By Meghan Hall
The age of technology has dramatically altered everything about how we interact with others: when, how frequently, where. It has even altered what we seek out as entertainment even when we are in social settings, and technology-based pursuits are more common than ever. To ensure their longevity, two of San Francisco’s few remaining social clubs combined under one roof and produced a new setting, one that has proven vital to procuring new membership. With the help of Fennie + Mehl Architects, the Concordia Argonaut Club and the Presidio Golf Club revealed their updated 23,000 square foot clubhouse earlier this year.
“We were originally contacted by the Concordia Argonaut Club…a very storied group of business people,” explained Bob Mehl, partner and founder of Fennie + Mehl. “And then the Presidio Golf Club came into the picture. At some point, they decided they might be a stronger group if they could combine their two memberships together.”
The Concordia Argonaut Club was originally founded in 1864 by a group of German American Jews, among them Levi Strauss, at a time when those of the Jewish faith were often excluded from business and social clubs. In 1939, the club merged with the Argonaut, a Jewish men’s club and offered dining, lectures and holiday celebrations to San Francisco’s Jewish community.
A lot of the niche players are struggling today. We took this project very seriously, because we wanted to do everything we could to ensure the health of the future of the combined club.
When the Concordia Argonaut Club originally reached out to Fennie + Mehl to help them find a new home base, they were located in a building at 1142 Van Ness, which was too large for the club’s dwindling membership. The club had occupied their 52,000 square foot headquarters since the early 1900s when the building was constructed after the 1906 earthquake and fires.
Fennie + Mehl had looked at several properties on behalf of the Concordia Argonaut Club during a time when it decided to join forces with the Presidio Golf Club. The golf club’s existing space, a 121-year-old historical Tudor Building located just on the edge of the Presidio Golf Course and Golden Gate National Park, was in need of some serious TLC, according to Mehl. Like its potential future partner, the club experienced dwindling membership over the years, which meant that the golf club had been unable to maintain and upgrade the property as it would have liked.
The Presidio Golf club was formed in 1895 after a group of civilians was granted permission by the U.S. Army to build a golf course on Fort Winfield Scott in order to promote the up-and-coming game. Over the years, the Presidio Golf Club hosted numerous British and American championships and became home to golfer Lawson Little and baseball player Joe DiMaggio.
However, facing similar outlooks, both clubs voted overwhelmingly for a merger and a chance to reinvent themselves in the new century.
“The personalities and the individuals really clicked, and they connected,” said Mehl. “So, the Concordia Argonaut Club, with the sale proceeds [from their old headquarters], was willing to invest in this building, the existing Presidio building.”
Together, the two clubs became known as the Presidio Golf and Concordia Club, or PGCC for short. Each had its own vision for the new space, but ultimately the two clubs were driven by the common goal of a new membership.
“The Concordia really wanted to have a better health club facility, whereas Presidio is more focused on the game of golf. But their whole goal here was to upgrade this building, so they could start bringing in younger members, because both clubs were starting to get older,” stated Mehl. “They knew if they wanted the clubs to continue, they had to stay relevant.”
The renovations undertaken by Fennie + Mehl and the rest of the project team were extensive; beneath the aging building, the project team excavated the dark and cramped basement in order to fit a brand new, first-class athletic facility that featured work out equipment, sauna, jacuzzi, locker and shower rooms. Baseball great and avid golfer, and former Presidio Golf Club member, Joe DiMaggio, was also honored. DiMaggio’s locker was framed and highlighted, preserving it for future generations.
“The existing basement looked like a basement: It had low ceilings; it was cold. It was definitely not a people place,” said Mehl. “Now, it is all done in this timeless style that makes the transition between modern and historic experience.”
Upstairs, new semi-custom patterned carpets were laid down, and the existing wood paneling was refurbished. The whole place was painted and new furniture was added. “The space just has this really sophisticated look and feel to it, but we tried to be really careful with how we spent their money, because they had limited funds,” added Mehl. “We decided to put more dollars into fewer square feet.”
This is the first private club that Fennie + Mehl has designed, and it was a fun experience for the project team, said Mehl. Even better — the renovations are working as intended, and the PGCC has been able to sign up new members since completing upgrades to the club.
“They love it!” exclaimed Mehl. “They are inspired by it, and their ability to bring in new members has increased dramatically. Society is just different today, now there are so many things we can spend our time doing that clubs are just not as popular as they used to be; a lot of niche players are struggling today. We took this project very seriously, because we wanted to do everything we could to ensure the health of the future of the combined club. It’s worked out really, really well.”
Photos Courtesy of Emily Hagopian