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History of the Club

The history of the Elberon Bathing Club starts with the old Deal Casino located on Ocean Avenue, between Marine Place and Monmouth Drive. The center of social life in the early 1920s, the Casino was a large, tan two-story building with a red tile roof, situated on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. The first floor was one large room with french doors on the east that lead to a broad patio overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The room was used sometimes for charitable functions, but it was very spare. Access to the broad beach from the patio was down a large double stairway. The casino proper was divided from the pool and bath houses, by a colonnade, which separated the Marine Place entrance and the Monmouth Drive entrance. These were large turn-arounds with double gates that had sidewalks on the west side. Between the sidewalks and gates were guardhouses, where policemen were always stationed. The pool stretched westward from the colonnade with rows of bath houses similar to the ones at Elberon at the north and south sides. At the west end of the pool area was a large wall, on the other side of which were tennis courts and then a lawn stretching to the fabulous yellow brick road--Ocean Avenue. At the time this was the only paved road in Monmouth County. The Deal fire horses could be seen almost everyday, when not otherwise engaged at a fire, pulling large sprinkler wagons up and down the streets to lay the dust. Access to the beach from the pool area was by a tunnel that went under the casino, so that nobody would have to walk through the casino in such improper attire as a bathing suit. Incidentally, of course, men wore tops to their bathing suits in those days. Furthermore even small boys were expected to appear at the casino properly attired, which meant shirt, tie, and jacket, at all times. The pool was nothing if not formal.

People arrived by chauffeur driven cars (who else knew how to drive?) and the chauffeurs parked the cars in the empty lot north of Marine Place. They always left an empty space in the middle not visible from the street. On Saturday there was always a craps game because Saturday was payday. Gamblers from New York had been known to take jobs as chauffeurs to gain access to this game. The pool closed at 1 o’clock every Sunday, and it was quite a sight to see the cars coming to pick up their owners and family having been summoned from the parking lot by one of the policemen who yelled through a large megaphone. Danny Sullivan’s Orchestra played weekends from a bandstand raised above the area just east of the pool at the deep end. At that time, one did not have to be a resident or tenant of Deal to have a bathhouse at the casino.

The crowding, noise, and formality were among the things which induced a number of young couples in the late 1920s, to look for someplace else to swim. They finally decided on what was then called Bloomingdale’s Beach (of the department store Bloomingdale’s). This beach had been owned by four families: the Bloomingdales, the Kahns, the Mintons, and the Sperrys, but it was now owned by only Gene Sperry and Gus Minton. It was the most beautiful beach at the Jersey shore, extending hundreds of yards (well beyond the current beach). The large home of Lewis Latham Clark protected it on the north and the home of Senator Kean (great uncle of our former Governor) on the south. The Clark home, in addition to a huge lawn, had a tennis court in the back, which would now be well in the ocean. The Kean house had a pier extending out in the ocean. to which a large yacht could be moored, On Bloomingdale beach were a dozen or more bath houses. The beach had been owned by these families, who all lived in the area of Ocean Avenue and Jerome, so that their live-in help would have someplace to bathe during the summer months. The present parking lot had an old three-story stucco house situated on it.

The young families mentioned approached Gene Sperry, a wealthy New York lawyer who was Mayor of Deal, and asked if he would consider building additional bath houses so that they could bathe there and said they would pay for the privilege. The proposal was accepted by Sperry, and about forty additional bath houses were built and, also, a small snack bar. The snack bar was operated only weekends by Sperry’s chauffeur’s wife. One could obtain hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones, bottled soft drinks and crackers. This situation continued for several years. Then many of the young couples who bathed there, having children that were starting to become more than toddlers, wanted someplace where these children could learn to swim. As a result, the delegation approached Sperry with the request that a pool be built, since one can’t very well learn to swim in the ocean. Sperry was willing provided enough people would agree to pay a substantial increase in rent for the houses, numbering one hundred or less, which he proposed building. This was agreed to and the present Elberon Bathing Club was erected on the site of what had been the parking lot for the old beach. The bathing club was not too different then from the way it is today. The bath houses were virtually the same. The restaurant was considerably smaller, the present dining room having been erected over what was a baby pool. Also, originally what was Coach Neuschaefer’s office was a beauty parlor, which was open weekends only. The two poolside cabanas directly east of the ping-pong room were a licensed bar.

Although privately owned, the beach was operated as a club. Admission was by a committee consisting of Gene Sperry, himself and he alone. However, on many matters he consulted with the people who rented houses and cabanas, and was often willing to abide by their decisions. One example was when the question arose as to whether men would be permitted to go without tops to their bathing suits. A meeting was held to discuss this matter and the argument was over whether it was aesthetic or not, particularly in the case of fat men. One of the members at the time, Ed Irving, proposed what is probably the most sensible rule ever to come out of the beach club. He suggested that men be permitted to go without tops to their bathing suits if their chest measure exceeded their waist measure. Ed Irving was also indirectly responsible for a funny letter. A brother-in-law, Keefer Newman, an eminent practical joker, signed the guest register with the name of Wendell Wilkie, or something similar. Gene Sperry was annoyed and spoke to Ed Irving about the incident. He was quite critical. Ed said he would do something about it and spoke to his brother-in-law, Keefer, who promised he would a write a letter of apology. This he did. He sent a letter to the Elberon Bathing Club in which he apologized for having used a fictitious name, explained that he thought it was funny, but realized now that there was no humor involved. He promised that he would never do such a thing again, would only use his right name, and at the very bottom he signed it - Very truly yours, Keefer Newman, and below that to - Mr. Eugene Spiegelberg and Mr. Gustave Mintzenheimer. These of course were the original names of Gene Sperry and Gus Minton.

The swimming coach was Frank (The Body Beautiful) Archer, followed in rapid succession by John Atadino and John Pandolfe. The swimming lessons really got underway when Al Neuschaefer was hired to be the coach. He was the swimming coach at Trenton Central High School and turned out champions there year after year from children who did not know how to swim when they came. Originally Al, who played football at Rutgers on the same team as Paul Robeson, was Trenton Central High’s football coach. One cold day at practice outdoors, he thought of his good friend Jim Reilly, the Rutgers swimming coach, nice and warm at an indoor pool, and decided to switch sports. While he was often in the pool up to his waist, no one ever saw him swim (and many believed that he didn’t know how). However, he is the only high school swimming coach admitted to the U.S. Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale FL, and turned down many invitations to coach at the college level because he felt coaches there were only trainers, not teachers. At Elberon Bathing Club he made the kids work. Many were afraid of him, and they all did what he said. It was nothing to hear him say “jump in the pool, kick ten lengths, then do ten lengths freestyle, ten lengths back stroke and ten lengths breast stroke" (the butterfly was unknown at the time). The results of his efforts, however, were well known; almost all of the children he taught became excellent swimmers, i.e.: Dick Saxe became captain of the Harvard swimming team. Ken Miller captain of Rutgers swimming team and his sister, Kitty, held two New Jersey championships when she was sixteen. When the annual members vs. lifeguards race took place at the end of the year, it was the members who won and usually quite easily. Coach, of course, was the father of our former manager young Al who arrived not too long afterwards.

With the pool built and swimming instructions under control, things went swimmingly for several years, but in the late 1930s disaster struck. Hurricane Edna hit the beach with full force. It not only badly damaged cabanas and bath house, it undermined the pool itself, lifting up one end and cracking it in half. Faced with a very expensive reconstruction job, Sperry decided that he had had enough. He offered to turn the whole pool, building and land, over to a new club to be formed, if the members could swing it. The new club was to assume all old obligations and was to allow Gus Minton the use of the Ocean Avenue house free for life.

About one hundred people were invited to a meeting by Edwin Bry, the President of the American Woolen Company. Sixty-five indicated an interest in the project. A committee was formed and under the guidance of Bry and Walter Kohn, a lawyer from New York, arrangements were soon made for a mortgage and to take over the pool under the name of the Elberon Bathing Company, which was to hold title, and the Elberon Bathing Club, which was to operate the premises. All of the members were to buy two shares of stock and this plus the mortgage provided sufficient funds to the new group. One of those at the original meeting wanted to buy ten shares of stock but the requirement of two and no more was decided on. For several years thereafter Gus Minton was at the pool everyday and was known to the children as the “cookie man.” He always carried a bag of cookies and to every child he gave at least one. It got to the point when towards the end of the summer, one of the children said “will you be giving us cookies again next year?” Gus replied that he was getting on in years and he wasn’t sure that he would be there the next summer. The child thought a minute and said “Well then, will Mrs. Minton give us cookies?”

Edwin Bry was elected President and Walter Kohn was elected Secretary and Treasurer. Ed Bry was perfect in his role. He was abrasive, he was autocratic, and he was thorough. He ruled things with an iron hand, but things went very well. From his observation post in Cabana 11, he saw everything that went on in the pool and on the beach and anything that had to be done caught his eye quickly. The lifeguards, the bath house boys and anyone having to do with the restaurant were being told, in no uncertain terms, exactly what to do, but for a new club this was exactly what was needed. One of the big differences then was that because the restaurant was small with a limited menu, people who had cabanas were permitted to bring their lunch from home. This made a big change in the way the club looked around the middle of the day. Also, the bar was closed because it was decided inappropriate.

Celebrities at the club, like Eddie Fisher, were common, but were mostly politely ignored. Toots Shor was a member. So were Judge Irving Saypol and Lester Markel. In about 1949, no one paid much attention when Sonny Werblin, a member and then head of talent at MCA, brought a recently divorced movie actress and her two tow-headed children to the beach even if the children’s father, her ex-husband, was Ronald Reagan.

With the mortgage paid off, the club was in good health financially and the membership almost full. Then again disaster, in the form of another hurricane, hit the beach. While damage was not as extensive as the previous one, it was extensive enough. With the help of a loan from one of our member’s wives, Mrs. Fred Housman, the club was rehabilitated. Among other things, Gus Minton, graciously agreed to vacate the house he used in the summer. The house was torn down and the present parking lot was put in its place. Parking had become a serious problem, since the day of the entire family arriving in one car had now disappeared and almost everyone came in his or her own car. The lunch room was enlarged, the bringing of lunch as prohibited and with minor exceptions things went along from summer to summer pretty much the way ???????TKTKTK.

The next big headache that the club had was the disastrous fire in the mid 1970s, which burned down rows of bath houses and damaged the cabanas at the north end of the pool. Fortunately the fire was discovered almost as soon as it began or the entire club and all the lockers and cabanas would have been destroyed, and the pool, itself, badly damaged. From that time on, the history of the club is primarily the history of the fight with insurance companies over payment for the damage. Of course, the fire took place in the spring, and mention should be made of the yeoman work of Jack Hersch in his capacity as president at the time, to have the whole area completely reconstructed and all the work finished in time so that the opening of the pool took place on schedule.

The club has maintained its appearance and ambiance, virtually unchanged, for over 60 years. People entering the Elberon Bathing Club often comment that they feel as if they have stepped back in time.

The tradition continues.