The Hermit Club was founded in 1904 by “The Men Who Came to Dinner.” As a result of the club’s association with music and performing arts, it has always been located in the heart of Cleveland’s performing arts district.
Originally, in 1904, The Hermit Club was located at the heart of Cleveland’s theatrical center, which was then near East 4th Street and Euclid Avenue. When the 1920s rolled around, the opening of Playhouse Square theaters caused the Theatre District to move up Euclid Avenue, with The Hermit Club following to its current location behind the State Theatre.
The club’s current facility was designed by Hermit Club founder and noted Cleveland architect Frank B. Meade. In 1976, The Hermit Club was named a Cleveland landmark, with its look encompassing the Jacobean revival style and resembling a weather-beaten pub transplanted from ‘merrie olde’ England.
A new chapter in the club’s history began in 2013, when its land lease with Playhouse Square Foundation expired and ownership of the building reverted to the Playhouse Square Foundation. The Foundation subsequently attracted Hofbrauhaus Cleveland – an offshoot of the iconic, 400-year-old Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany – to build its facility just north of the Hermit Club and fronting on Chester Avenue. The Hermit Club is now part of the Hofbrauhaus Cleveland complex and is served by its kitchen. The club has signed a 25-year lease with Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, which has a similarly termed lease with Playhouse Square Foundation. Many parts of the original Hermit Club are for exclusive use of members, while others are exclusive during certain hours
Founding of the Hermit Club
In 1904, at the turn of the century, one of the unique and purposely unheralded Cleveland organizations was The Gatling Gun Company, a military men’s group with decided social characteristics founded by ex-servicemen from the Spanish-American War. Comprised of a number of Cleveland professionals, business leaders and sons of the first families, the members were bounded together by camaraderie and talent. Instead of swapping war stories, the group expressed themselves with the production of musical comedies, music, lyrics and libretti.
Productions were staged under the orchestral supervision of its artists. Among the most active were Frank B. Meade, Albert Rees Davis, Roger Enwright, George B. Pettengill and Mortimer W. Lawrence. Later, they would comprise The Men Who Came to Dinner as Frank Meade’s guests and who would become founding members of The Hermit Club.
Theatrical productions of this company were social events patronized by friends and had a usual sprinkling of theatrical stars. During that time, New York luminaries Frank Worthing, Maclyn Arhuckle and Robert Edeson struck a friendship with Meade and invited him to enjoy the hospitality of the Lamb’s Club in New York. From that point, Meade was forever infected with stage fever and became a member of the famous New York hot spot.
Pictured above: Earliest photo of The Core Orchestra in 1906. Left to right: A.C. Rogers; C.E. Burt; M.W. Lusk; H.A. Bliss; G.B. Pettengill; J.C. Royon; J.L. Miller; A.C. Klumph; F.B. Meade
Starting in 1904, the first active group at Hickox Alley was the Hermit Club Orchestra. Under the careful leadership of Frank Meade, the orchestra took its work in all seriousness, preferring the classics to music in a more modern vein. However, the Hermit Club was never one to stand for too much highbrow attitudinizing, and Meade and his orchestra were often found on the program listings as Meade’s Musical Mugs or, perhaps more fitting, Meades Marvelous Musical Mokes. In 1904, the orchestra consisted of 11 players. Below are the names of the original members:
- Frank B. Meade, Violin
- J. Frank Stair, Violin
- John L. Miller, Jr., Violin
- John MacGregor, Jr., Violin
- Charles F. Sherwood, Violin
- Arthur C. Rogers, Cello
- Harry A. Bliss, Bass Violin
- Joseph C. Royon, Clarinet
- Charles E. Burt, Coronet
- Milton W. Lusk, Piano
- Richard S. Spencer, Piano
Falette Jazz Orchestra
Pictured above: The Original Fadette Jazz Orchestra (Note: Cello and Mandolin)
FALETTE JAZZ ORCHESTRA
There appears to be no question as to the position occupied by the Hermit Club Symphony Orchestra. It is the pole star that has guided and maintained the cultural purpose of the club. Founder Frank Meade built the Hermit Club upon the rock of music and, during the almost 35 years of his executive administration, he traditionalized its orchestra to a point where its future importance in club affairs became one of permanence.
There is a momentary flash from the light on conductors’ music rack signaling the opening of the curtain. Again, the conductor raises his baton… the introductory music begins… the curtains part… the show is on, and now before the footlights we see the revue of past public and private performances staged by this little corner of old Vienna in Cleveland… this Bohemia, we call the Hermit Club. — by William H. Thomas
The opening of the club was merely the first step in carrying out Meade’s overall purpose: the search for and development of talent. The plan to produce simple entertainments and present them to members and their guests under the name Meditations. On November 19, 1904, only two weeks after the opening of the Hermit Club, the first of these was presented on stage. The program read as follows:
The Hermits Meditation
November 19, 1904
- Hermit Chorus & Dances .. Messrs. Hopper, Maher, Mathews and Pettengill
- Mudtown Minstrels…… Messrs. Davis, Hopper and Pettengill
- F.W. Braggins ……. Baritone
- C.A. Maher ………. Intricate Dances
- Herbert Mathews ….. Imitation of Paderewski
- George Sliney ……. Monologue
It should be noted that along with all the other flurries of activity at this new club, a small nuclei of groups were also starting up, as noted in the above meditation – a Hermit chorus, dancers, and what would probably pass as a jazz band in the Hermit tradition, called The Fadette Orchestra, which consisted of slumming members of the Hermit Symphony Orchestra.
The Men Who Came to Dinner
In 1904, the Hermit Club’s founder and patron saint, Frank Bell Meade, invited a group of friends over for dinner and fostered the idea of creating a club in Cleveland similar to the famous Lambs Club in New York.
“The Men Who Came to Dinner” and key Hermit Club principals included: Mortirner W. Lawrence, Harry Bliss, George B. Pettengill, Albert Rees Davis, E. H. Brown, John H. Blood, Norman C. McLoud, Roger Enwright and George H. Gardiner.
||Frank Bell MeadeMeade was born in 1867 in Norwalk, Ohio. He attended the Cleveland Public Schools and took up violin lessons at the age of eight. By age 15, Meade became second violinist with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra. After three years of “professional playing,” Meade enrolled in the Case School of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering. With exceptional sketching skills, he headed down the career path of architecture and later graduated from Boston Tech in 1893 as a full-fledged architect. He became a partner with his classmate, Alfred Hoyt Granger, for three years and then joined Abraham Garfield for seven years. He later formed his own partnership with James Hamilton Meade and Hamilton, Inc. In 1904, his love of music and theater came to fruition with the meeting, to become “The Men Who Came to Dinner.”
||Mortimer W. LawrenceBorn in Cleveland in 1873, Lawrence received his education at Cleveland Grammar Schools, University School, Denver High School and The Ohio State University. He later owned The Lawrence Publishing Company and was the first secretary of the Hermit Club and business manager of several of its theatrical productions.
||Harry Albert BlissBliss was born in 1867 and was a native of Columbia, Tennessee. After primary and high school education, he entered the wholesale hardware business and later became a manufacturer’s agent. He later founded The Bliss Supply Company and brought his musical talents to the Hermit Club as French horn player in the orchestra.
||George Burnham PettengillPettengill was born in 1873 in Cleveland, where he later attended the Cleveland Public Schools. He worked for the Cleveland Railway Company and then the C.P.E.E. Railway. His infectious humor and wholesome good nature placed him in good stead at The Hermit Club. He was a dialect comedian in all of The Hermit Club productions including “Holland.”
||Albert Rees DavisBorn in Youngstown in 1867, Davis graduated from Oberlin Academy and Maryland Military Academy. He later became an insurance agent. For 13 years he was widely known as the conductor of The Singers Club of Cleveland and was very active in drama productions at the Hermit Club.
||Edwin Hewitt BrownBorn in Chicago in 1879, Brown was a graduate of University School and Yale University. He began his career with the Securities Corporation and moved on to the General Aluminum and Brass Corporation. In 1925, he affiliated himself with the Copeland Products Company. His contributions to the Hermit Club were in finance.
||John H. BloodBlood was born in 1859 in Springfield, Illinois. After studying law in the office of Stuart, Edwards and Brown, Blood became interested in journalism and moved to Denver, where he established a weekly newspaper. He later returned to Cleveland to become the owner of Cleveland World. However, his main interest and expertise was in real estate, which enabled Mr. Blood to obtain a 95-year lease on the property on Hickox Alley, the first Hermit Club location.
||Norman Calvin McLoudBorn in 1873 in North Carolina, McLoud received his education at the Asheville Military Academy. He headed his own brokerage firm on the Cleveland Stock Exchange. His many contributions to the Hermit Club were in the form of authorship of lyrics and libretti.
||Roger Cornelius EnwrightEnwright was born in 1861 and was a native of Bellevue, Ohio. He started out as a bookkeeper at the First National Bank and later opened the R. C. Enwright & Company. An actor of immense talent, he could be counted on for a major role in every production at the Hermit Club.
||George Hamilton GardinerGardiner was born in 1869 and grew up in California. He was in the brokerage business with Lamprecht Brothers and later with Hayden Miller & Company. Versatility was his main talent and as an actor he often doubled as “leading lady” arid “leading man.”
The first organization meeting was held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, 1904, at the Hollenden Hotel. In attendance were 50 prominent, pre-selected Clevelanders whose congenial natures were favorably known. Their abilities and temperaments were parallel with the ideals and objectives sought after for the proposed club.
Meade called the meeting to order and asked C. W. Stage to act as temporary chairman for the unnamed organization. A committee consisting of Duncan, Cady and Janes was appointed to recommend a name to the members. They reported back with three possibilities, which were voted on and resulted in: 22 for Hermit; 20 for Fellows; and four for Wayside. With that, the Hermit Club was adopted.
That same day, the Executive Committee met and outlined plans for incorporating the club. They appointed a committee consisting of Meade, Bicknell and Kelly. Charles W. Stage was elected president and M. W. Lawrence, Frank Meade, W. M. Duncan, George H. Kelly, A. D. Brooks and E. H. Cady were elected as the first doard of directors. At the director’s meeting, Meade was elected vice president and Scott Steward was elected secretary. By April 19, 1904, the incorporation of the Hermit Club had been completed.
First Annual Meeting
The Hermit Club held its first annual meeting that December and elected Frank Meade as president, which he carried through to 1937, when the policy of direct election of the president by the membership was abolished.
By March 6, 1904, the Hermit Club had 95 resident and four non-resident charter members, who on that date had signed the Articles of Incorporation. By September 30, 1904, the board of directors adopted house rules. One of these is observed and is still maintained to this day, i.e., Section I of Article Two:
“Members shall not be permitted to treat one another.”
Meade and Garfield, both architects, had prepared plans to build the club with a set budget of $10,000. Meade’s dream of replicating the Lambs Club in New York provided much architectural inspiration to his design and won over the early members of the club for its appealing spirit, objective and purpose.
As administrator, Meade gathered the right people who were “doers” to help jump start the club. As auctioneer, Hermit Albert Rees Davis sold practically all the bonds needed to build the club. Members also took great financial and personal interest in the building of the club, as bonds were subscribed among many. In addition to the bonds, Hermit John Blood secured a 95-year lease on a lot on the east side of Hickox Alley, midway between Euclid and Prospect Street (now East 3rd Street), then known as 2009 Third Place, S.E.
With all this in place, the Hermit Club began to rapidly take shape with its groundbreaking in June 1904 and the completion of the club that following October.
When the center of the performing arts district in Cleveland moved east to the current Playhouse Square area, Hermits followed suit. The current structure, completed in 1928, was designed by Club founder and noted architect of the day, Frank B. Meade, whose large photo in the Great Hall looks down on current-day Hermits.