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 because they immediately purchased the former Nathaniel Balch Home on the corner of Rose and South streets facing Bronson Park, they named their 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. They considered constructing a multi-story club and commercial building on the site. When the bids came in at a half-a-million dollars, the members quickly decided to purchase for $50,000 the former William Lawrence mansion next door 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 which has been renovated for First of America across from the new Arcadia Campus of the Kalamazoo Valley Community College) moved the original frame Italianate house off the site facing the park to a lot four blocks west on Academy Street. He then built in the fashionable Queen Anne style, one of the most imposing homes in town, probably spending $30 to $35,000 on its construction.
By April 28, 1927, when the new club opened, expenditures had amounted to over $78,000 in addition to the purchase price- $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. Because the Queen Anne style of the house was considered passé in the 1920's, the interior and many of the windows were "Tudorized".
As soon as the old club house was demolished and a lawn planted in its place, a side "Motor Entrance" and, far back on the east side, 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' Back Bar (now occupied by the offices), the private dining rooms and the Park Bar on the front of the second floor, and to the ballroom on the top floor.
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 new parking lot lobby were built on the site of the old motor entrance.
In preparation for the centennial of the building in 1989, significant repair work was done on the building's infrastructure and much redecoration was accomplished, returning to the original Victorian décor, though some of the 1927 Tudor furniture is still being used. In 1991, the main floor portion of the addition constructed for the basement kitchens 14 years earlier was finally finished as The Pub. The former Ladies' Parlor, which, many years later had served as a small, dark pub, was divided into an entrance hall for the new Pub and a much-needed service area for the first floor dining rooms. 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 the second decade of 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 "The Glorious Dowager"
—Gilbert Edwin Smith, June 1998