Ace: I recently discovered a bizarre landmark at 401 West Franklin Street in Richmond: a private sports and social club where women aren’t permitted to set foot. In fact, before I could even open the front door to the Commonwealth Club to inspect the historic (est. 1891) building, I was intercepted by an employee. Can you explain what’s up with that? How does such an archaic tradition sustain itself? And what do men do together when they’re left to their own devices? -Carmen Wealth Clique
Dear Carmen, In 2009 Richmond’s Commonwealth Club is even more exclusive than was Charlottesville’s Farmington Country Club of 1976, when it was still excluding people of a non-white persuasion. That is because the former club (est. 1891) only considers 50% of the population for membership. If you’re not a Virginia gentleman, you’re not allowed. Ace remembers a tree fort he played in as a small child that held the same policy. If a neighbor girl approached, he would hurl water balloons at her. Cut to a couple years later when he was actively trying to entice them inside with Jolly Ranchers and Teen Beat magazines. The point is, Ace grew up. But for a certain glorified tree fort in Richmond, that’s not the case.
The Commonwealth Club is so exclusive that Ace couldn’t even access its website without a login and password. Ace was intrigued. He sent one of his capital-city lady friends to Franklin Street to find out more. Just as you indicated she would be, Ace’s friend was turned away, but not without grilling the security guard for information. Here are the club’s rules, as Ace understands them: 1) Females can work, if not play, at the club – there was even one “manning” the front desk – but they may not venture onto the lower floor where men take their exercise because they might interfere with mysterious bonding rituals involving wet towels; 2) Members can host co-ed parties at the club, but they better have a popped collar dress code and serve ham biscuits and scotch; 3) Just because a place calls itself a gentlemen’s club doesn’t mean it has strippers. Buyer beware!
Perhaps Ace’s ideas about gender equality are too modern for Richmond, but he doesn’t understand the draw of a stuffy, old-fashioned, all-male sports club where women can’t shower together in the locker room. Imagining this scenario is the only thing that gets Ace to the gym. If he wanted to hang out exclusively with sweaty guys, he’d go to boot camp or the San Diego Comic-Con.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.