Sell me the bedraggled building, Dick Bliss asked.
Reconsidered, Bliss urged maybe a year later.
But Bliss kept alive his interest in a place left for dead. Let’s deal, he offered again after more time had passed.
The Calumet Club was finally his.
“It’s something nobody else would touch,” Bliss said. “That’s what it amounted to.”
The calumet Club now amounts to something special, just as New Albany’s elders recall.
On perhaps the year’s last great day for golf, Bliss instead sandblasted the familiar stone entrance at 1614 E. Sprint St. His personal compulsion is again soon to be a community centerpiece.
He rushed to be ready for today’s open house, Come see, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., what has been saved.
“It’s definitely a success story,” said David Barksdale, president of the Floyd County Historical Society, “And we need more of those.”
Bliss isn’t worried about why everyone else passed on the challenge he pursued passionately. He gracefully avoids the irony of giving back to the city that, just last fall, booted him from its City Council.
Plus, at age 66, Bliss cannot count on a payoff in his lifetime. To treat the project right is to spoil it – $350,000 in round numbers – for replica windows, for refinished walnut woodwork, for no-corners-cut care inside and out. Barksdale calls the restoration meticulous and exceptional job.
“I hope they’re smart enough to hold on to it,” Bliss said of his family.
Only the brick-walled bottom floor so far is fit and sparkling and available for rent for get-togethers for as many as 250.
“The need is there, believe me,” said Mark Bliss, Dick’s son. “I haven’t advertised yet, and I’ve shown this place at least 20 times.”
The upper two floors are to reopen in stages, with the cavernous top one a fitting coup de grace. The vision for it is as a unique banquet hall, with room perhaps for 500.
“There’s only one of me,” Dick Bliss said, “I’ll get it when I get it.”
During the club’s prime- through much of the first half of the past century – New Albany’s youth danced there, played basketball or, according to some early accounts, swam or bowled.
A social and sports hub, the 17,000-square-foot clubhouse opened in 1920 for an already-thriving organization of 800 or more members.
“Guys wanting to have a good time and, frankly, also to do some service,“ said Mary Pat Bliss, Dick’s wife and an eager consumer of Calumet history.
By the way, she contends, call it Cal-u-may. The proper pronunciation was lost over time once the organization fairly collapsed under the weight of the Great Depression.
The tile-roofed building won a second life as an armory, from which soldiers headed to World War II and to Korea. Its next reincarnation was as quarters for organized labor.
In what they’d retitled the Amalgamated Building, union leaders kept hopping while members churned out garments at local factories. “It touched a lot of people,” Barksdale said. “It was such an important building."
Bliss bought the worse-for-wear place from a union group that by then required barely a fraction of an expanse that was 110 feet long and 62½ feet wide. He likewise purchased and demolished two buildings immediately to the east, establishing parking. The Calumet Club had opened originally at a time such an amenity was unnecessary.
“Everybody walked here,” Bliss said.
Mark Bliss said he could show me several garages full of stuff that others pitch but his father boards for some reclamation or another. Had Dick Bliss not similarly redone the former Walk Drugs store at Spring and Vincennes streets, he might not have caught Calumet fever. The building is on the same block.
“All the time he was doing that (the drug store renovation) he looked down the street,” Mary Pat Bliss said.
Guilty as charged.
“It needed tender loving care,” Dick Bliss said. “I don’t need this, really. But New Albany’s been good to me.”
Are any Calumet Club members alive? The Bliss family is not sure and would like to know. To enlighten or learn more, call the club at 949-1611.