The center of the Jewish population in Atlanta has shifted northward the past 150 years. You don’t have to look any further than the Standard Club, the city’s oldest Jewish social club, for the evidence.
Atlanta was still rebuilding from the Civil War when the Concordia Club was founded as a Jewish social organization in 1867 and, like the city’s oldest synagogue, The Temple, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
The Standard Club is celebrating its sesquicentennial with a membership brunch Sunday, Nov. 12, that will recognize members who have been with the club for 50 years. The brunch also will honor past presidents who remain active members.
Located in downtown Atlanta’s hotel row district, the club was active until a reorganization in 1904 resulted in a change to the Standard Club name and a move in 1905 to the former mansion of William D. Sanders on Washington Street between what is now Memorial Drive and Woodward Avenue.
At that time, the Jewish population was mostly in the Washington-Rawson district of Atlanta, which is now the site of Georgia State Stadium (the former Turner Field) and before that was home to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The Standard Club flourished in the early years because none of the city’s other social clubs would allow Jews to join. Membership was around 200 families.
In 1929, with the city’s Jewish population moving north to greener pastures with the spread of the automobile and the streetcar, the club moved to 400 Ponce de Leon Ave. It moved again in 1940 to 165 acres in what is now the Lenox Park business park and added an 18-hole golf course.
Many of local country clubs still restricted membership in those years, so the Standard Club was one of the few country club golf options for Jews in Atlanta. The club’s membership surpassed 300 families.
For 48 years the club remained in Brookhaven until 1987, when it moved to 300 acres in what is now Johns Creek in response to the northward expansion of Atlanta’s Jewish population.
The club boomed in the mid-1990s and boasted a membership of more than 650 families, most of whom lived in the northern suburbs.
But the golf bubble burst in the mid-2000s. The membership of the Standard Club dropped below 400, and the average age of members rose.
Atlanta’s young professionals began moving intown, making a club in the northern suburbs less attractive.
The club decided to pursue younger members by slashing initiation fees and trying to bring in more non-Jewish families as well as Jewish ones.
“Five years ago the club believed its future was only within the Johns Creek area,” club President Mark Elgart said. “But now we are attracting as many if not more young professionals that live intown. There are a lot of young professionals that live in Brookhaven and Buckhead that are joining now. So it defied what the market told us, which was that we could only draw people within a 5-mile radius of the club.”
Compared with some of Atlanta’s intown clubs, which require an initiation fee of as much as $100,000 to join, the Standard Club can be a less expensive option for young professionals. For people ages 21 to 30, a junior golf membership comes with an initiation fee of $1,500. For those 31 to 39, the initiation fee is $4,000.
Elgart said the lower fees have helped bring new life into the club, and membership is approaching 450 families.
He joined the club with his family in 2002 when he lived about two miles away in Alpharetta, said Elgart, the club president for four years. He now lives in Brookhaven and said it takes him only about 35 minutes to get to the club, depending on traffic.
The Standard Club’s goal is to achieve and maintain active membership of 450 to 500 families in the next few years.
Elgart said the club is presenting itself as a family-friendly, boutique private club.
“We want our members to be able to use the club when they want to use it,” he said.
As for the club’s history as a Jewish social club, the membership is still around 80 percent Jewish, Elgart said, but it welcomes anyone who would like to join.
“We’re still closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” he said. “When you look at our menu, it still has a Jewish flavor to it. Because we have the facilities for it, there are a lot of bar and bat mitzvah parties at the club, as well as Jewish weddings.
“We embrace our Jewish heritage and legacy. People who join the club that aren’t Jewish, they know they are going to a club that was founded as a Jewish social club.”