It seems that when traditions reach a certain age they attain a certain exalted status. It becomes hard to imagine it any other way. Could there be a world where the New York Yankees wore, instead of pinstripes, bright, multicolored uniforms? Or how about Christmas without a tree, gifts and Santa Claus? Then there are, of course, family traditions, such as which relative carves the turkey, or taking that annual summer junket down to Ocean City.
Members of the Johns Hopkins Club understand tradition.
Whether it be the traditional sherbet served between meals, the ritual of sending grandchildren upstairs so the young ones can wave through the porthole window that looks down upon the main dining room, or the resplendent holiday galas put on every year, the Hopkins Club is a bastion of tradition.
Although there have been changes over the years, most notably the addition of female members, the Hopkins Club has never had to reinvent itself in the vein of such cultural icons as Madonna or Coca-Cola.
"We like to think of the club as having a grand tradition," says Cem Baraz, the club's current general manager. "We are certainly not thinking of making any drastic changes."
Now, approaching its 100th birthday, the Johns Hopkins Club is basking in its "grand tradition." The anniversary of the institution will be celebrated officially on Oct. 3 at a cocktail reception for members called the "Johns Hopkins Club Centennial Gala--A Stroll through the Century."
The event will take place at the club's home for the past 62 years, a two-story Georgian-design structure located next to Nichols House on the northwest side of the Homewood campus.
For current members, this location has become a tradition in itself, as it's the only one they have known. It's safe to say that not many today remember the first of the five locations of the Hopkins Club, a humble rental dwelling located at 706 St. Paul St., a short distance from the university's site on North Howard Street.
If one individual can be linked to the founding of the Hopkins Club, it would be Herbert Baxter Adams, a professor in the History Department. Adams several times during his scholarly career had visited the Yale Graduates Club in New Haven, Conn., and was quite impressed with the establishment. He felt Hopkins should have a similar institution, and during an Alumni Association meeting on Feb. 2, 1899, he urged the creation of a social club whose membership would be drawn from faculty, alumni and graduate students.
Adams' request was promptly followed through on, and in December of that same year the Johns Hopkins Club was officially organized, with 260 charter members. The club officially opened its doors on Jan. 27, 1900.
The club's annual fees back then were $10 for resident members and $5 for nonresident alumni.
Certainly not any run-of-the-mill affair, the club stated in its founding constitution that the "object of the club is the culture of its members and the promotion of social intercourse among them." It was also to be a place where alumni could keep in touch with the university.
This idea of "social intercourse" at the club was not just fancy words put on paper, according to Carl Christ, professor emeritus of economics in the School of Arts and Sciences and a club member since 1950.
"The faculty table, which I believe used to seat 16 people, has always been quite the place for lively discussions," Christ says. "In the old days you could get an education just by sitting at the table." Christ says that on any given day he would sit down with a number of learned astronomers, physicists, historians, writers and scholars of every persuasion. Christ laments that these discussions are not as common as they used to be, pointing out that faculty today, for the most part, have busier schedules and don't have as much time for lunch.
In the club's first few years, many of the original members didn't come for lunch at all--they chose to attend only the formal evening affairs. It's been written that some of the members feared this failure to mingle was a sign of the lack of "Hopkins spirit" among its members; others attributed it to the club's inconvenient location.
The club survived this period and moved in 1902 to 516 Park Ave., a site closer to the university's location. The club moved again three years later into even better quarters at 227 W. Monument St., where it remained until the university's campus shifted to Homewood in 1915.
In 1916, the trustees of the university offered the club members the use of the Carroll Mansion, now the Homewood House Museum.
The membership swelled, but all was not well in clubland.
Finances were a constant concern during the club's early years, but perhaps a more persistent source of tension was the issue of women. The most heated debates among members usually regarded whether women should be allowed membership or even permitted to use the main dining room.
The issue was often brought up at board meetings but never settled. Meanwhile, in 1928 a larger crisis impacted the club. The university's third president, Frank Goodnow, informed the club members that the Carroll Mansion was needed for other purposes and they had to find another home.
This began a bleak period in the club's history, leaving it without a home from 1928 to 1937. The club almost dissolved in 1929, and membership eventually dwindled down to an all-time low of just 119 in February of 1937.
That same year, however, the Johns Hopkins Club would be reborn.
A fund of $50,000, given by Theodore Marburg and his sister Amelia in 1907, was to be used for the construction of a new clubhouse on the Homewood campus. The building, to be called the Faculty Club, was to be dedicated as a memorial to the late Charles L. and William Marburg. The new name didn't stick around long, however, and it later reverted to the Johns Hopkins Club.
Theodore Marburg, a Hopkins alumnus and noted philanthropist, had a significant influence on the design of the club's new home, not to mention the issue of female inclusion.
The club before this time had admitted its first women--female faculty--but they were still not permitted inside the main dining room. In fact, when the new club was built, a wing of the building was reserved for female members--known as the Ladies Dining Room--that had its own separate entrance.
It is part of the club's lore that it was Marburg himself who broke the barrier of letting women into the main dining room, as on Saturday nights he would bring a lady guest to accompany him. This eventually led to other members bringing women on Saturday nights, and over time other days were added until the restriction was unofficially lifted.
Marburg is also included in the lore of how sherbet came to be served between courses. It's been said that he put it in his will that sherbet shall always be served at the club and had created a special "sherbet endowment."
Perhaps closer to the truth is the story, uncovered by The Sun in 1973, that Grace Fisher Wolf, the new club's first manager, began the tradition because she "had sherbet, somewhere, served with dinner" and liked it so much she decided to offer it at the Hopkins Club.
Over the years many traditions started to develop. Several notable ones were the introduction of grapefruit and honey to the dessert menu, a favorite of former university president Milton S. Eisenhower; the designation of the middle table in the dining room as the faculty table, which it remains to this day; and, maybe a little on the risque side, the tradition of placing a penny between the bosom and entwined arms of the marble statue of the Sorpresa [surprise] located in the club's front entranceway. The gesture is seen as good luck, and it's been said that many a graduate student has placed a coin there before a major exam.
Baraz, who has worked at the club for 25 years, says some of these traditions enhance the prestige of the club, and it has been interesting to see them embraced by generations of club members.
Yet the institution, Baraz notes, is in reality constantly evolving. As Hopkins has expanded, so have the categories of who is eligible to become a member. The club, which now has more than 4,200 members, has also officially joined the 21st century with its own Web site, and this year has nominated its first female president. The Hopkins Club serves lunch and dinner seven days a week and hosts more than 50 special events a year, including wine tastings, fashion shows and holiday galas.
E. William Scriba, president of the club's board of governors and a member for more than 40 years, says the club's Christmas Eve dinner is, for him, a highlight of the year.
"Some of my family comes all the way from California to share the experience. It becomes a wonderful occasion," Scriba says. "The place is so beautifully decorated, and there are musicians playing in the dining room. It really is a magical event."
The club has undergone several alterations in its history, most notably the enclosure of the original front porches and the additions of a new kitchen and in 1987 a new wing. The Tap Room was opened to provide a more informal eating place where members can break from the tradition of a jacket and tie.
On the subject of traditions, Baraz says the club will continue to cater to its members' tastes and evolve naturally.
New traditions will come, he adds, or perhaps, now that we are reaching the new millennium, old ones will get tweaked.
"Maybe," Baraz says with a laugh, "members will start leaving dimes for the Sorpresa."