The destruction of the CA Club

When we were little, my siblings and I used to ask my parents (from time to time) about how they met and what their wedding day was like. As a question like, “Where

The Catholic Athletic Club, formerly located at 1090 Maple Street, was destroyed by fire on September 11, 1971.

The Catholic Athletic Club, formerly located at 1090 Maple Street, was destroyed by fire on September 11, 1971.

were you married?” was answered, “…at St. Joe Church”, another question was normally followed by other questions with the child/parent Q & A going something like this:

Q: “Where was your wedding party (reception) at?”

A: “At the CA Club.”

Q: “Where was the CA Club?”

A: “On Maple Street. It burned down.”

Q: “What does CA mean?”

The letters CA followed by the word “club” can’t really be deciphered by the uninitiated. If both letters appeared as a potential word puzzle on Wheel of Fortune, it would more than likely take the contestants countless spins before they figured out the actual title of the clue word, “PLACE”.

However, for a particular generation of people raised in Manistee, it probably wouldn’t take too long to solve the puzzle as they would no doubt remember, the building that housed the Catholic Athletic Club formerly located on South Maple Street.

Early records show that the building that would go on to become the CA Club was originally constructed circa 1880 and used as a box factory. Several years later, it was reported that the same structure was occupied by a factory that made fencing.

According to city insurance maps, the building eventually fell into the hands of W.E. Edwards who operated a junk warehouse from the location, an occupation he continued in through the late 1920s.

In 1934, it was announced that Mr. and Mrs. James Wroblewski had purchased the building with plans to open and operate a bar out of the old structure. A brief article published on May 18, 1934 provides details on the grand opening of the new business establishment called, Maple Tavern:

“The grand opening of Maple Tavern, located on South Maple Street near the city limits, will be held tomorrow night. It was announced today by James Wroblewski, local man who is the owner.

“‘Spin’ Johnson’s Orchestra will provide music for the opening night, it is announced.

“Sunday dinners will be served.

“The new establishment was built with accomodations for 125 patrons, Mr. Wroblewski states.”

Wroblewski operated Maple Tavern for the next nine years and then sold it to Gladys Bright in 1943. After Bright operated it for three years, she sold it to a Grand Rapids man who would later sell it to a local man, Ray Zawacki who himself would move the liquor license to Filer City.

In 1951, the former tavern was purchased by the Catholic Athletic Club whose primary goal was to support the athletic program of St. Joseph School. The CA Club would eventually remodel the tavern and in 1963 made additions to the structure for needed space. It was through the rental of the facilities that the club was able to continue to raise money for athletics at St. Joseph School and later Manistee Catholic Central.

For nearly two decades, the structure continued to host hundreds of wedding receptions as well as countless other functions. On the morning of September 11, 1971 a call to area fire departments announced that the building was on fire. Details of the fire that destroyed the CA Club were published in the Manistee News Advocate on September 11, 1971. Portions of that original article follow:

“Fire early today destroyed Manistee’s Catholic Athletic Club on Maple Street, scene of almost 1,000 wedding receptions over a nearly 20-year period.

“By the time the Filer City and Manistee Fire Departments were called at 1:57 this morning the flames had gone through the roof.

“The cement block and wooden structure was burned to the ground with the only portion left standing the 15-foot by 38-foot kitchen, which received heavy smoke damage.

“The portion of the building which was destroyed measured 116 feet long by 48 feet wide and included additions on the south and west sides of the building which was completed in 1963.

“The building was owned by the Catholic Athletic Club of St. Joseph’s Parish and was insured for $40,000. The club had completed paying for the building three years ago. It was operated in the black throughout the club’s nearly 20 years of ownership and proceeds from its rental for parties, wedding receptions, political rallies and showers went to support the athletic program of St. Joseph Parish and to help provide much equipment for Manistee Catholic Central High School’s athletic programs.

“In addition to the building being destroyed, thousands of dollars worth of chairs, tables, bar equipment and a freezer was lost.”

Furthermore, all of the food for a wedding reception that was to take place that day was destroyed in the blaze. The article continues:

“Cause of the fire has not been determined. A neighbor said he heard a noise like an explosion at approximately 11 p.m. but it is not known whether it had any connection with the fire. Firemen are digging through the ruins today in an effort to learn the cause.

“Filer Township Volunteer Fire Department stayed at the site until 6 o’clock this morning. Manistee Firemen returned to the station at 4:40 a.m.

“A meeting of the CA Club Board of Directors is scheduled for 1 o’clock tomorrow afternoon to discuss what action will be taken on replacement of the facilities. Wedding receptions were scheduled at the club throughout September and October.”

Two days later, the Manistee News Advocate published an editorial that spoke of what the loss of the CA Club would mean to the community. That editorial, published on September 13, 1971, follows:

“The fire at the Catholic Athletic Club was a loss to the area.

“Some 45 weddings were scheduled there a year, including some as far away as Kaleva and Onekama. In addition, countywide meetings of Democrats and Republicans frequently were scheduled there along with credit union dinners, parties, showers and many other events.

“As well as providing a fine place to serve food and refreshments to large crowds, the club also helped to provide financial backing for St. Joseph’s School’s sports program and much assistance to Manistee Catholic Central’s athletic program and Stadium Development Fund. The CA Club purchased the scoreboard for Saber Stadium as well as contributing generously to various other MCC projects.

The fire that destroyed the CA Club was widely regarded as being suspicious, however, no one was charged in the case.

With nowhere else to go and with work still needing to be done, the Catholic Athletic Association found a new home in the basement of St. Joseph Church where they continued to hold meetings as well as plan fundraisers. The club would later go on to raise money for the purposes of laying a concrete floor for the bottom portion of the newly built St. Joseph Parish Center in the early 1980s where they would eventually go on to play weekly Bingo games. Several years later, the club disbanded, leaving behind two letters of the alphabet that today conjure up memories of an old building and the goodwill performed by its members.

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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