The Detroit Athletic Club was incorporated on April 5, 1887. Its mission? To “encourage all manly sports and promote physical culture.”
The following March, the club held its first meeting in a large but rather simple stone structure on Woodward Avenue, just north of Canfield Street, that was designed by Joseph V. Gearing. Its teams were legendary, but despite the D.A.C.’s popularity, there were soon financial troubles and division among the club’s ranks. The organization was in need of a major reboot.
The club was dissolved and a new one begun Jan. 4, 1913, using the old name. By that time, the automobile had arrived, and the club’s membership quickly swelled thanks to this new class of upper-class Detroiters. While the old club focused mostly on athletics, the new one was more of a networking and social club for the city’s elite. This new D.A.C. needed a new clubhouse.
Albert Kahn was tapped to design its new home on Madison Street. By the time it formally opened April 15, 1915, the club had grown to more than 2,000 members in a little more than two years. Its members controlled more than 90 percent of the world’s automobile production, according to D.A.C. records. Detroit was the undisputed kingdom of the automobile, and the D.A.C. was its castle.
But the club wouldn’t admit its first black member until 1979, and women weren’t allowed to become full voting members until 1986. When Kahn's clubhouse turned 100 in 2015, the D.A.C. had about 2,800 members.