By Peter H. Milliken
Saturday’s nostalgia dinner at the Youngstown Club was a time to reminisce about its happier days.
The 110-year-old club that hosted the Mahoning Valley’s elite is slated to close Jan. 1, immediately after its New Year’s Eve celebration.
However, a general membership meeting of the club has been scheduled for Thursday to discuss its financial condition and what it would take to keep it open, said Katie Dodd, the club’s general manager.
Some 55 guests were warmly welcomed to Saturday’s five-course dinner with a 14-foot Christmas tree and a fire that burned in the giant fireplace of the John Young Lounge, named for one of the city’s founders.
On display were Vindicator articles, most notably about the $1 million arson in 1963 that destroyed the club, which was rebuilt and reopened the following year, together with the club’s original bylaws, old membership rosters, event photos going back to the 1920s and its historic dishes and silverware.
Even Saturday evening’s menu was drawn from past club menus dating from 1912 to the 1970s.
Attendees told of the special charm exuded by the club.
“The sense of class and tradition by the physical appearance and the consistency of not being trendy” is what makes the club stand out for Atty. William R. Biviano of Liberty, a past club president and a former board member, whose law office is in Warren.
One of his fondest memories of the club is as a place to “wind down” with family, friends and business associates on Friday evenings.
“We would come down here and then really enjoy the camaraderie, and it was a great way to end a business week and to start your weekend,” he recalled.
If the club closes, “I’ll still be supportive of any local Youngstown restaurant of quality and good service,” he said.
“It has a lot of character and a lot of memories from long ago,” said Kathy Gasser of Liberty, whose husband, Gary, owns the Gasser Chair Co.
If the club closes, Gasser said she’ll still be able to go to the Squaw Creek and Buhl country clubs, which she now frequents.
Charles Boris of Boardman, a mental-health counselor and a 22-year club member, said the club’s centennial celebration in 2002 and the annual New Year’s Eve dinners were among the most memorable occasions for him.
“As time goes on, people move on, and as a result, the membership has gotten less than it needs to be,” Boris lamented. “It’s a jewel of Youngstown. Unfortunately, people have not recognized it as a jewel,” he added.
“I think I’ll take a hiatus and stay in my own kitchen” if the club closes, Boris said.
Over the years, the downtown club played host to steel executives, mayors and other dignitaries and to prominent local families belonging to it.
At its peak in the 1970s and ’80s, it had some 1,100 members, but, today, it has about 250, and years of declining membership and revenues have taken their toll.
In recent years, booking wedding parties has been the club’s primary income source; and it has opened its doors for public dining on special occasions.
The Youngstown Club, 201 E. Commerce St., offers fine dining and a cherry-paneled main dining room, but, unlike country clubs, it could not entice more members by offering golf, tennis or swimming.
If the club closes, about 20 employees, some having worked there for decades, will lose their jobs.