CHAPTER TWO

THE SEVENTIES

 (A New Beginning)

      BY:  P. C. JOHN FARMER

                In the early morning hours of February 27, 1977, the original clubhouse burned to the ground.  The fire was explosive, probably caused by leaking LP gas that could have been ignited by the stove pilot light.  The loss of the clubhouse obviously created the need for a new building, but in retrospect, it seems to mark the beginning of significant change and a new phase in the development of our club.

                The old clubhouse was completed in 1957.  It was an imaginative and charming "pre air conditioning" 1950's style summerhouse.  There was a magnificent stone chimney with back-to-back double fireplaces, but no central heat.  We had a great bar called the "Crow's Nest" in an upstairs loft overlooking the main entertainment area.  Our kitchen was a minimum facility for hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks and sometimes fried chicken.  In short, the club was designed for parties and seasonal summertime activity.

                Through the sixties and early seventies, the club fleet was mostly small cruisers and runabouts with a handful of small houseboats and sailboats.  Not much for cold weather weekends, so after Labor Day the club was used very little.  During those years the annual meetings in October were held in town, often at the Brookhaven Country Club.  The main social event was the club opener, usually in early to mid May.  After commissioning ceremony came a dinner and dance.  For a number of years the band was the wonderful old "Sorta-Forties" mostly friends of our members who had played in college bands in the 1930's and 40's.  Fourth of July was much like today, games, fireworks, maybe a boat race and probably hotdogs.  The first winter party was added in the early sixties, instigated by Candler Guy and George Winship.  This grew to become the great old late February "Deep Freeze Party".  During these years UYC was a very congenial boating facility, much enjoyed, but not really thought of as a social club.  No one had ever considered year round monthly parties and certainly no thought had ever been given to the operation of a full dining facility.  It was from this background that planning began for a replacement clubhouse.

                In March 1977, Commodore Candler Guy asked me to serve as chairman of the building committee.  Vice Commodore George Kennedy, Rear Commodore Scotty Dahin, and Treasurer Ed Blazer completed the committee.  Knowing that the project would extend beyond the current year, it was agreed that the committee would serve until completion with Commodore's in office serving ex-officio.

                The building site was the first consideration.  Sentimentally, we all liked the old location, but since the Corps of Engineers would not give us a long-term lease, it was obviously unwise to build on government land.  The building committee with help from architects John Vaught and Bill Beckett set about selecting a new location.  Three sites were seriously considered, but all of us felt there were some disadvantages to each.  During our period of indecision Joe Oliver called me and suggested the site we used.  It's funny that sail boater and Delta pilot Oliver thought of the site that had been overlooked by our "high powered" committee that had the help of two architects.  We can thank Joe for what became an excellent decision.

                Past Commodore Beckett had been chosen as architect so after site selection the planning began for the new building.  The committee made an extra effort to get some consensus from the entire membership.  We sought written suggestions and at the opening in April, held a membership meeting to allow input from as many members as possible.

                Before the fire, a decision had been made to market some of the club owned land on Yacht club road.  As a result, we had a nearly unanimous feeling that we should build from insurance recovery, and lot sales and avoid any borrowing.  We had agreed that a comfortable year round facility was wanted but, interestingly, no one suggested that we consider a full dining facility.  Accordingly, the kitchen was designed and equipped for short order service only.

                During the planning phase, the committee had an interesting argument over placement of the fireplace.  Half wanted it in the bar area, and half in the dining area.  Scotty Dahin settled the argument, "put fireplaces in both ends and I'll donate the bricks".  We did, he did, and that's how we came to have two fireplaces.

                Not long after the fire, Commodore Guy had our famous cook and "hamburger queen" Bessie Shields improvise a kitchen in the then primitive unenclosed beach house. With the help of a Franklin stove, some plastic curtains to keep out the wind, and to keep the place partly warm, some makeshift cooking equipment and a sense of humor, Bessie served some kind of food from April 1977 until we reopened in July 1978.

                After the lengthy planning process and the time required to market and sell some land, we finally negotiated a construction contract in February 1978.  The basic price was $149,480 and with some add-ons and kitchen equipment, we ended up at approximately $160,000.  By the time construction began, George Kennedy had become Commodore and the committee had added two very important aides.  P. C. Seaborn Wright worked with kitchen planning and equipment, and George's wife, Louise, worked with our decorator on decor and furnishings.  At last in July 1978 we had our opening party and celebration with a clubhouse furnished and fully paid for with no mortgage.  Sadly, as we were finishing the task, Louise Kennedy became very ill.  She was able to attend the opening celebration, but she passed away just a few weeks later.

                Before the old clubhouse burned, and during the long planning and construction period, there were a number of significant developments.  The makeup of our fleet began to change significantly, larger and many more houseboats appeared.  What is now C Dock was built for large houseboats and we also began to attract many more sailors with larger sailboats.  After the fire, we were apprehensive that our membership might decline before we could fully re-establish our facility.  The opposite actually took place.  In summer of 1977, the club had a total membership of 193 members.  By the annual meeting in October 1980, we had reached a total of 250 members.  Aside from these numbers, for several years we had been experiencing a change in the makeup of our membership.  At the start, initiation fee and dues were quite low so the club attracted a great many charter members who had no boats but thought it a good idea to join in case they ever became interested.  These non-boaters gradually dropped out, but as late as 1969 when I was Commodore; we had more than fifty charter members who had never had a boat or made any real use of the club.  In the years since, I doubt we have picked up a single member without a boat or plans to get one.

                During 1977, we also made some very important changes in the club by-laws.  At the September 1977 board meeting, amendments to the by-laws were approved to allow the same membership for female as for males.  At the same time, provisions for life memberships were adopted.  These changes were approved and went into effect at the annual meeting on October 15, 1977.  It also needs to be noted that at this same meeting our great friend, Canon Frank Bulloch, sometimes now known as "St. Francis of the Hooch" was first appointed Fleet Chaplin.

                In the late seventies, it became increasingly obvious that we must have a club manager with a stronger background, with more talent and different skills.  For about 15 years after we started full operation, Carl Bowman served as dock master, then club manager.  Carl was a wonderful mechanic and a real "Jack of all Trades" and during those first years, he was a great asset.  As the nature of the club changed during the seventies, Carl was really unable to adapt and he resigned in 1974.

                Filling a job like this is something less than an exact science and to sum up a long and difficult story, let me say that we rather quickly went through three mistakes.  Then in early 1980, much good fortune came our way.  We were seeking the kind of manager we wanted when Colonel Tommy Thompson suggested to Commodore Don Morris that we work with Fort McPherson sources to identify retired military personnel who might possibly meet our needs.  This resulted in finding Howard Giddens who came aboard May 24, 1980.  This was a "double steal" because Eleanor Giddens came in also to look after the office.  Howard not only brought the management ability to maintain and develop the physical property but he also brought the experience and talent to develop the dining and entertainment facilities that the membership now requires and enjoys so much.

                I'll end my account here.  It is very gratifying to me to see the improvements and changes that we have had during the last ten or twelve years.  That story certainly needs to be told completely and I'm passing the "buck" to Past Commodore Tom Gresham, who I'm sure, will more than do it justice.

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