The Legacy of the Phoenix and Redford Clubs

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Phoenix and Redford Clubs “separation.”

Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the JN, recently provided me with a very insightful bit of information. While he was reviewing the usage statistics for the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, he noticed there were 59 visits to one particular page in the Archive: page 8 of the March 12, 1920, issue of the Jewish Chronicle. The headline for the page was “Phoenix and Redford Clubs Separate.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of this “separation,” but why is this event so interesting to so many today?

Because the legacy of this event is relevant to Detroit’s Jewish community today.

First, one has to keep in mind that until the post-World War II era, Jews were not allowed to become members of golf clubs or social clubs, nor were they welcomed into certain suburbs or neighborhoods in Metro Detroit. Even after the war, there were still restrictions at some clubs and social organizations until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Elliot-Larson Act in Michigan became law in 1977.

(A point of interest and comparison — the Detroit Golf Club did not admit its first African-American member, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, until 1986.)

Few social clubs were open to Jews when the Phoenix Club was founded in Detroit in 1872. This is believed to be the first Jewish social club in the city. Until it closed in 1942, the Phoenix Club was an important meeting place for Jewish literati, as well as a place to host meetings of Jewish organizations or Jewish celebrations, such as weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs.

For Jews who liked to golf, but could not be members of established area clubs, the Phoenix Club bought land in northwest Detroit near Grand River Avenue and Lahser for a golf course in 1913.

The Redford Country Club was incorporated in 1920. Leo Butzel was its first president. And it was a great success. The leadership of the RCC soon realized that the club could not accommodate all who wished to become members. They began to look for a suitable space to build a new course and club house.

The RCC leadership found an ideal spot at 13 Mile and Inkster Roads, near the village of Franklin. By 1926, a deal to purchase nearly 400 acres of farm land there was completed. Famed golf course designer Donald Ross was hired to create the course, and Detroit’s most famous architect, Albert Kahn, was hired to design the club house. The result was the Franklin Hills Country Club, which is, today, a central hub for Jewish social activities and, of course, Jewish golfers.

So, the legacy of the “separation” of the Phoenix Club and the Redford Country Club cited in the March 12, 1920, issue of the Chronicle is the Franklin Hills Country Club. It is also a story of community building.

A feature story, “The Clubs,” in the July 15, 1988, issue is a good summary of this history. Moreover, there are hundreds of pages in the Davidson Archives featuring the activities and history of the three organizations cited above.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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