Farewell to the Sphinx Club

September 21, 1992

Before it succumbed to financial difficulties recently, the Sphinx Club had been nothing to write home about for years. But for two decades after World War II, the Sphinx fulfilled an important role as Baltimore's first exclusive black membership club, a venue for fancy social and civic events, networking and just plain fun.

In 1946, when Charles Tilghman started the Sphinx at 2107 Pennsylvania Ave., Baltimore was still a strictly segregated city. He felt a membership club would find the favor of the black middle class -- lawyers, doctors, educators, postal employees -- and it did. Part of the credit belonged to Dr. Furman Templeton. The long-time head of the Baltimore Urban League was responsible for developing guidelines for the Sphinx's operation.

During a time when the legal barriers of segregation began crumbling in Baltimore and elsewhere, the Sphinx opened its doors to the meetings of all kinds of off-shoot organizations. Fashion shows and art exhibits were held there. And the club's Mardi Gras parties became so popular guests came from Philadelphia and Washington.

In 1961 the Sphinx observed its 15th anniversary with two weeks of celebrations. A richly illustrated commemorative book was published. Articles in it made it clear the club was at a crossroads. Many old-timers had moved to the suburbs and came by only infrequently or not at all. "The Avenue" -- the segregation-era Pennsylvania Avenue of businesses and night-clubs catering to blacks -- was on the decline.

The Sphinx lingered on for three decades after that, never acquiring its former pre-eminence. After many financial difficulties, it finally closed this summer and was sold. A revival under a different name is in the works.

During its heyday, the Sphinx had an extensive film library. It contained celluloid records of various club functions -- fancy parties, sports events. If any of those films have survived the club's declining years, they should be preserved.

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