The 144-year-old private club is modernizing its facilities, including a $100,000 update to its first floor, has modified its membership fee structure, and is offering special events and programs that appeal to members’ families.
Past Hartford (Conn.) Club members Mark Twain, Katharine Hepburn, and J.P. Morgan might not recognize the business club of the present day. Once the elite bastion of the city’s rich and famous, the 144-year-old private club is changing both its philosophy and its looks to attract members more reflective of today’s business world, the New Haven, Conn.-based Connecticut Magazine reported.
“The demographic has changed considerably from when the club was first started,” said board of governors member Eric George. “The business culture in the city has changed and it’s not just insurance companies or banks anymore. Business leaders are younger, less structured. Corporations are run differently. Social media has changed the way people communicate, get deals done, and has expanded the range of clientele.
“All organizations, including ours, need to reassess now and then how we are running our business and make adjustments in order to stay current,” George said.
Faced with foreclosure less than two years ago, members of the club launched a campaign to attract younger members, at the same time developing a capital improvement plan to upgrade and modernize the three-story Georgian landmark designed by famed architect Robert Andrews. The fee structure was modified and memberships began being offered not only to individuals and companies, but also to nonprofits, small-company owners and those who are or want to be more active in the Hartford community, as well as network with like-minded people. Cognizant that the culture called for activities beyond business lunches and member get-togethers, the club also developed special events and programs that would appeal to members’ families as well, Connecticut reported.
At its peak, the club boasted more than 1,000 members, according to General Manager Tom Natola. Following last decade’s recession, that number plummeted to fewer than 400, he says. The club has rebounded in the last two years, with a 30% increase to about 515, Connecticut reported.
Along with a change in culture came a change in aesthetics, one that respects the significance and architectural pedigree of the National Register of Historic Places-listed building, while giving it a more inviting, casual and welcoming vibe, Connecticut reported.
That first phase was redoing the first-floor members lounge, the place where members of the once-upon-a-time men-only club would meet to discuss business, the arts and literature while lounging in stiff upholstered chairs in a room heavy with dark carpeting and layers upon layers of dramatic draperies, Connecticut reported.
After the $100,000 renovation, the carpeting is gone, replaced by revitalized hardwood floors. A 22-foot bar and stools have been installed at one end of the room, which has been painted and freshened up with modern decor that complements its classic fireplace, dark-wood millwork and high-chandeliered ceilings. High-top tables and stools have also been added to the lounge, now the building’s social core, Connecticut reported.
“We did this area first because it is what you see first when you walk in,” George said. “We wanted to generate a buzz, some excitement.”
Recognizing the newer business model of working remotely rather than in an office, the club has taken another step to appeal to a new generation of business people, updating its technology and affording members comfortable space to work on the go. Small meeting rooms are now available to members who opt not to maintain big conference rooms as part of their businesses, but who need space to conduct a meeting or seminar, Connecticut reported.
“I think there is a general understanding, a consensus, that we are in changing times,” George said. “We are excited here in Hartford as we get ready for the opening of the UConn Hartford branch, a renewed energy at the Wadsworth Atheneum across the street, the continued development on Front Street. We think you can maintain your roots as a club but still change as the times necessitate.”
Future plans include continued improvements on the second floor of the building. Since the changes have begun, the club has seen growth in its membership as well as more interest holding special events in the building, which also includes a large first-floor dining/ballroom, Connecticut reported.
“I think it’s a much more diverse club than people realize,” club president Scott Trenholm said. “I think we as a club are having a rebirth and are a work in progress. As members, we appreciate the historical significance of the building but also like modern amenities. We have to find that balance.”
What would some of those long-gone famous members think about the club’s new look and energy?
“Well, I think Mark Twain would like the high-tops,” said George. “He’d have a better view of what was going on.”