The ClubCorp property stood out when it opened in 1989 by recruiting women and minorities, but then fell on harder times during the recession. It has now moved to a new 51st-floor location in a downtown building, and is regaining momentum by promoting “a new kind of diversity: age.” Age-based discounts have helped to add 200 members as part of the recovery.
The success of the City Club, a ClubCorp property in downtown Los Angeles, in rebuilding its membership through age-based discounts, along with other measures designed to help attract younger members, was highlighted in a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times.
A membership package priced at $345 a month for a 50-year-old now costs $208 a month for the younger-than-30 crowd, the Times reported. The program has helped the average member age at the City Club drop to the mid-40s, General Manager Larry Ahlquist told the Times—almost a decade younger than what was once the norm. Overall membership for the club is now 1,227, Ahlquist said, up from a low of 1,030 during the recession.
A change of location to the glass-walled, 51st floor of the City National Bank Building that offers spectacular views of downtown Los Angeles, along with ditching a buttoned-up dress code for one that is now primarily denim-friendly, have also helped to turn things around, the Times reported.
After the Regency Club, another city club in L.A.’s Westwood section, closed its doors in 2011, the Times reported, Ahlquist and others at the City Club were reminded anew of how hard their club would have to fight for relevance.
The City Club’s previous location had “too much dark wood, tchotchkes and the old smell of Grandma’s house” to lure younger members, it was felt. The stuffiness had to be kicked to get a “new kind of diversity: age,” the Times reported.
Making changes to appeal to younger members would also help the City Club restore a distinction that it first gained after opening in 1989, the Times reported. A story that appeared in the Times a few months after the City Club first came on the scene described it as a place that “touts itself as a little United Nations among private clubs”—and backed up that description with a membership made up of 17% women in the club’s first year.
The latest Times feature on the City Club highlighted Todd and Sian Seligman as the type of new members the changes have attracted.
Just before his 40th birthday, the Times reported, Todd Seligman got an invitation to have lunch at the club and take a look “into a world where he was certain he didn’t belong.”
Seligman, a former professional on the BMX bike-racing tour, now produces action-sports videos and shows up to work most days in jeans and a “hoodie,” the Times explained.
“I was like, ‘private club?’ ” Seligman told the Times while “scrunching his upper lip toward his nostrils, like he’d just smelled something rotten.”
“But then I was like well, whatever. Free lunch? OK,” Seligman added.
When visiting the City Club, the Times reported, Seligman noticed “purse hooks at the bar” and other signs of diversity and an “easy vibe,” which prompted him to pitch the idea of considering joining the club to Sian, described by the Times as “a thick-framed-glasses-and-bright-red-lipstick-wearing urban farmer.”
But when first presented with the idea, the Times reported, Sian shot back to Todd: “You know I’m an Asian woman, right?”
While the “BMX biker and urban farmer” might have appeared to be “the most unlikely members,” the Times reported, a couple of years later they now spend three or four days a week at the City Club, shelling out $280 a month for a membership that doesn’t even include a gym.
Todd Seligman now heads the City Club’s Wine and Spirits Committee and Sian Seligman helps to lead social-event planning, the Times report noted.
Although some of the Seligmans’ friends still give them a hard time about their membership, they told the Times— using air quotes and an accent that sounds vaguely British when they mention “the club” — the couple said their membership has been worth it. For Todd, who works out of a warehouse, it’s meant he could stop renting the office he used for client meetings and conduct them at the club instead. And for Sian, who runs a company called Sow Swell out of their home, it gives her a home base while downtown, and serves a place for morning coffee and evening cocktails.
The membership also has value as a place “to make connections and to be treated like someone worth making connections with,” Todd Seligman said.
“You’re seen much more as having value than being some young whippersnapper,” he told the Times.
He also noted the value of the ClubCorp connection, describing how he called the parent company while on a recent trip to Las Vegas with buddies, to see if his membership could help them find a restaurant where a two-hour dinner wait wouldn’t be required. Todd and his buddies couldn’t find any restaurant with less than a two-hour dinner wait, he called ClubCorp, the City Club’s parent company, to see if it had any connections in the city. He was told to head to the Capital Grille steakhouse on the Strip, and after first being told there would be a wait, the Times reported, Seligman’s mention of his ClubCorp connection led to recognition of his name and an immediate seating.
The Times report also included a description of a visit to the club’s new location, which began by noting that “as the elevator makes its way from the first floor to [the City Club on] the 51st, your ears pop, reminding you, it seems, that you’re not going to the club, you’re traveling there.”
“The doors slide open and soft jazz fills the atrium,” the Times report continued. “A brunet with her hair in a neat bun greets you with an easy smile. She’s the Director of First Impressions. And then there’s Ahlquist, wearing a pinstripe suit and peering out the floor-to-ceiling window.
” ‘You can see the ocean where it starts to glimmer,’ he says, lifting his eyebrows like an exclamation point.”
The Times report then described how Ahlquist “zip[ped] down a hallway past a room with wallpaper that looks like graffiti. ‘It’s for when you need to think outside the box,’ he says.
“On the other end of the club, a 138-inch flat-screen TV, which hangs above a shuffleboard, plays CNN in the mornings,” the Times described. “In the evening, it turns into a bar—one with Eagle Rock Brewery beers on tap, to cater to a generation that treats beer like Ahlquist’s treated wine.”
“I remember when a premium beer was Michelob,” Ahlquist told the Times. “One of my favorites is Heineken—but you go in places now and they don’t even carry them. Now they’ve got all these different craft beers.”
The Times then described how Ahlquist, after stopping to have a conversation with a visitor who is a member of another ClubCorp club in Seattle, made his way through a doorway and into a dining hall with tiny bonsai trees on every table. “It’s called the Arbor Room,” the Times reported, “and it’s the only place in the club where you can’t wear jeans and a jacket is still required.
The City Club revisited its dress code, Ahlquist explained, because “now even the founders of booming companies wear jeans to work.”
“All the dot-com places,” he added. “The cool places.”
The City Club has a Twitter account, the Times reported, which it uses to send out pictures of a young, tattooed DJ who sometimes spins at the bar, as well as a Facebook page, where it punctuates posts with “#loveourmembers” and promotes its catchily named social media seminars: “All About Twitter” in February and “Power of Pinterest” in March.