The Corpus Christi Yacht Club will be 100 years old come November 13, 2023. A youngster compared to New Orleans’ Southern Yacht Club (169 years old), and the Houston Yacht Club (117 years old). But it is the third oldest yacht club in the Gulf Coast.
Incorporated in November 1923, it might be of interest to consider the Club’s start in light of events of that time.
The population of Corpus Christi was then about 15,000, There were 1,000 telephones installed and the City was recovering from the great 1919 hurricane that had devastated the City just four years earlier. In 1921, everyone’s interest was focused on the waterfront. Just before the storm hit a $600,000 bond issue had been approved for construction of the rock breakwater. After the storm, the State Legislature had to come to the City’s aid by passing a bill remitting ad valorem taxes of seven nearby counties for 25 years for the construction of “seawalls and breakwaters”. The Federal government, the State and the City had joined hands for the massive project of creating the Port of Corpus Christi. The project included dredging the ship channel from the City to the Gulf finishing the rock breakwater around the waterfront, and dredging the inner harbor to make Corpus Christi a deepwater port.
We have very little record of the early days of the Club. We do know however, that although its charter from the State is dated November 13, 1923, it was organized earlier, probably in the spring of 1923. By February 29th, 1924, according to a news item in the Corpus Christi Caller Times, there were 82 members and the Club was making plans to celebrate its first anniversary.
There is also evidence that the Club may have been organized considerably earlier. Only two months later, in April 1924, the paper reported that “a new marine ways, the construction of which was begun several months ago by the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, is nearing completion.” And it went on to report, “Estimated cost of the way, it is said, is around $3,000 although much of the material was donated to the Yacht Club: and the actual expense of building it was far less. Members of the Yacht Club also did the greater part of the construction work.” About 325 feet long and extending into the water off the end of the municipal wharf (at the present CCYC Clubhouse), it was reported to be able to handle the largest boat that could enter Corpus Christi Bay. At that time the Japonica, a three-masted sailing vessel which had been converted to an excursion boat, was the largest boat here. The ways were still in existence in 1937 as can be seen in DocMcGregor’s aerial photograph taken in that year. On it can be seen a large schooner or ketch hauled out for repair. We don’t know details of the ultimate outcome of the marine ways, but we suspect that it was sold and ultimately became the Nelson Boat Works.
The opening of the Port of Corpus Christi and the deepwater entrance from the Gulf at Port Aransas three years later, in 1926, created considerable excitement. This coincided with the completion of the rock breakwater. There was now a protected harbor for small boats and ready access to deep water. Much enthusiasm for boating was generated and the nest year, 1927, the first Galveston to Corpus Christi sailboat race was held. Thus was started the first of a long series of annual races, broken only by World War II.
Winners of the 1931 Galveston race included Clyde Norris, D.H. Morre, and Dr. J.V. Blair, all of whom served as Commodore of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club during its early days. As best we can tell, the Club was primarily a social club made up predominantly of large powerboat owners. However, we do know that there were several sailboats. One of the boats, a 32-foot catboat, the Four Friends (owned by the Klebergs and sailed by Texas Ranger Colonel Bill Sterling) was well known on the waterfront. The boat can be seen in the McGregor photograph on display in the Yacht Club.
During the period 1930 to 1936 the Club was fairly active socially. Members met in a little house about halfway out on the pier in front of the Edgewater Beach Cottages on North Beach (now Corpus Christi Beach). Later, when the Club became completely inactive, that little house became one of the meeting rooms for the Thomas Lipton Yacht Club, serving as headquarters during regattas.
We have no report or record of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club sponsoring any racing activities during this period. But we do know that on special occasions, for instance when Old Ironsides visited the port in 1932, the Club would organize a boat parade.
The history of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club is not complete without a mention of the Thomas Lipton Yacht Club which was formed by young sailors about 1932 for the express purpose of racing. This was before the days of the one-design sailboats. Anything that would float and could hold a mast and a sail was eligible to race. At this time, during the depth of the depression, very few young people could afford a “store bought” sailboat. With the protection offered by the rock breakwater, the young people were beginning to experience the fun of sailing and owning a boat. As Herb Garrett and others report, many of the boats were tied to stakes in the water in an area just outside our window here in the Clubhouse. If you look closely at the 1937 aerial photograph of the waterfront before the seawall was built, you can see many small boats in that area. Access was gained by wading out from the mouth of the bayou, which now drains South Bluff Park, through the big submerged culvert along the Yacht Club Parking lot.
From about 12 members in 1933, the Thomas Lipton Yacht Club grew rapidly and through default by the Corpus Christi Yacht Club became the center of sailboat racing activities on the Corpus Christi waterfront. The Club held regular meetings at Draughan’s Business College, across the street from the present Continental Bus Station above the old Alamo Loan and Jewelry store. Jesse Farnsworth, an enthusiastic sailor and who at one time was Commodore of the Club, ran the business college for over 40 years. When construction started on the seawall in 1939, the meeting place was moved to North Beach at one of the Edgewater Beach Cottages.
In the late 1930’s, all sailboat racing and cruising activities centered about the Thomas Lipton Yacht Club. An active racing program developed involving tactics sessions, practice racing, and open and invitational regattas sponsored by the Club and the Rockport Sailing Club. One-design racing was just coming into its own. Snipes, Meteors, Comets, Lightnings, and several other one-design class boats were in evidence with the many one-of-a-kind sailing craft as Corpus Christi moved out of the depression. People could now afford to buy better boats.
There was a spirited rivalry between the young sailors of Rockport and Corpus Christi at this time. The two Clubs look turns holding regattas, including races between the Clubs of Corpus Christi and Rockport, often through the Morris and Cummins Act.
Due to the inactivity of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club during this period, many of the members left that club to join the Thomas Lipton Club, or became members of both clubs. Some of our members, Bob Dunn and Bill Allen for instance, were at one time members of both clubs. Bob Dunn was Commodore for one year. James Dinn, who is survived by his wife Louise and their sons, was a very active sailing member of all the Clubs in which our present Club has its roots.
When the Guy Warrens came to Corpus Christi in 1937 they found the Corpus Christi Yacht Club completely dormant. A small group of members were keeping the charter in force in the name of Clyde Norris, Commodore and Mrs. J.Y. Blair. Secretary/Treasurer. But there were no meetings, no Clubhouse, and only a few listed members. Dr. Blair, and later Guy Warren, however, kept the franchise in force by personally paying the franchise taxes and maintaining the Club’s listing in Lloyds Register. Then during the war years, from 1941 to 1945, all pleasure boating and yacht club activities ceased completely.
The war years brought many young men and women through Corpus Christi – the Naval Air training program at NAS, the radar training program at what is now the University of Corpus Christi, and the Navy wartime patrol and anti-submarine warfare activities. Many of them fell in love with Corpus Christi and either chose to stay here after the War or returned later. Those, along with returning Corpus Christi sailors, sparked the rebirth of sailing.
It started simultaneously in two places – North Beach and around the T-Heads. On North Beach, although the Thomas Lipton Club was still in existence, social members were now in control. The younger members of the Club, back from the war, wanting action, and fretting under the new policies decided to leave the Club to form a new racing club. That club became the Corpus Christi Sailing Club. With all the racing sailors gone, the Thomas Lipton Club eventually died and in effect, the Corpus Christi Sailing Club became its successor.
In another part of the Marina (around the T-Heads) according to Allen Jephson, “a bunch of fellows from the Naval Base would meet with some local fellows on Sundays for a bit of sailing and racing”. This gradually grew into a more formalized schedule of races and then into the formation of a full-fledged club, the Southwestern Yacht Club. The Club was sparked by Allen Jephson, Johnnie Mitchell, Eddie Singer, and Henry Luckett. Allen Jephson was the first Commodore in 1945 and held that office for two years. The Executive Committee met in SAMSCO Marine where Johnnie Mitchell was manager, and monthly meetings where held in the Princess Louise hotel. The Club soon had its own burgee, Constitution, and By-Laws. It is of interest to note, in the minute books and other correspondence, that the mailing address was P.O. Box 2345; the Yacht Club’s post office box through the late 1990’s.
By 1949, under the enthusiastic and mature leadership of Jephson and Mitchell, the Club in its third year was going strong. A very active racing and cruising program was adopted with Snipe racing as the most active one-design class. The Club supervised the boat parades for the Buccaneer Days and handled the soft drink concessions on the T-Heads. It sponsored a regular series of races and regattas attended by sailors from all parts of Texas. Mrs. Jephson was very active in the Girl Scout Mariners. Dues were $15 a year for Senior Members, and $5 a year for Junior members. Already plans were being discussed for a clubhouse.
The officers and building committee worked most of 1949, their third year, drawing up leases for locations either on the L-Head or the south end of the Lawrence St. T-Head. Hoot Gibson, who ten years later designed the present Clubhouse, drew up plans for a building. He ran into lease problems with the City when it was found that the desirable portions of the waterfront came under the State Enabling Act. The City, therefore, could not lease to a private organization. Efforts were started to push a special bill through the legislature that would make such a lease possible.
Although the Corpus Christi Sailing Club continued to be active during this time, in 1949 they were invited to merge with the Southwestern Yacht Club. This they did, and now all the racing sailors were in one club.
In early 1950 the Chamber of Commerce, perceiving that some of the difficulties with the State over location might be because of the Club’s name, suggested that it be changed. They suggested merging with the inactive Corpus Christi Yacht Club. After discussing the matter with Dr. Blair and Guy Warren, who represented the dormant club, Commodore Mitchell at the March 8, 1950 regular monthly meeting reported to the members: “The Chamber of Commerce has suggested that for civic reasons the name of the Club be changed from the Southwestern Yacht Club to the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, incorporating into the Club the organization now bearing that name consisting of 5 members.” The motion to merge the two clubs, keeping the Constitution and By-Laws of the Southwestern Yacht Club, passed unanimously.
At the next meeting, Dr. J.B. Blair was introduced to the members. He presented the burgee of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, explaining the meaning of the colors and star. Thus the charter of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, after 15 years, took on a new life. It was once again an active yacht club, tracing its roots back to 1923 by way of the Southwestern Yacht Club, the Corpus Christi Sailing Club, and the Thomas Lipton Yacht Club. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Blair and Guy Warren, who personally kept the charter alive through those inactive years, the Club can trace an unbroken lineage back to 1923. And thanks to those many dedicated members of the Southwestern Yacht Club, the Thomas Lipton Yacht Club, and the Corpus Christi Yacht Club’s heritage has been greatly enriched.
Much thought, planning, and many discussions with the City were spent during this first year of the merger in a search for a clubhouse location. Time after time it was thought that the problem was solved, only to fall through each time. Many additional locations were considered: on a bulkhead to be built out from the seawall between the Lawrence St. T-Head, on a fill that the City was considering in the Marina across from the Coliseum, and on the fill where the present Clubhouse now stands. To finance the project, the members voted to issue $100 bonds to be bought by each member. $16,000 worth of CCYC 20-year %1 Debenture Bonds were issued to cover the estimated cost of the project.
By the end of the year, however, it appeared that all avenues had been exhausted in trying to obtain space for a building on land within the Marina area, so the decision was made to go ahead with plans for a floating clubhouse. A war surplus Air/Sea Rescue Vessel was purchased for $1,900 and six months later, after spending roughly $10,000 and much volunteer work for conversion, the membership held their first meeting in their own Clubhouse moored at the end of the Lawrence St. T-Head. That meeting was on June 13, 1951. It would be ten years before the Club would finally solve the problem of obtaining a permanent site and move into a clubhouse on land.
Purchasing and moving into the floating Clubhouse marked a turning point in the Club’s history. For the first time, the Club owned property and enthusiasm became stronger. Membership grew rapidly under an active recruiting effort. The members were no longer restricted merely to weekend racing or regular scheduled meetings, but could meet everyday at the Club for beer and conversation. There was no bartender; chits were signed on the honor system. The Mess Treasurer kept the liquor in the trunk of his car, and during regattas someone would set up as bartender. Members brought sandwiches for most of the affairs, but on special occasions, meals were catered by Millers Grill.
Participation picked up tremendously. Members pitched in to do volunteer construction work, and those who could not contribute labor contributed money or materials. One of the lady members donated money for furnishing the bar, which was located in the Pilot House and crafted by a master carpenter. In it were located the original ship’s engine controls and the ship’s wheel (the latter which is now mounted on the wall in the present Corpus Christi Yacht Club bar). The pilothouse was extended aft and space below was large enough to seat, with folding tables and chairs, about 45 members for meeting or dining. On the after deck was a reviewing stand where the members, wives, and children could watch other members of the family race. Races were usually started off the Clubhouse and before the south gap was closed in 1958, the course was out one gap, around the red beacon or a cane pole out in the bay, and back through the other gap.
This change in the direction of the Club was not made without pain. With the added expenses incurred by the ownership of property, it was found necessary (six months after moving into the floating clubhouse)to raise the dues to $25, plus $5 federal tax, per Senior Member per year. This dues increase, plus the requirement that every member purchase a $100 debenture bond, resulted in the dropout of a number of the less active members. Efforts were increased to recruit new members. A revision of the By-Laws at this same time also changed the Club into one which was more aligned with the old eastern yacht club tradition instead of the previous family type club, involving women as participating members equally with the men.
The convenience of the location on the end of the T-Head and the Club facilities promoting a social atmosphere, attracted a number of new members. Fifty-one members were added during 1952. Two years after the floating Clubhouse was in place, membership as listed in the first official roster of the Club dated October 1953, totaled 104. Forty-five years and many changes later, twelve of those members or their spouses listed in that roster, are still active members of the Corpus Christi Yacht Club. Those members are: #2 – Dr. Bill Allen, #9 Mrs. Robert H. Blair, #13 – Harvie Branscomb, #18 – Bill Carl, #28 – Mrs. James R. Dinn, #36 – Franklin Flato, #57 – Norman Holmes, #59 – Allen Jephson, #72 – Mrs. W.T. Neyland, #79 – John Pitcairn, #89 – Edwin Singer, and #100 – Bob Wallace. Five of those members joined the Club when it was the Southwestern Yacht Club. Those five members were: Mrs. Robert H. Blair, Harvie Branscomb, Mrs. James R. Dinn, Allen Jephson, and Edwin Singer.
The Club added a lot of color to the waterfront. Races were held almost every weekend. The Snipe, Penguin, and later the Highlander and Sunfish class one-design boats where very active. Club boats participated every year in the races between Galveston and Corpus Christi, and the Club hosted the entire fleet to a party on the years that the race ended in Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi Yacht Club sailors represented the Club in many regattas throughout the country in their one-design classes. In 1957, Buck Bailey, trailing his Highlander to Mentor Ohio (the home port of the Highlander one-design class)won the Highlander International Championship by an unprecedented landslide. The next year, the Corpus Christi Yacht Club hosted the Highlander Internationals in Corpus Christi. Once again, Buck won first place. The races generated considerable local interest due to the unusually big fleet of boats with the large colorful spinnakers. It was the largest fleet of one-design sailboats ever seen in this area up to that time.
Shamrock Cove was the favorite cruising spot during that period. Many rendezvous were held there for overnight cruises and beach parties. Fiberglass was just beginning to be used in boat construction, but all the cruising type boats were still being made of wood. Among boats owned by Club members were a number of beautiful ones, most of them having been built on the East Coast and sailed down. In evidence on the waterfront were such boats as Hoot Gibson’s Alden designed 43-foot schooner, Caroline; Norman Holmes’ Whispering Winds, and later his Cutlass; Lee McMillan’s Sparkman and Stevens 34-foot Desiree; Robert Blair’s 46-foot Viking; Eddie Singer’s 33-foot Seaquester (often sailed by his wife with a boatload of girl scout Mariners); Dr. Guttman’s beautiful varnished mahogany Swedish double-ender, the Saga; Harvey Branscomb’s 33-foot Josephine; and many others. And, there was the beautiful sloop Valiant, owned by Bill Carl, Jeff Carr, Alvie Hill, and Dusty Rhodes. She was so big that they couldn’t even bring her into the Yacht Club. They had to take her through the bascule bridge and tie her up in the inner harbor.
In spite of the very active racing and cruising programs sponsored by the Club, almost from the beginning, efforts were renewed to find a permanent home. The floating Clubhouse was viewed only as a waypoint. By June 1954, the Executive Committee had decided that no more expenses should be incurred for beautification or for the hull (except for necessary repairs). A new Club Site Committee attacked the old problem with renewed vigor. In addition to the old sites pursued unsuccessfully eight years previously, many new locations were added. The City and some of the influential members of the Park Board and Marina Advisory Board were at that time strongly in favor of locating a yacht club in the marina area. They lent their support to the project, even helping to write special legislation to enable the City to grant a lease.
By June 1959, the choice narrowed down to the Herndon Fish Market on the L-Head, the present site of the Club. The City had agreed to sell the site, approximately 90 x 200 feet, to the Club. The price – $18,400 – the estimated cost of filling a comparable area.
At last the Club had the promise of a permanent site on land for a home. Now facing the 120 members was the monumental task of raising enough money to pay for a clubhouse that would meet the long-term needs of the members and that would be a credit to the Club and to the Community.
The challenge was laid down. Did the members really want a new Clubhouse? And if so, would they be willing to put up the money for it? After considerable debate in a spirited July 1959 meeting, the members voted to go ahead, but only on the basis of having $75,000 in hand or in firm pledges by the next meeting in January. As part of the financing, it was agreed that the initiation fee would be raised to $600 and that the fee, less the previously paid $100 debenture bond, would also be applied to present members. The January 1960 meeting was held at the Town Club with a record turnout. At that meeting, it was announced to a jubilant membership that there was already $87,000 in cash and pledges from responsible people in escrow for the new building. The project was on!
Hoot Gibson, who probably did more free work for the Club than anybody else, once more took on the job of designing another clubhouse and working up plans for its construction. Although there were no requirements to clear the plans with the City, nevertheless, all of the plans were presented to the Park and Recreation and other Boards to show them that the Club was trying its best to build something that the City would be proud of. The Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Board, Mrs. Armstrong Price, was a special friend. She stood up for the Club strongly in the various meetings, praising the idea of a yacht club on the waterfront. One of the reasons that the building has the particular roof style that it has, even though more expensive, was because of the desire to make the building aesthetically pleasing. Every effort was made to allay any fears that anyone might have about a private club on the waterfront.
Bob Flato was the sparkplug that made the new building happen. His boundless enthusiasm, never ending optimism, and tireless energy instilled confidence in the members that it could be accomplished. Under his leadership as Commodore during the two years of the planning and construction of the building, an all out effort was made for new members to help provide the necessary funds. Membership was increased slowly. It was disappointing to encounter so much refusal of many knowledgeable, successful people to believe that the Club would “go”, and to support it. There was a surprising amount of “it won’t work” comments.
To cut costs, a number of innovative schemes were employed. The kitchen equipment came from a burned out roadhouse on Rodd Field Road. It eventually gave considerable trouble and had to be replaced (at great expense) along with some used sump pumps that plagued managers from the beginning. Expenses had to be cut somehow to make the limited available money go around. New members were admitted who contributed certain work such as interior design, furniture, tile work, air conditioning, etc. Credit towards initiation fees and other charges were applied against their contributions. And later, the ladies became involved in the decorating and selection of furniture. The finished Clubhouse was one to be proud of, functional, done in very good taste, and a credit to those 120 members who had the vision and courage to take that big challenge.
During the long period of construction, board meetings were held on site (at first on the first deck and then on the second deck). Usually the board table consisted of a couple of planks set on saw-horses. Chairs were nail kegs or boxes. Hiring had to begin long before the building was ready for occupancy, and that put a further strain on finances. A payroll had to be met without income. So as soon as the lower deck was complete, and while construction was still in progress on the upper one, the staff took over in August 1961. Upon completion of the upper deck, the dining room was opened and quickly gained a reputation for serving outstanding gourmet food – by far the best food in Corpus Christi. Unfortunately, Amiel Jaguet’s reputation traveled afar and he was attracted away from the Club after only a short stay.
Shortly after moving into the new Clubhouse, it became evident that facilities for young people were badly needed. With the membership now doubled to 250, a survey revealed that there were 420 children (considerably more than originally anticipated). Although the $60,000 cost required borrowing from the bank, with some of the members as guarantors of the loan, a snack bar, youth room, plus a structure around the pool for outdoor recreation was added. The loan was retired through increased dues plus a Building Fund assessment. Later, further modifications were made to the building as membership increased and the need for additional space became evident. Originally, a spiral staircase in the bar led upward outside the building to an outside observation deck on the second level. This area was enclosed to gain additional space in both the bar and the Dining Room.
Time and the elements took their toll on the Clubhouse and discussions of expansion and renovation began in the mid 1980’s. In 1987, then Vice Commodore Giles Giddings, was put in charge of the project. Little did he know that it would be March of 1991 before the project was completed. The project included expansion of the upstairs dinning room and downstairs bar area, a new kitchen, new pool and upper deck, new locker rooms and restroom, and a new heating and air conditioning system. The cost of the project was $1,850,000 which was $150,000 over the original projections. The Club borrowed $1,000,000 to finance the project, which was $200,000 less than the original projections.
Thank You Gene
The Club owes a sincere debt of gratitude to Gene Pennebaker who was the Club’s historian for many years. We appreciate the countless hours of research, Gene, that you have done to preserve our history.