During the last quarter of the 19th century, when Kalamazoo was called “the most elegant town in the Midwest,” it had three men’s clubs: The Kalamazoo, The Academy and The Cosmopolitan. On February 22, 1904, the three clubs merged and purchased the Nathaniel Balch home on the corner of Rose and South streets facing Bronson Park, thus, they named the new organization The Park Club. For twenty years, the Club occupied its Italianate building on that prominent corner. But in the prosperous period of the early 1920s, the Club began to contemplate a larger and more up-to-date facility. When the bids came in at a half-a-million dollars, the members decided to purchase the former William Lawrence mansion next door for $50,000 which for 15 years had been the home of the Odd Fellows Club.
In 1889, William Lawrence, the owner of the Lawrence and Chapin Foundry, (the building on North Rose Street across from the KVCC Arcadia Campus, which was renovated by First of America) moved the original frame Italianate house four blocks west on Academy Street. He then built in the fashionable Queen Anne - style, one of the most imposing homes in town, spending nearly $35,000 on its construction. By April 28, 1927, when the new Club opened, expenditures amounted to more than $28,000 above budget. A Rathskeller had been installed in the basement, and a large dining room was constructed on the west side of the house to be named the Garden Room. In recent years, it was renamed The Victorian Room.
As soon as the old club house was demolished and a lawn planted in its place, a side “Motor Entrance” and a Ladies’ Entrance was opened. From the Ladies’ Entrance, one could go up a short flight of stairs through a beautiful Ladies’ Parlor to the Garden Room. Or on up the back stairway to the Ladies’ Bar, the private dining rooms of the second floor and to the Ballroom.
By 1955, the lawn on the site of the old club house gave way to a much needed parking lot. The area’s first serpentine brick wall was constructed around it. In 1977, an addition was constructed at the rear of the building to house the new basement kitchens. About this time women began to use the front entrance. In the mid 1980’s an elevator tower and foyer were built on the site of the old motor entrance.
In preparation for the centennial of the building in 1989, significant redecoration was done on the building’s infrastructure returning to the original Victorian décor. Some of the 1927 Tudor furniture is still used today.
In 1991, the Club built a first-floor dining area now called The Pub. In 1996 the entire Park Street Porch was handsomely restored for dining.
Thus, through many changes of style and usage, our Park Club has continued to serve as a charming social center for the community. And although the building is entering its second century, it remains a comfortable, familiar and even elegant presence, like that of a dear old friend, in the lives of its members.
~Adapted from Gilbert Edwin Smith’s historical account, June 1998~