My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog

BRUNETT, DeGRUY, DeLERY, FLEMMING, FORTIER, FRISSE, HORST, HUBER, JACKSON, McCAFFREY, McCLUSKEY, O'DONNELL, WEINSCHENK



Saturday, June 1, 2013

SATURDAY'S STRUCTURE - Club Rex, Homewood, Alabama

During the mid-1930's, my grandfather John Huber O'Donnell (1905-1964) went into partnership with Bob Smith when they leased Club Rex in Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Huber was a stenographer at TCI, the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, a major American steel manufacturer located in Birmingham. Bob Smith was a co-worker of my "Pop" and together they had briefly owned a nightclub in downtown before taking over the lease when the country club went bankrupt.

Historic Marker in Homewood, Alabama
A popular recreational and entertainment facility, Club Rex began as Hollywood Country Club, built in the mid-1920's. It was then part of the newest subdivision being built south of Birmingham - Hollywood. The town of Hollywood was incorporated as a city in 1927. The brainchild of Clyde Nelson, Hollywood was advertised to meet a variety of needs, including health - "Out of the Smoke Zone and Into the Ozone" - and exclusivity - "one of Birmingham's most beautiful, highly restricted residential subdivisions". 
Club Rex Postcard ca. 1940
In Homewood: The Life of a City, Sheryl Spradling Summe describes the club's beginnings:
"Nelson built Hollywood Country Club on Shades Valley Highway, now Lakeshore Drive, overlooking Shades Creek where the Marriott Courtyard Hotel stands today. The large Spanish Mission-style clubhouse, with a swimming pool in the front that was a favorite place for children and teens, 'offered the finest in meals and entertainment six or seven days a week.' Although plans to add a golf course on the property were never completed. Hollywood Country Club provided members and guests 'an elite dining and dancing spot' for years....It changed ownership several times after 1930, but the building remained in existence until a fire damaged it in 1984 and subsequently it was torn down." [p. 86-87]

"Hollywood Country Club" sign added for postcard only
"Homewood added a swimming pool to its list of community recreation facilities when it began leasing the Hollywood Country Club pool in the summer of 1934. (By then the club was privately owned by G.C. Lockhart and would change hands many times in the years to come.) The popular Municipal Swimming Pool took in more than $500 during the first half of July 1934 alone. Men could rent swimsuits, and all swimmers were provided with towels. The city hired two lifeguards, Bob Purdy and Wallace Ward, at sixty-five dollars per month each and a cashier, Miss Lottie Lee Patterson, for twenty-five dollars per month...The city council allowed underprivileged children to use the municipal pool at no charge....The Summer Bus Line, which operated the Hollywood bus service originally established by Clyde Nelson, ran a shuttle to the pool from Dunn's drugstore and from Broadway at Roseland Drive, stopping at many points along the way." [p. 125]
backside of postcard
These articles appeared in Billboard magazine in 1945 [Billboard magazine, originally a trade paper for the bill-posting industry, carried news for live entertainment including vaudeville, minstrel shows, circuses, amusement parks, and fairs. Later it included news for nightclubs, and other music venues. It now carries news for music and the music industry worldwide.]

January 20, 1945 cover
"Rex, Alabama Club, Bought   Birmingham, Jan. 13 - Joe Robino, restaurant owner, has purchased for $59,500, the old Hollywood Country Club building, with five acres, a swimming pool, and new streamlined nitery equipment, including a $2,750 rotary cooker that broils 90 steaks at once. Clubhouse originally built as private country club for exclusive Hollywood residential section, has been operated on lease from foreclosures as Club Rex nitery for nine years. Club plans use of nitery entertainment and occasional guest ork." [Billboard magazine, January 20, 1945, p. 23]
July 21, 1945 cover
"Birming'm To Get 25G Club With All-Glass Blg. & Floor  Birmingham, Ala., July 16 - Birmingham steps into the big-town nitery class next month with the construction of a new $75,000 all glass club with glass dance floor and penthouse atop a circular club building. Name bands and floorshows are to be imported, according to Bob Smith, widely known nitery op promoting the project on the club membership plan with guest memberships for visitors, with 60-G already in hand. Smith operated Club Rex in Hollywood for 10 years." [Billboard, July 21, 1945, p. 27]
Poolside at Club Rex
1938
My mother has wonderful memories of summer days spent swimming at the pool at Club Rex. When she was about three-and-a-half-years-old, while swimming at the pool one day, a man came up to her and asked if he could photograph her. He picked her up and set her on a concrete bench. Later he sent her parents copies of the photographs (at right). She also had several birthday parties in the club room when she was very young. Her birthday was in December so a family member would dress as Santa Claus and visit her party each time.

The swimming pool, of course, was always a favorite place to go during the hot Birmingham summers. My mom remembers their maid would go with them and was responsible for watching she and her older brother and sister swim. A maid at that time was fairly common for families, but since she was black she would only have been able to watch the children swim from a seat - the pool itself was whites-only.


Backside of Club Rex postcard
There was an area on the lowest floor of the club, known as "The Cave Room". Here swimmers could enter in their wet bathing suits and buy burgers and eat lunch. My mother's older brother, who was five years older, worked in the Cave Room around 1944. Mom remembers giving out pool passes to friends at school during these years. She also remembers New Years Eves - her father would be out late at the club and would always bring each of the kids souvenirs from the party. When they woke up on New Years Day they would have party hats, horns and noisemakers from the night's revelry. Each year the new year would be part of the hats' decoration - "1939", "1940" etc.

My grandfather continued to work at his job with TCI while helping to run Club Rex, going over to the club after a full day at work, as did Bob Smith. For a time Bob and his wife and daughter lived on the property, in bedrooms that were part of the property, as did another partner who managed the property during the day. The property was bought by Joe Robino in 1945.

How fun it was to have a swimming pool and a night club, located less than a mile from their home, as part of your childhood memories.

2 comments:

  1. When Mr. Rabino owned the building Hollywood Underground and Brothers Music Hall were operated. For about a year a friend of mine and his wife lived in the huge apartment above the lobby of the hotel section. I had always been very interested in the old place, and this gave me the chance to explore all over. I went from the attic to the basement many times. I found many old papers, posters, and pictures nearly everywhere. One of my Hollywood Country Club Orchestra posters hung in the lobby of the Marriot on site now. In college I wrote a paper about exploring the building and what life in the place must have been like in it's prime.I loved the old place and was sad when it burned.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I never went in, that I remember. Looking back now I wish I had. I'll have to go by the Marriott to look for the poster. Have you got any pictures of the place or of the posters you would be willing to share?

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