The Detroit Athletic Club, often referred to as the DAC, is an athletic club in the heart of Detroit's theater, sports, and entertainment district designed by Albert Kahn and inspired by Rome's Palazzo Farnese. Clubs of this type usually maintain reciprocal agreements for their members worldwide. These clubs typically have athletic training facilities, swimming pools, recreation, fine restaurants, elegant ballrooms, guest rooms for members, and exclusive member services. Members may include executives and professional athletes. Ty Cobb is among the athletes to have been a member of the DAC. The building is visible beyond center field from Comerica Park.
Over the years, the Detroit Athletic Club has provided financial assistance and training opportunities for a number of amateur athletes preparing for the Olympic Games.
At the 1956 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, springboard divers Jeanne Stunyo (a native of Gary, Indiana) and Mackenzie High School graduate Barbara Gilders-Dudeck were sponsored by the DAC. Stunyo and Gilders-Dudeck qualified for the Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. At the Games, Jeanne Stunyo won the springboard diving silver medal, and Barbara Gilders-Dudeck finished in fourth place - less than one point from a bronze medal.
Many organizations have left their mark on Detroit’s 300 years as a city, but few have impacted the community as much as the Detroit Athletic Club (DAC). Like a boulder in the middle of a river, the DAC has shaped more than 100 years of Detroit history since it was established in 1887. The original club, founded by a group of privileged young men under the spell of amateur athletics sweeping the country at the time, was later reborn in 1913 by a group of the city’s prominent automotive and industrial leaders. They reorganized the DAC and commissioned famed architect Albert Kahn to design the magnificent six-story Clubhouse that stands today in the center of the city’s theatre and sports district.
The original DAC clubhouse, which no longer exists, was located just south of the cultural heart of Detroit along Woodward Avenue. That first facility was designed primarily as an athletic center with a cinder running track, baseball diamonds, bowling alleys and, later on, a full gymnasium. Many of the members of the original club would later be instrumental in the creation of the current Detroit Athletic Club. As the 19th century rolled into the 20th, the DAC fell on hard times — many of its young members, some of whom went off to fight in the Spanish-American War, began to lose interest in amateur sports and focused instead on business development and the growing automobile industry.
The first club might have closed down, save for the efforts of John Kelsey, who personally funded it for a number of years. When the new clubhouse opened in April of 1915, it was the culmination of the careful plans and dreams of more than 100 prominent Detroiters, many of whom were automotive pioneers. Names like Chalmers, Jewett, Kelsey, Joy, Lodge, Metzger, Hughes, Navin and Scripps will forever be associated with the Club’s 20th-century rebirth and its place as a home to industrial titans. Traditionally, the new DAC was born on Jan. 4, 1913, when 109 leading citizens of Detroit met at the Pontchartrain Hotel to sign articles of association and organize a framework of committees to start the club on its way.
It made sense for the new club to carry forward the name and traditions of the first group —Henry Joy, who called that meeting together, and John Kelsey, president of the old club for many years, worked diligently to reach that milestone date. Nearly a year before the meeting, men like Abner Larned, Harry Jewett and Charles Hughes clamored for the organization of a new club catering to business and community leaders. By the end of 1912, an organizational structure was in place, leading to that 1913 gathering. The group hired automotive architect Albert Kahn to design the new clubhouse. So spectacular was the interior beauty of Kahn’s Madison Avenue building that the official opening in 1915 became a major milestone in Detroit history.
The DAC, wrote a major national magazine at the time, “is an expression of Detroit’s greatness....nowhere but in Detroit could it be done.” In the ensuing 90 years, the Club and its clubhouse have stood the test of time — no major structural overhauls to the building have been needed. Membership remains strong, with more than 4,000 current members in various categories, including 3,000 voting resident members. Today the DAC membership truly reflects the diversity of Detroit as it enters its fourth century as city. Several years ago the Club began spending millions to restore the fine art details of the interior rooms, shining a fresh light on the greatness of what many saw on that day in 1915 when the clubhouse originally opened its doors.
Over the years the Club has been honored as one of the finest in the nation, and countless community leaders have strolled its halls, swum in its pool, eaten in the fabulous Grill Room or attended a gala black-tie event within the grandeur of the Main Dining Hall. Being a hub of greatness in a great city, the DAC has seen its share of the famous, from U.S. presidents to foreign kings, from famous aviators and war heroes to athletes and entertainers. Tradition is a watchword at the DAC — business, social, athletic —with succeeding generations in many families taking membership with the Club, holding dear the memories of events and activities in the clubhouse and creating a sort of "corporate memory.”
First and foremost the DAC remains an athletic club. It has always been home to world-class Olympic and amateur athletes as well as professionals, with the clubhouse playing host to regional, national and international tournaments and exhibitions of all types, from boxing and fencing to swimming and squash. While many of Detroit ’s institutions have come and gone, the Detroit Athletic Club remains a rock-solid force in the city where it was born, providing a center for community leadership and a focal point around which many important decisions have been made. While spanning three centuries, the Detroit Athletic Club has been, and remains, a Detroit original.
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