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Updating the Good Life at the Saturn Club
Where, in the 1880s, could a young, wealthy educated man go to escape the formality of the times and share a few private drinks, card games, and uninhibited merriment with his chums? It’s the same place where, 130 years later, members and their kids can enjoy a bowling game, swimming pool, or converse over a casually elegant meal in one of two beautifully, renovated clubhouse rooms.
In 1885, a small group of young men decided that their fathers’ social scene, The Buffalo Club, stifled their youthful energy. Not being an idle bunch, they founded The Saturn Club as a dedicated place where they could have their fun. They met on Saturdays but without a designated clubhouse they roamed private homes. The annual meeting was named Saturnalia after the ancient Roman holiday noted for its revelry, feasting, and drinking. Many of the founders were members of prominent Buffalo families and involved in academia. As such, the board of directors was given a collegiate structure with a faculty and dean. And so began 130 years of The Saturn Club’s continuous evolution; one that brought it from a nomadic, men’s-only club of cigars and cocktails to the family-friendly venue of today.
The Saturn Club incorporated in 1890. While it no longer wandered through private residences, it didn’t find its permanent location until 1922 when famed Buffalo architect Duane Lyman, Saturn Club member, designed and built a clubhouse in the Tudor Revival style. Highlights included slate roofing and limestone elements, such as quoins, and a water table trim. A lovely, open-air courtyard surrounded by high walls shelters the courtyard from wind, making the space exceptionally comfortable … as it should. After all, “The club was always an institution where you came to enjoy yourself and have a good time,” describes current president Robert Layton. “It remains so today.”
Given the club’s core purpose of existence, it’s natural that it would evolve over time to keep pace with accepted social trends and desires. Eventually, the strict boys’ club of the 1800s became the first of its kind to open its doors to women. Over the years, the club became family oriented but within the context of maintaining tradition. The evolution also occurred with the club’s physical appearance.
The first big renovation was in the 1990s. Being a club of enjoyment, The Saturn Club also offers athletic activities. A huge addition expanded the squash courts, workout facilities, pool and locker rooms.
A recent interior remodel by Michael Donnelly Interiors brought new life to two of The Saturn Club’s primary rooms: The Delaware Room and The Red Room. A magnificent fireplace anchors The Red Room. Dark wood paneling and a rich red color emphasize its traditional, club appearance. Panel draperies with 12-inch wide, red fabric bands, frame the leaded windows. UV sunshades provide light control. New furniture, chandelier covers and brown paisley carpeting with a red background tie it together. In contrast, The Delaware Room has a clean, refreshing look. Large, historic wall panels depicting seaside life are the focal point. Fabrics striped with blues and beiges complement the murals, as do the brown and beige floral patterned drapes. “We tried to make it look 100 percent different without changing it at all,” exclaims Michael Donnelly, founder of Michael Donnelly Interiors.
Radiating vitality but devoted to tradition – this is The Saturn Club of today. The 3 a.m. drinking songs and card playing have been replaced with holiday caroling around the piano, dining, and events. “We’re proud to be open and welcoming,” says Layton. “I enjoy that.” An apropos statement from the president of a club dedicated to enjoyment, wouldn’t you agree?