19 October 2015

Fire Decimates 1927 Tudor-Style Clubhouse at LuLu Country Club

Today we lament the sudden loss of a local historic building. Although not a residential house, it was the Tudor-style Clubhouse of the Lulu Country Club, built in 1927 according to the club's website.

Inage courtesy Lulu Country Club
Yesterday morning I was out doing some errands, and driving back towards my home I was greeted by enormous plumes of dark black smoke in the air not too far away. The sight was pretty much the same as this fellow witness saw:

Image via 6ABC Action News viewer
As I drove towards the billowing smoke, I was heartened to see that the source was not on my street. My mind immediately turned to nearby LuLu Country Club less than 1/2 mile away, a place where they occasionally set off fireworks which we can see from our backyard. I recalled having seen large piles of tree limbs and branches gathered near a corner of the property at one point in the recent past, and briefly wondered if they were simply burning said pile. However, as I approached the corner of Jenkintown Rd and North Hills Ave, fire department personnel were diverting traffic away from the area. The intensity of the rising smoke made it clear there was a problem.

Image via 6ABC Action News
See this link to view some more incredible photos of the fire while it was in progress, by photographer Brian Sullivan.

News reports describe that the fire broke out around 6:30am on Sunday morning, likely in the basement, and was discovered by staff members opening the pro shop. The blaze quickly spread to the heavy timber roof and ballroom of the facility. It was a 2-alarm fire, with the first-responding firefighters immediately calling for assistance with the fire well advanced. Fortunately, reports now say that despite early indications of one injury, no one was significantly hurt in the fire. The building, however, appears beyond saving, as the roofs have fully collapsed, leaving the distinctive Tudor-style gables charred in the wake. Surely, dozens of engaged couples are unfortunately scrambling for new venues, members are left unable to use their historic golf course (at least for the time being), and more importantly, staff members are, hopefully temporarily, left without a workplace.

24 hours later, frost covers the grass and the wreckage of the former Lulu Clubhouse. Image by author.

History of the Club and Clubhouse

Officially founded in 1912, Lulu Country Club started as an offshoot of the local Shriners temple. Geographically split in half by Limekiln Pike, the original golf course was a 9-hole course on the eastern side of the Pike, on the farm of George Cox, and designed by one of golf's most celebrated course designers, Donald Ross. The club's original clubhouse existed on this eastern tract, directly across the street from where the present-day clubhouse is today (it no longer exists). By 1918, Lulu had leased the farm of the late Mrs. Charlotte Potter, who had passed in 1912, on the west side of the Pike, again commissioning Ross, this time to complete an 18-hole course. Mrs. Potter was the granddaughter of John Fitzwater, whose farmhouse still sits near the corner of Limeklin Pike and Twining Rd. The Club later purchased Mrs. Potter's land in 1924 to allow them to erect their permanent clubhouse.

Clip from a 1916 atlas map, showing the Lulu Temple Country Club leasing the farmland of George S. Cox for use as "golf grounds". The original clubhouse is seen on the east edge of Limekiln Pike. Base map courtesy of Franklin Maps.
Lulu Country Club as it is known today, shown in a clip from a 1927 atlas map, with the Clubhouse having been just completed. Original clubhouse still seen at that time across the street. Base map courtesy of Franklin Maps.
The Tudor-style Clubhouse was completed three years later, in 1927. Nearby, our house had recently been constructed on Central Ave as part of the Ferguson's North Glenside subdivision just to the southeast. The architect of the Lulu Clubhouse itself was elusive in my initial research, but the Club's website details many additions and renovations over the years, including the members' dining room in 1950, air conditioning and a swimming pool in 1956, a pro shop and enlarged men's locker room in 1964, women's locker room in 1967, and another dining room and entrance in 1987. Various interior renovations have occurred since. Unfortunately, a sprinkler system was never incorporated, nor was one likely required.

Aerial image of the Lulu Country Club, 1939. Image via Golf Association of Philadelphia

More recently, from roughly 2008-2012, the country club faced struggles to stay open as it sought a buyer. The club, in 2009, sold a conservation easement to Upper Dublin Township, the municipality where the course is located, to prevent future development and preserve the land as open space in perpetuity. Lulu eventually found a leasing partner in 2012 and appeared to face a more certain future.

Now, that future must be at least somewhat in doubt. Club members on Sunday morning arrived at their historic golf course in shock as the clubhouse burned. Here's to hoping the Club's insurance policy can make up the loss and eventually get things back up and running with a new clubhouse building. While it's a true shame that an 88-year-old local landmark building has been tragically destroyed, it was nice to see such an uplifting and positive message from the Club posted on their Facebook page hours after the fire:

"We thank you all for your love, prayers and support at this time.
As this picture shows, there is always light and hope. We are and will always be here to serve our membership and our community.
Again, many thanks everybody. We will get through all of this stronger and together.
-The LuLu CC Family"

Image courtesy of Lulu Country Club, Facebook page

UPDATE 10/20:

According to an updated report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lulu Country Club is hopeful that they will be able to re-open their historic golf course this weekend to members. Also, two bits of good news for preserving the club's history. First, the fire marshal was able to recover the Club's 103-year-old charter document, which survived the fire! Second, general manager Jeff Orleski has instructed demolition crews to keep a stone wall with the club's name on it, with the intention of incorporating it into a new building. Great move Jeff!

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