I wonder what the Boston Club is. I am just curious.
Fern LaCour Linn
Social clubs have been around a very long time. The idea that came to America developed from the English system. Only two other clubs in America are older than the Boston Club: the Philadelphia Club (1834) and the Union Club of New York (1836).
Contrary to popular belief, the club was not named for the City of Boston, but a now-extinct card game -- Boston -- involving tricks and bidding, similar to bridge and whist.
In 1841, a group of men whom the author of the club's history described as "thirty leading mercantile and professional gentlemen of the city, heads of families, men of substance on the shady side of life, yet full of bonhomie and fond of the old game of Boston" formed a club. Since the purpose of the group was to indulge in their favorite game, they gave it the obvious name of the Boston Club. The first president was John Hewlett who remained in office for about 11 years.
The first official meeting of the Boston Club was on May 15, 1841, and first on the agenda after organizing was to decide on where they could rent some rooms in which they could play the game of Boston. The gentlemen decided that the first home of the Boston Club would be in the Merchants Exchange at 126 Royal St. Ten years later, they moved to Canal Street.
The club was going strong when the Civil War forced the gentlemen to suspend their fun. Col. Stafford of the Union forces who were in control of New Orleans gave the verbal order for the club to close. And it remained closed from Aug. 15, 1862, until July 1865, when the boys were able to meet again to figure out where they could resume one of their favorite pastimes.
The next location for fun was in a building on Royal Street where today you will find the Monteleone Hotel. Then in April 1867, they bought a house that had once belonged to Edward J. Forstall, a New Orleans financier with an international reputation. This three-story residence on Carondelet Street near Canal was to be the club's home until it acquired their permanent home and finally settled down at 824 Canal St. in a mansion that was famous as the home of Dr. William Newton Mercer.
The new digs were really something because the house was designed and built by James Gallier in 1844. As you might remember, this was the brilliant architect who later designed the City Hall, now Gallier Hall. The men of the club leased the home until 1905 when they were able to make it their own. The three-story mansion was beautifully decorated and included a marble hallway, Old English staircase, large lunch room, card room, dining room, billiard room, servants' rooms and kitchen.
In the early days of the club before the Civil War, membership had risen to 150, and many prospective members were waiting to join. As the population of the city increased, the membership went up. It gradually rose to 200, then 325, then 400. Membership limits kept increasing until 1970, when the limit stopped at 600.
However, membership in the Boston Club was exclusive from the start. To get in, you were nominated and put on a waiting list, and usually you waited for a very long time. For example, in the late 1920s, the waiting list was very long indeed: 289. And then you had to wait for 10 years before your name was submitted for election. The Boston Club is very closely associated with Mardi Gras. It was in 1872 that New Orleans had its first King of Carnival. The first Rex was a Jewish banker and cotton factor named Lewis Salomon, a Confederate veteran of Shiloh and other battles and a member of the Boston Club. And ever since that first parade, with few exceptions, Rex has been chosen from the membership of this club.