Walking by, a lot of people don’t even notice it. Sure, the building has a beautiful brick exterior, but it’s Hamilton. Beautiful brick buildings are the norm.
It’s not until people step inside, through the heavy wood and brass doors off Main Street East, that jaws drop.
It’s one of the things Shendal Yelchin loves about being general manager of The Hamilton Club. The other thing she likes is seeing the way the 142-year old club works to mix tradition with changing times.
Though there’s some minor hand-wringing about the question of photographing club washrooms, beautifully tiled, with monogrammed wooden stall doors, the dining room policy of “jacket and tie” has relaxed to “jacket.” Tailored denim is allowed. There’s Wi-Fi and, since 1986, there have been women, who currently make up 20 per cent of membership.
In 1873, the club was a place for businessmen in search of an office away from the office. A place to share cigars and brandy.
“Like the old boys club,” says Yalchin.
Now, she says the question that guides the establishment is this: “How does a Hamilton Club be an ambassador to our city?”
The club supports organizations including the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and St. Joseph’s Health Care, sometimes by participating in fundraisers, and sometimes by donating space for them.
Still, though the doors open more and more often to non-members these days, many haven’t seen inside the home of former Hamilton mayor Charles Magill.
The club looks like a film set. So much so that it’s often used as one.
The high-ceilinged dining rooms, the leather-panelled walls of the den, the leaded glass windows throughout. These are the details that make it perfect for shows such as “The Murdoch Mysteries,” or “11/22/63,” the TV adaptation of the Stephen King novel.
A film crew visited in July, using the third storey as a brothel set for the series. That floor used to function as hotel space for members. The wooden doors, with their transom windows, are still painted with room numbers. Behind them though, you’ll find only old files, boxes of photographs, a massive pool table with black leather pockets and brass embellishments.
Yalchin says she would love to see the third floor, with its worn linoleum and peeling paper, restored. It would help the club gain affiliations with clubs around the world (The Hamilton Club currently has ties to more than 120 clubs), all of which approach relationships with an eye to how it benefits their members.
The club just had to buy a new boiler after it century-old heater gave up. A couple years ago, windows needed refurbishing. There’s general upkeep. It’s one of the challenges faced by the club, maintaining an old home when membership is low. There are 260 members versus the 450 of the past, or up to 1,000 boasted by Toronto clubs.
Though there’s no active marketing campaign, Yalchin says the club is always looking to attract new members. To this end, in 2016 an outdoor patio overlooking the spires of James Street South churches, will be built off the redecorated second floor lounge. Here, the bar stools, sleek modern light fixtures, and colourful contemporary art contrast with the main floor décor — overstuffed armchairs, chandeliers, and paintings from the likes of John Little and Hugh Robertson.
It’s a matter of balance says Yalchin.
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