The Hermit Club: More than a century of devotion to the amateur performing arts

Another of Cleveland’s most enduring social Clubs is the Hermit Club, on Dodge Court between Chester and Euclid Avenues. Established in 1904, it was founded by Frank B. Meade who then stood on the threshold of what would prove to be a remarkable career as a Cleveland architect.

Frank B. MeadeMeade trained as a musician as a young man and the focus of the new club reflected his interest in the performing arts. The Hermit Club is said to have been inspired by the Lambs Club in New York City’s Times Square—the oldest theatrical social club in the country.

The Hermit Club occupied two different clubhouses in it's history, both in the Tudor style and both designed Frank Meade.

The first of these was located on what was known as Hickox Place (now East 3rd Street) before north-south Cleveland streets were assigned numbers in 1906. Constructed in 1904, it served the club’s needs until 1928 when it was replaced by the present clubhouse on Dodge Court.

A visit to the site of the original clubhouse reveals no hint that it ever existed.

The move was prompted by the migration of Cleveland’s theater district to present day Playhouse Square. The club today sits tucked in the Hofbräuhaus complex in Playhouse Square.

The new clubhouse’s resemblance to the old one is no coincidence, and by 1928 Meade had claimed his rightful place in the first rank of Cleveland architects. The new building has aged gracefully and continues to serve the club’s needs effectively as the building prepares for its second 100 years.

The club is well known for the quality of its theatrical and musical productions. Led capably by Meade for three decades, equally dedicated leaders have followed him—maintaining the Hermit Club’s high standards to this day.

Memorable events from the club’s past include the following:

On the evening of February 17, 1904, Meade suggested to a small group of friends that Cleveland should form a club comparable to the Lamb’s Club. Looking for a source of members, the Gatling Gun Company, founded by local veterans of the Spanish American War of 1898, was suggested, as the club had a high proportion of actors and musicians.

The idea took hold, and formal organization began. The club officially began operations on March 12 with a meeting in the Hollenden Hotel on Superior Avenue and East 6th Street. The first order of business was to choose a name. The Hermit Club defeated the Fellows Club and the Wayside Club as the choice by a majority vote of the 46 potential members.

The decision was made to build a clubhouse at a cost not to exceed $ 10,000, “exclusive of furnishings.”

The original address on Hickox Place was 2009 Third Place, S. E. The site was chosen because of its proximity to the Cleveland Opera House on the southeast corner of Euclid Avenue and Sheriff Street.

Entertainment at the Hermit Club became increasingly sophisticated as members produced and wrote original shows.

The Hermit Club 1951In 1928 major change came to the club as the original clubhouse closed its doors forever on August 11 after a final lunch was served. The club sold the Hickox property to owners who destroyed the building to make way for a new office building. All that stands on this site today is a blank brick wall where the entrance one stood.

The new clubhouse on Dodge Court opened on November 10, with the new structure embellished by artwork carefully removed from the original building prior to demolition.

The year 1937 saw another major change for the Hermit Club. Announcing that he was tired of being president, Meade stepped down, which lead to the naming of Ben Wickham as president—the first new leader in over three decades.

Shortly after the leadership change, World War II had a great impact on the club—40 members left Cleveland to serve in the military. The orchestra suffered greatly as six key members departed, swept up by the war.

The club worked hard to help to sustain the war effort despite these hardships and remained an island of normal activity in the midst of much turmoil.

The Hermit Club continues to build on these traditions and remains a beloved Cleveland cultural institution, providing entertainment for members and their guests to this very day.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.