The Cincinnati, Ohio Friars Club is a non-profit social service organization that is dedicated to serving at-risk and disadvantaged children through organized sports, activity, nutrition and fitness.
The organization, which was formed in 1860,3 was originally known as the St. Anthony Sodality for Young Men.2 At the time of its inception by Father Chrysostom Theobald,8 German immigrants in Over-the-Rhine were concerned about the welfare of the children. In 1883,4 Father Archangelus Gstir, of Saint Francis Seraph Church at Liberty and Vine streets, founded a community-based service and activity center in the old Saint Francis school for the unsupervised youth in Over-the-Rhine at 1610 Vine Street, opposite of the St. Francis Monastery.8 Father Antonine Brockhuis became the first director of the organization in 1907.4 6
Brockhuis obtained permission from the pastor, Father Edmund Klein, to convert the empty space of the old school building into club rooms and a gymnasium.8 Antonine was also the moderator of the Sodality Club. The new organization, called the Friars’ Gymnasium and Athletic Club,8 opened in November 1908.6 It was later shortened to the Friars’ Club.2
At the time of its establishment, it was one of the only facilities of its type operated solely by a religious order.4
Showers and lockers were installed in the basement.8 The auditorium of the former St. Francis School was converted into a gymnasium, and the lounge was fitted with billiard tables. Another billiard room was formed two years later, and in 1912, a library was added and dedicated as the Muhle Memorial Library.
In October 1914, an indoor pool was completed in the basement, which was one of Father Timothy’s long-standing wishes.8 A new entrance was dedicated along Vine Street, along with a new lobby constructed of marble and terrazzo.
In 1919, the Friars’ Club formed an Ohio River boating club in Dayton, Kentucky, although the location moved to near the Little Miami River one year later after Father Timothy purchased a tract of land near Milford.4 8 The location was known as Friarhurst, and later developed as a summer camp. A chapel was established to serve not only the club members, but of the surrounding Tower Hill community.
The outpost along the river closed during the Great Depression.8
By the time Father Simeon Fiedler was appointed director of the Friars’ Club, the facility on Vine Street was showing its age.8 Fixtures were needing replacement; the population was shifting up the hill towards Clifton Heights; and space was becoming limited. In early 1928, the decision was made to relocate to Ohio Avenue and McMillian Street near the University of Cincinnati.1 2 3
The decision was an easy one. Large donations were received to help build the new structure, and a large lot was donated by Dr. Paul DeCoursey.8 The property included a three-story building, which was used as a temporary home until the new structure was completed.
Ground was broken on May 18, 1930 and the new Friars’ Club was completed on May 17 of the following year.8 Solemn dedication took place on October 18, and festivities were held until October 24.
Due to a larger location, sports teams were allowed to expand, a fitness center was constructed, which included a gymnasium, swimming pool, bowling alley and handball courts, and a residency program for young males was established for students attending the University of Cincinnati.3 4
The Franciscan Friars owned the property, but leased the building to the Club for $1 per year.3 Rooms could be rented for $4.25 a week, and meals could be had for $5.30 a week.7
But the Great Depression took its toll. The financial panic that enveloped the nation left the club stumbling along and it risked foreclosure.8 But the Franciscan Fathers stepped in and helped reverse the financial situation on the club.
In 1941,8 Lumen Martin Winter,5 a noted muralist who lived at the Friars’ Club, began work on a set of murals that depicted industry, music, religion and literature in the residents’ lounge.8 For four years, Winter worked on the murals, although his work was interrupted for 18 months while he was enlisted as a chief artist illustrator for the Signal Corps under the Air Force. The murals were dedicated on November 12, 1944.
“The Friars’ Club and the Rev. Friedbert Adams and his associates are to be congratulated on their encouragement of art. The murals which Mr. Lumen Winter has just completed for the Friars’ Club are an outstanding contribution to the art of our city.”-Walter H. Siple, Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum8
The Friarhurst retreat house, a brick structure with 37 rooms, was completed in 1948 and offered closed retreats under the direction of the Franciscan Fathers.4
A chapel at the Club was completed in 1950, and the bowling alley was replaced with a ballroom six years later.8
The Friars Club was known as the organization that put Cincinnati on-the-map in amateur basketball.4 Basketball greats, such as Frank Wilberding, Joe Schoettmer, Harry Janszen, Joe Scheve, among many others, played at the Friars and brought welcomed attention to not only the club, but to the city.
On certain days between restricted hours, the all-male Friars Club allowed women to participate in athletic events.2 Finally, in 1979, the Friars Club accepted female members. By the start of the 21st century, the club was serving approximately 500 children each year, but the land-locked structure was beginning to show its age. Due to a lack of expansion space, the Friar’s Club had a waiting list of 100 children.3 In addition, the boiler system was antiquated and inefficient.
On June 30, 2006, the Friars Club relocated from the 60,000-square-foot structure to 2316 Harrywood Court, citing a lack of space and high maintenance costs, which ran upwards of $200,000 a year.3
Demolition began on May 1, 2010 on the 80-year-old former Friars Club location at Ohio Avenue and McMillian Street in Clifton Heights.1 9 A gated apartment community for University of Cincinnati college students replaced the imposing brick castle-like building, and consisted of 129 units in five three-story buildings. The $16 million project, 65 West, included a workout room, clubhouse and 210 parking spaces. Construction was completed in the summer of 2011.