Even if you do not sail, it is good to know the important role that the “Jewish” Yacht Club and other social clubs played in Jewish Detroit history.
I went clubbing this week. No, I did not abandon my mask and hit the dance floors in local night clubs. I’m not much of a dancer anyway — ask my wife, Pam. Instead, I went “clubbing” in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History.
Recently, I wrote about the Jewish Phoenix Club that created the Redford Golf Club (today’s Franklin Hills Golf Club) because most golf clubs of the era discriminated against Jews. In this respect, Audrey Saperstein wrote to me suggesting that the Great Lakes Yacht Club had a good story.
The Great Lakes Yacht Club — commonly known as the “Jewish Yacht Club” — is cited 203 times in the Davidson Archive and was the topic of several feature stories. It began much like the Redford Golf Club: Jewish Detroiters decided to form their own boat club after facing discrimination when attempting to join other boating clubs in Detroit.
They formed the Island Boat Club on May 7, 1952. A year later, it was renamed the Great Lakes Yacht Club. Although formed by Jews, and still a largely Jewish organization, the Yacht Club never discriminated against anyone who wished to become a member.
The Yacht Club quickly became a success. Less than two years after its founding, a story in the Jan. 19, 1954, issue of the JN, “Community Sailors Organize Yacht Club on Lake St. Clair,” showed its plans for a new clubhouse. The article also discussed its three “club cats;” that is, the boats the club owned for member use. One of them, the yawl Aventura, was entered in the famous Port Huron to Mackinaw race that year.
The list of early members was illustrious, with prominent figures such as Judge Avern Cohn and Irvin Yackness on the roster. The first female commodore (president in nautical terms) was Eve Kommel in 1983.
There are excellent stories about the club in the historic pages of the JN. For example, “Smooth Sailing” was written on the 50th anniversary of the Yacht Club in the Aug. 6, 2002, issue. “Anchors Aweigh” in the July 3, 2008 issue speaks to the Yacht Club’s efforts to raise $35,000 to battle leukemia, a good example of the club’s many charitable efforts. The club’s youth summer program is featured in the Aug. 21, 1992, issue, and “Chai Flying” in the Oct. 10, 1987, issue is about the Yacht Club inspiring an aeronautical club, the “Chai Flyers.”
Sidebar — while “clubbing” in the Archive, I also found 370 citations for another “Great Lakes Club,” which appears to have existed, c. 1930-1980. This social club was much like the Phoenix Club, and many Detroit Jews were members.
The Great Lakes Club featured speakers, some famous like Shimon Peres, hosted many dinners and parties, and was especially active during WWII when it hosted USO events at the Belcrest Hotel in Detroit for American military members.
The story of the Great Lakes Yacht Club is indeed interesting. Even if you do not sail, it is good to know the important role that the “Jewish” Yacht Club and other social clubs played in Jewish Detroit history.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.