Saint Paul Athletic Club

Saint Paul, Minnesota | C.1918

Photo Credit: Peter Barile

In 1917, a push of a button from inside the White House launched a new chapter for the Saint Paul Athletic Club. For several years, members of the organization had been working to raise over $1 million to construct a new clubhouse building, and the unprecedented funds garnered national attention—even reaching the Oval Office. The button, which activated a wrecking ball to clear existing buildings on the site, was ceremoniously pressed by President Woodrow Wilson himself.

Leading up to WW1, St. Paul exploded with industry. Erecting a landmark building was a symbol of that hard work—and the Saint Paul Athletic Club wanted in. To showcase its new era, the Club hired architect Allen Stem. Renowned for designing New York City’s Grand Central Station, Stem proposed a thirteen-story, English Renaissance-style building with a variety of enviable amenities, including a sparkling new indoor pool.

The Club officially opened with a two-day celebration for its two thousand members. The St. Paul Pioneer Press extolled the building as “one of the city’s biggest assets” and “an altar for friendship”.

Membership numbers rose consistently, until 1989, when the Club abruptly declared bankruptcy, unable to sustain its growth. When the Club went to auction, with only an hour to spare before imminent demolition, businessman Wallas Orfield Sr. swept in to purchase the building and save it from an untimely demise.

Still, the building sat vacant, waiting patiently for the appropriate button to be pushed. Five years later, developer John Rupp bought and transformed it into a boutique hotel, then meticulously restored 68,000 sq ft (630 sq m) of the building into a fitness center. While the Oval Office didn’t play a role this time, Rupp honored the efforts that had been activated nearly a century prior, by modeling the design after that of the original, beloved Club.

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