The aura of tradition is felt as soon as one enters the historic
New Orleans Athletic Club. Its elegant 222 North Rampart Street
home erected in 1929 is a far cry from the Club's modest beginnings.
The Early Years
The Club was conceived in the youthful mind of J.G. Aleix, who,
together with other young men, had seen the swanky Hammersley's
gymnasium on St. Charles Street, decided to build a gym of their
own in the back yard of the Aleix's home. They were enthusiastic
young gymnasts eager to encourage among the young men who lived
below Canal Street an opportunity to gain the many physical advantages
which gymnastic exercises offered and master the technique of horizontal
and parallel bars.
The two gymnastic apparatus were built by hand of oak and installed
at the home of J.C. Aleix. From that, the 2nd day of September 1872,
the Club continued to grow. J.C. Aleix became the first president.
Dues were fixed at 50 cents monthly. A 35 cent assessment was levied
for a bucket of water and dipper when the occasion demanded it.
The Club constitution was a unique draft the young men all decided
was a masterpiece: "The name of this Club is the INDEPENDENT
GYMNASTIC CLUB and shall not under any circumstances consist of
more than fourteen members. The President must have a gentlemanly
deportment carried on at all meetings and show no partiality; also
to see that the Rules and Regulations are strictly enforced."
The object was to develop the body by sufficient gymnastic exercise
including fencing and boxing. The Club adopted as its motto, Mens
Sana in Corpore Sano (a healthy mind will exist in a healthy body),
and old gold and black the colors, which were used by the members
in all gymnastic engagements. The winter months passed and the gymnasium
remained in the back yard of Mr. Aleix's residence. Devoid of proper
facilities and accommodations, especially in inclement weather,
a committee formed May 21, 1873 to find a suitable home for the
Club somewhere in the territory bounded by Poydras, St. Louis, Rampart
and Magazine Streets. Arrangements commenced for an old building,
floor covered with sawdust, at the comer of Rampart and Bienville
Streets to become the Club's domicile. By September 5, 1873, every
member had signed as security for the rent.
The INDEPENDENT GYMNASTIC CLUB, with financial assistance of influential
friends, moved into its new quarters in October 1874. Weights and
pulleys, dumbbells, Indian clubs and other apparatus, mostly second
hand, were placed on the walls and racks of the gym. Fifty young
men were members. Dues were 75 cents a month.
Edw. Fredericks, prominently connected in social and financial
circles and eager to assist the new Club, succeeded J.C. Aleix as
president in 1875 and the name of the club, by acclamation, was
changed to the YOUNG MEN'S GYMNASTIC CLUB. With membership up to
350, the old building needed repairs and by 1884 the landlord advanced
the rent from $10 to $40 monthly, required a five-year lease, and
demanded any and all repairs to be made by the Club. This did not
meet with member approval. Hence, arrangements to purchase the property
37-39-41 Burgundy Street for $6,000 cash were finalized in February
Club was holding its own in 1886-87, but with a bit of difficulty.
The president called a meeting September 11, 1888 to inaugurate
a Stock Corporation with 1500 shares at $50 per share, payable 10%
down and 10% every 60 days. The applicant for membership was required
to hold a share of stock. As well, stock was made liable for all
dues or other indebtedness due by a member. Some members protested,
pleading their impecuniousness. The question was opened for debate
and after a lively wrangle, a concession was made for the sake of
harmony and the success of the Club.
During the 37 years from 1890, an annex to the beautiful Masich
home at 44 N. Rampart St. provided handsome space for the Club's
new gymnasium, baths and swimming pool, professional glove contests
and other entertainments. By 1920 and with about 600 members, the
Club building was in terrible condition and its credit worthless.
"We could not even buy bread from the bread man without paying
cash for it." Irwin F. Poche, athletic director, developed
and promoted business men's classes and an attractive program of
health work devised to build membership. Regular dances were held
in the gym. A handball court was opened. Athletic teams were busy
and the old gold and black colors began to wave again. THE PUNCH
was born. New promotional stunts and boxing entertainmen brought
about a feeling among the citizenry of New Orleans that down at
the Young Men's Gymnastic Club there was something doing all the
time. "We had reached our goal in the old building. Modern
times demanded better." So, on March 9, 1929 pile drivers swung
action and for months members were annoyed yet pleased with the
noise of the rivet machines and concrete mixers: Pleased because
every member looked forward with keen anticipation to their new
home: the NEW ORLEANS ATHLETIC CLUB.
In the decades since, the NOAC has won many athletic championships
and welcomed many champions: John L. Sullivan trained in the boxing
ring for the 1st heavy weight championship fight; Johnny Weismuller
swam in the old saltwater pool; Kevin Costner played basketball
in the gym; Alec Baldwin and Harry Connick, Jr. refined their boxing
skills on the heavy bags above the pool; John Havlicek and Kareem
Abdul Jabbar played basketball and gave basketball clinics in the
gym; Roberto Durand trained for several of his fights in the boxing
area; Clark Gable, Jimmy the Greek, Frankie Laine, Phil Harris,
the Longs - Huey, Earl and Russell, Bob Hope, Art Linkletter, Tennessee
Williams, Tom Foley and many other celebrities and political figures
have enjoyed use of the facility.
A Dedication to Excellence
Over the last several years, the NOAC has experienced major operational
and infrastructure modifications with the concept of blending the
Club's congeniality, serenity and architectural significance with
its advancement to the forefront of fitness, health, athletics and
nutrition. "Strong men and women must oft-time find an outlet
for their superfluous energy. In this manner the athletic club offers
many interesting health activities."
The tradition was started by J.C. Aleix in the 19th century. Maintaining
that tradition has become the responsibility of the past two centuries
of membership and continues into the 21st century.
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