The Dayton Racquet Club opened to great fanfare in 1971 – but to men only.
Located on the 29th floor of the Winters Bank Tower, the club offered amazing views of the city, luxurious French décor and a “master gymnasium” with an indoor jogging track.
But the new downtown amenity was a private club for men.
“One of the features will be stag grill and cocktail lounge which will not be open to women at any time,” the Dayton Journal Herald reported.
Parts of the club were open to women after 4 p.m. but only if they were escorted by a male club member.
Winter’s Bank Tower would later be renamed Kettering Tower after the driving forces behind its construction, Eugene and Virginia Kettering. Last year it was re-branded as Stratacache Tower.
In the 1970s, a membership to the exclusive club was common for businesses and government entities needing a place to hobnob.
“Each facet of the Club — membership, general clubrooms, athletic facilities, food, drink and service — has been carefully planned to serve the business and personal needs of a select membership,” described a 1976 brochure for the club.
The Dayton City Commission was among those select members when one of its city leaders was kicked out.
In 1976 Dayton City Commissioner Pat Roach and three other female elected officials in the community sat down for a business lunch.
“The manager came to the table and told us that since we did not have a gentleman, we could not be served,” Roach told the Dayton Daily News. “I explained I was a member of the City Commission and the commission had a membership.”
“He said he was sorry but if we didn’t have a gentleman we couldn’t be served.”
The manager of the club, David Kark, told the newspaper he “didn’t like throwing them out” but no exceptions could be made to club policy.
“Women are allowed up for lunch if it’s a business meeting such as a secretary taking notes or a woman on a board,” but only if accompanied by a male member.
The incident started a debate in the community and the pages of the newspaper. The Dayton City Commission and Dayton Newspapers Inc. withdrew their memberships from the club.
Even though Virginia Kettering, the owner of the building, wasn’t allowed in the club, she did not condone the protest.
“It’s been made very plain to me that I can’t go up there without a man,” she said.
“I just hope that women, now that they have their own positions and are being recognized, don’t go too far and spoil it. I don’t think they should force their way in.”
Despite Roach’s protest, newspaper editorials and canceled memberships, the Dayton Racquet Club didn’t allow women to apply for membership until 1979.
An editorial in the Journal Herald noted the club was still “taking it one step at a time.”
“The good gentlemen don’t want to overdo it, so women will still be excluded from the men’s bar and grill and the athletic facilities.”