished elite that, even if excluded from gentile society, had just taken a major step forward in prestige. The Suburban Club featured all the accoutrements of the era’s modern country clubs, including a “lavish” clubhouse, a non-hole golf course, tennis courts, and a baseball diamond.[6]

Unlike Rosenthal, not all overachievers were welcome in the Suburban Club. Isador Blum’s 1910 profile of the movers and shakers of Baltimore Jewry features Eastern European immigrants who had already managed to make their mark in the business world. Russian-born Harry Ades, for example, was “owner of one of the largest umbrella manufacturing establishments in the county.” Yet he was not a member of the Suburban Club. There was perhaps only one Eastern European immigrant of that day who could not be denied: Lithuanian-born Jacob Epstein, whose business, civic, and philanthropic leadership made him one of the most prominent members of the city’s Jewish community.[7]

Continue to Part III: A New Club Appears


[1] The Suburban Club of Baltimore County: A History from 1900 to the Present (Baltimore: Suburban Club of Baltimore County, 1995), 14. See also James M. Mayo, The American Country Club, Its Origins and Development (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998).

[2] The Suburban Club, 15-17.

[3] The Suburban Club, 17-18; Arthur and Wheezie Gutman, interview with the author, December 14, 2004; Julius Westheimer, phone interview with author, December 2004; Garrett Power, “The Residential Segregation of Baltimore: Restrictive Covenants or Gentlemen’s Agreement?,” Generations (Fall 1996): 5-7.

[4] “Suburban Club Open,” Baltimore Sun, November 8, 1901.

[5] Isador Blum, The History of the Jews in Baltimore (Baltimore: Historical Review Publishing Company, 1910), 177.

[6] “Suburban Club Open,” The Suburban Club, 73, 79, 93.

[7] Blum, History of the Jews in Baltimore, 77, 87, 269.

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A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 1

Posted on September 25th, 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 I: Uptown and Downtown – A Little Social Background

There are two things everyone seems to know about Baltimore’s Jewish country clubs. First, wealthy Jews of German ancestry founded the Suburban Club because they could not get into non-Jewish country clubs. Second, the “German” Jews would not let the “Russian” Jews in to their club, and so the Russians started their own, the Woodholme Country Club.

Both these things happen to be true. But is that all there is to be said about the city’s two oldest Jewish country clubs? Certainly not. Suburban and Woodholme span a hefty chunk of Baltimore Jewish history. They have changed with the times, in ways that have reflected not only the development of the Jewish community, but also trends in American society. More than simply playgrounds for the privileged or icons of status, they are dynamic institutions whose story helps to tell us who we are.

That story begins more than one hundred years ago. By 1900, Baltimore’s German Jewish community was over a half-century old. Its members, many far removed from their immigrant origins, had blended in to the business and civic life of the city. Socially, however, they moved in their own separate sphere. Although Jews mixed with gentiles in fraternal clubs such as the Masons and Odd Fellows, most of their organized social activities occurred in a separate, parallel universe to non-Jews.[1]

A number of Jewish clubs met the social and recreational needs of the community, with the wealthiest and oldest-established families creating their own institutions at the pinnacle of Jewish society. These included the in-town Phoenix Club for men (founded in 1886) and the Harmony Circle debutante balls (begun in the 1860s), where “daughters of the right families could meet sons of the right families,” in author Gil Sandler’s words. Jews constructed their own social hierarchy partly because they were not welcome in gentile high society. As social leader Marie Rothschild once explained, “not being eligible for the non-Jewish Junior Assembly,” wealthy Jews “decided to have a similar set-up.”[2] But internal factors as well circumscribed the social world of upper-crust German Jewry: business and family ties, a desire for their children to marry within the Jewish faith, and affinity with people of similar background.

This affinity did not extend to the Eastern European immigrants who began to make their presence felt in the late nineteenth century. Jewish Baltimore had become socially stratified well before they appeared, but class differences among German Jews began to seem less and less relevant in the face of the social chasm that existed between the established Jewish population and the tide of foreigners whose language, customs, appearance, poverty, and even religion bore little resemblance to the American Jewish lifestyle. Now there were two Jewish communities: the “uptown” German Jews and the “downtown” Russian Jews.

Continue to Part II: A Rural Retreat


[1] Isaac M. Fein, The Making of an American Jewish Community: The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1971).

[2] Gilbert Sandler, Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 46-47.

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