Sphinx Club recedes to history

September 16, 1992

The decline of Pennsylvania Avenue, the hub o segregation-era Baltimore's black businesses and night-time entertainment, continues. The latest casualty is the Sphinx Club, a unique institution which for 46 years functioned as a center for socializing and networking for the city's burgeoning black middle class.

The Sphinx was born in 1946. Charles Tilghman, who had first owned the Golden Rod Cafe and then Club Manhattan at 2107 Pennsylvania Ave., decided Baltimore was ready for an exclusive black private club. An advisory board was named to develop the membership club concept under the chairmanship of Dr. Furman Templeton, a social activist and long-time head of the Baltimore Urban League.

The Sphinx's first Mardi Gras in 1948 firmly established it as black Baltimore's premier social club. For the next two decades, the Sphinx reigned supreme as a venue for swanky formal dances, cocktail sips, charitable affairs and shows of photography and modern art. A number of other clubs -- ranging from women's groups to political gatherings -- operated on its premises. Many members were keenly interested in sports. During its heyday, Sphinx members engaged special trains to faraway football games. Once the club sent its band all the way to Detroit to serenade Baltimore Colts fans at the stadium!

In 1961, when the Sphinx celebrated its 15th anniversary, Mr. Tilghman realized that times were changing.

"Many of our members and friends have moved away to suburbs," he noted. "With these members buying homes and cars plus the convenience, comfort and relaxation in club cellars and cozy dens, along with the all 'round entertainment of television, it has become increasingly difficult to offer sufficient inducement to bring them out."

Despite repeated efforts to pump new life into the Sphinx, the club began losing its former standing. After Charley Tilghman died in 1988, his son took over but soon ran into financial problems. Meanwhile, many aging regulars began dropping out, citing epidemic drug dealing and random shootings in the neighborhood as reasons. This summer, the club house was sold.

Old Sphinx Club photographs are filled with the faces of men who later became judges, politicians, noted educators, successful businessmen. To them -- and hundreds of others -- the Sphinx was a home away from home. It will be missed.

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