Annapolis (Md.) YC Rises Again After Fire

By | October 11th, 2018

A third-floor fire started by a plastic Christmas tree required the club, which traces its history to 1885, to relocate to a temporary location at a former restaurant in town for over two years while $18 million in renovations were made. Improvements in the restored building include a new deck and extended bars with water views, and sound-dampening ceiling materials in dining venues.

It’s been nearly three years since the Annapolis (Md.) Yacht Club (AYC) opened the doors of its building to members, the Capital Gazette of Annapolis reported.

That changed on September 28th, when the club had a soft opening to invite members for drinks and to get a tour of the $18 million in renovations that have made to the interior of the building, which was destroyed after a fire started by a plastic Christmas tree in December 2015, the Gazette reported.

About 450 members and guests showed up for the soft launch, which was timed to coincide with the Annapolis Boat Show, Commodore Jim Ellis told the Gazette.

“Do I wish someone was nearby to unplug the tree? Yes. In this case I was dealt a fire that wrecked the club,” Ellis said. “[But] membership has been supportive of what we are doing.”

The renovated AYC is much like the previous club before it, the Gazette reported, but really the only thing left over from the previous building is the structure. Everything else is new, according to Ellis: furniture, carpets, ceilings.

A new deck was placed on the third floor and some of the bars have been shifted around or extended, the Gazette reported. There is plenty of space to sit alongside the water and enjoy the view.

For years the club—which started in 1885 as the Severn River Boat Club—has made its home in Annapolis, the Gazette reported. But for the past three years, the club was a charred husk. The scars of the fire—scorch marks as the flames licked the outer walls—were visible from the street. Most of the destroyed trophies and memorabilia were replaced with support from members, Ellis said.

The cosmetic surgery of renovations has restored the building to its former glory, with a few changes, the Gazette reported. The elevator is no longer on the exterior of the building, meaning the roof line isn’t interrupted by the elevator’s upper machinery.

Sound-dampening materials were placed in the ceilings to cut down dining-room noise. The windows looking out onto Spa Creek now reach from floor to ceiling. The older building had metal panels at the bottom, restricting some of the view, Ellis noted.

On the third floor, where the fire started, The Bridge room looks much like it did before, except for the corner where the fire started.

Previously there were drapes and trophy cases, but now the space is clear and it’s easier to see more of Spa Creek, Ellis said.

“It’s my personal favorite change,” Ellis said as he looked out on Spa Creek. “We didn’t have this before.”

The club spent about two years at its temporary location within the former Harbor Grill restaurant in the city, the Gazette reported. Annapolis businessman Harvey Blonder owns the building and it has been returned to him, said Brian Asch, the club’s General Manager.

Moving into the temporary location was controversial, as some residents said the private club didn’t need the support of government, the Gazette reported, after the city bent zoning rules a bit to allow the private club to operate within the former restaurant. To maintain the site’s status as a restaurant, the city required the yacht club to open its private doors to the public once a month for a short lunch.

That site served its purpose, and the club was thankful for the space, but returning to the previous location provides room for more members and a better infrastructure, Asch said.

The club currently has a two-year wait list, the Gazette reported, and membership is somewhat difficult to earn. New members have to be sponsored by two regular, life or intermediate members. And incoming members have to have endorsement from five other members, according to the club’s website.

Membership applications also include an interview regarding the individual’s boating interests and character.

Then after all of that, membership requires a fee. This is where the club’s openness ended: Ellis said he couldn’t talk about the cost of membership, citing IRS rules against solicitation. The club is a 501(c)(7) tax-exempt social club.

There are rules on what can be talked about and what can’t be, he noted. So the focus stays on boats and members.

“This is not a dining club,” Ellis said. “It’s a yacht club. Everything is about membership value.”

To see pictures and a video that were part of the Gazette’s report, go to


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