The Town Club History
When T. H. Spence, one of the original founders of The Town Club, began raising the needed funds to finance his dream in 1899, he sold his idea as "a gathering place for tennis, ice skating, squash, bowling and parties . . . a place children could come and be watched . . . an 'in-town' club near everyone's home".
Young Spence, who later headed the law firm of Quarles, Spence and Quarles, secured the necessary cash to buy property and build facilities on North Farwell Avenue by ringing the doorbells of friends and neighbors on nearby Prospect Avenue. His fellow organizers were George H. Noyes, John Johnston, William D. Van Dyke and Oliver C. Fuller.
Their efforts were prompted by the demise of the Milwaukee Lawn Tennis Club (photo top left) which had flourished during the 1880's and '90s on North Prospect Avenue and East Kane Place. When the land there was sold for real estate development, these five gentlemen spurred the organization of The Town Club to continue the tennis activities as well as to expand the potential usage of the facilities.
Among the other original members of the Club were Louis Allis, C. C. Russell, Fred Pabst, Arthur N. McGeoch, J. H. Marshutz, Stuart Markham, F. H. Lindsay, Alfred F. James, Wheeler Bloodgood, James W. Bradley, A. K. Camp, Edward Dewey, Herman Falk, George P. Earling, Grant Fitch, E. J. Furlong, K. K. Kerman, Frederick Layton, George P. Miller, L. W. Nieman, Ludington Patton, Charles Pfister, W. C. Quarles, E. P. Sherry, F. L. Sivyer, Clement C. Smith, Fred Vogel, Jr., F. L. Vance, General Charles King and Dr. C. E. Albright.
The original Town Club facilities, which opened for business in 1901, included four tennis courts, two squash courts and bowling alleys, as well as a lounge, cocktail lounge and ballroom. According to the program distributed by the Club at the 1904 Annual Wisconsin Open Tennis Championships, the tennis courts were of "clay composition with a very (hard) fast surface". That same program also indicated that the facilities of the club "included bowling alleys, billiards, plunge tank, baths, cafe, etc. . . .". In the wintertime, the tennis courts were flooded for use as a skating rink. The bowling alleys, however, were seldom used and the indoor swimming pool proved unsatisfactory and later was eliminated to provide more locker space.
Not all of the activities at the original Town Club were centered around athletic interests. It was the place in the early 1900's where beautiful cotillions, receptions and balls of that era were held. Perhaps typical of the times was a Club sponsored "Grand Vaudeville and Living Picture Extravaganza" on February 16, 1904. An all-star cast of living models was directed by Sherburn Becker, who became Mayor of Milwaukee two years later. The models were daughters of Milwaukee's leading families outfitted as young ladies of varying nationalities and position. According to the records of the same event, two gentlemen passed among the audience during the intermission, selling licorice drops and chewing gum for the benefit of a memorial tablet for a bowling team. The dinner served that evening cost 75 cents and included lobster ala Newburg, olives, French rolls, fruit salad ala mayonnaise, sandwiches, ice cream, cake and coffee.
The Town Club also featured a series of Friday Night Porch Concerts which commenced on August 25, 1905. As indicated in the announcement that year to the membership, "effort has been made to secure artists of well established reputation and high musical ability, and it is confidently hoped that the entertainment will be both interesting and pleasing". The Club's tennis and social activities continued at the North Farwell Avenue location for over a half century.
On November 5, 1953, the Club was totally destroyed by a fire. Although Mayor Frank P. Zeidler and First Ward Alderman Alfred C. Haas were among the crowd of spectators, little did they realize that within two years, a completely new facility would be constructed. In fact, two days following the fire, the Club Officers planned a meeting at the University Club to make immediate decisions necessary for rebuilding or relocating The Town Club. On December 15, 1953, temporary quarters were set up in the Shorecrest Hotel. Although many of the membership favored rebuilding on the Farwell Avenue site because of the available tennis courts, a new location which provided more convenient access for the children of members was even¬tually selected at the present site in Fox Point.
The present Town Club facilities opened in November, 1955. They now consist of 18 tennis courts (fifteen Har-Tru clay courts and three hard-surface courts), four paddle tennis courts with a warming house, a bath house with locker facilities, offices for the tennis and swimming professionals and a snack bar, two outside pools and, of course, a charming, colonial clubhouse. This main facility has a Living Room, Dining Room, Bar, Grill, the Crown Room, the Jefferson Room, the Windsor Room, the Manager's Office and the General Office. The basement includes the Raleigh Room with meeting facilities for up to 12 persons plus complete locker room facilities for men and women. Adjoining the south end of the clubhouse is an attractive terrace which was significantly expanded with the addition of an open air dining Pavilion in 1998. Continuous renovation, remodeling and landscaping programs have kept the Club and its environs in beautiful condition for nearly one-half century.
While the Club enjoys a wide variety of usage by its members, it still maintains a fine and justified reputation as an outstanding tennis facility. Over the years, such famous tennis players as Don Budge, Jack Kramer and George M. Lott, Jr. have performed at the old Town Club to the delight of the entire community. Frank Parker, the only Milwaukeean to win a National Tennis Championship and play on the United States Davis Cup Team, was a ball boy at the Club for several years. Prior to 1953, The Town Club was host to the Wisconsin State Open Tennis Tournament, except for periods during the two World Wars when these matches were not held. In the early 1900's, the Wisconsin State Open Tennis Championships were somewhat unique in that the defending champion did not compete in the regular tournament. Rather, at the conclusion of play, the winner of the complete run-off met the defending champion. This tournament was transferred to the Northern part of the State following the Town Club fire.
After the reopening of the Club in 1955, the membership commenced an extensive program to bring national and international tennis competition to Milwaukee. Initial success was achieved in 1957 when the Western United States Tennis Championships were held at the Club. After several years of alternating with Indianapolis as host of those amateur Championships, from 1966 through 1968, the Club accom¬plished something that will long be remembered in the hearts of amateur tennis followers in this area. In those three years, The Town Club served as host for the United States National Clay Court Tennis Championships. This marked the only times in the history of Milwaukee that this tournament was held here and for a week during each of those summers, a temporary stadium was erected and the clubhouse and grounds were an exciting array of tennis experts and enthusiasts. In 1969, one of the first Grand Masters professional tournaments was held on the Club's stadium courts.
In the 1960’s, Club member T.B. Wilson brought platform tennis to Milwaukee. He and his brother built an all-wood court and invited their friends to come over and learn this strange but intriguing new game - which could be played outdoors, in the winter! Many tried that first court with its rounded corners. Enough of the members got the fever and the first two courts were built at the Club in 1973. Tournaments were sure to follow, and the first Wisconsin State Closed was played in 1977. The Club continues to host this and other tournaments.
Spectating facilities were inventive, but spartan in the early days. The need for a permanent facility was clear and the warming house was built in 1979. Through the years, heaters, improved lighting, decking, and other amenities have been added including the expansion of the warming house in 1994. A third court was built in 1984 and a fourth in 1996.
At the beginning of the 1994-1995 paddle season The Town Club hosted its first American Platform Tennis Association Tournament (APTA). By the start of the 1997-1998 season this tournament was officially awarded national ranking status by the APTA and has become a popular event for ranked paddle players from around the country.
Our Town Club management has helped us to maintain a special culture. Ralph Skiba, a beloved Town Club employee for over 45 years began as the maintenance man in 1955. Promoted to Club Manager in 1975 Ralph is fondly remembered as an “institution.” Ed Mixdorf began as bartender/cook in 1975. Ed succeeded Ralph in 1999. During his tenure, we launched a multi-million dollar renovation which was completed in the spring of 2007. This included kitchen and clubhouse bathroom renovation, improvements to the bar, and a new pool house and patio.
In 2010 The Milwaukee Tennis Classic chose to the Town Club to host their tournament. The Milwaukee Tennis Classic is a wonderful way for The Town Club to showcase our wonderful facilities and our love of tennis. Many members host college students during this three-day tournament. The Milwaukee Tennis Classic continues The Town Club’s storied tennis tradition and is a wonderful way to close our tennis season.
The strength of The Town Club remains our membership. Whether eating Friday night dinner at the Club, serving on committees, spending a summer evening playing tennis and joining friends on the patio, or joining the Board of Directors, the Town Club members are eager and willing to use and serve the Club.
During its proud history, The Town Club has managed to change significantly in order to stay in tune with the times and the desires of its membership. Nevertheless, the ideals of "young Tom Spence" go on ... it's a place for children ... it's a place to stop in for good food and drink . . . it's a place for paddle, tennis and swimming ... it's a place for good companionships, good friends and good family fun.