Country club considers first black couple

February 01, 1995|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Sun Staff Writer

As the Baltimore Country Club closes in on the 21st century and its own 100th anniversary, it finds itself today at the edge of unfamiliar territory.

Integration.

If the private club's board accepts the recommendation of its membership committee tonight, William Jews, president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, and his wife, Marsha, would be the first blacks invited to join the 2,900-member club.

While some club members say they fully expect Mr. and Mrs. Jews to win the board's support, others say that some members are unwilling to accept a black. Reg Murphy, a club member and former Sun publisher, said that some members object to Mr. Jews' admission because of his race. "There are some who want a racially diverse club and there are others who do not," he said.

Edward A. Johnston, a Towson lawyer and president of the club, acknowledged that the membership committee had received letters of opposition. "I don't think any of the letters make the case based on race," he said.

Club members, he said, feel strongly that membership should be offered for "social" reasons rather than as a means to form or further business relationships. Those opposed to Mr. Jews were concerned that his selection would somehow compromise that philosophy, Mr. Johnston said.

Mr. Jews, 42, was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment. Fred D'Alessio, Bell Atlantic's CEO and Mr. Jews' sponsor at the club, declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Johnston said Mr. Jews' admission would not be a momentous event for the club, which is often said to have the best golf course in Maryland. "I would just say it's a normal process," he said. "I don't look at it as earth-shattering."

Asian members

He added that characterizations of the club, which charges a $30,000-per-couple initiation fee, as "all-white" are inaccurate because the club does have Asian members. It also has Jewish members.

When asked why it took so long for the club to consider a black for membership, Mr. Johnston said he presumes that no black had ever been proposed. New members must be nominated to the membership committee by an existing member and must have the backing of at least nine others. The club's board of governors makes the final decision.

Allen Quille, president of Quille's Parking Co. and an avid golfer, dismissed the notion that the club had no black members because none had ever been proposed. The country club, Mr. Quille insisted, should have recruited black members to diversify. He was unimpressed with the club's consideration of Mr. Jews.

"It's way overdue," said Mr. Quille, who is black. "It should have been done long ago."

Susan Goering, legal director of the Maryland ACLU affiliate, was ambivalent about the prospect of Mr. Jews' selection. "On the one hand, one wants to be pleased that it's happening," she said. "On the other hand, it is so late in happening and so overdue that it's amazing."

Country clubs and other private clubs have faced legal and social pressures for years to end discriminatory practices. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Maryland law denying a tax break to the Burning Tree Country Club in Montgomery County because the golf club barred women. Last year, the Moose Lodge in Hagerstown lost its charter from its international for refusing to admit a black man.

Most elegant

The Baltimore Country Club is not the region's first country club -- that would be the Elkridge Club on Charles Street, which also has no black members -- for many years it was considered the city's most exclusive and most elegant.

The club was established in 1898, spanning both sides of Falls Road in Roland Park, which was then the outer edge of suburbia. Unlike the Elkridge Club, its senior by 20 years, the Baltimore Country Club accepted women members from the beginning. Annual dues were $10 for women, $20 for men.

In addition to golf, the club offered squash, bowling, tennis, cricket and later swimming. The club boasted exquisite dining and on Sundays held musicales and recitals.

In the mid-'20s, the club purchased 440 acres in the Lutherville area and work began on a second golf course. Called Five Farms, that course was ranked No. 62 in the country by Golf Digest in 1993, the last year the magazine published ratings. Only one other Maryland course, the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, made the top 100. It ranked No. 73.

In 1931, a fire destroyed the original clubhouse, which was quickly replaced by an ornate, three-story building with a pillared portico.

In the early '60s, the club abandoned the Falls Road golf course. It sold the land to the city, which erected Polytechnic Institute and Western High School, and to the Rouse Co., which built Cross Keys.

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