The Des Moines Embassy Club is a product of the merger of two legendary city clubs--the Des Moines Club and the Embassy Club--each with its own rich and colorful history.
The Embassy Club
The Embassy Club can trace its conceptual roots back to the Grant Club, which was established in 1885. The Grant Club was located at 514 Walnut and its board of directors was presided over by notable Des Moines resident Major Hoyt Sherman. The Club later merged with the Young Men's Republican Club and moved to 615 High Street. The organization maintained its Republican affiliations, allowing only Republicans to vote on club matters. The restriction remained in place until the club ceased operation in 1933. Within months, the Hawkeye Democratic Club took up residence in the building, and all voting Members were required to be Democrats. Over the years, the Club softened its political leanings and changed its name to the Embassy Club. However, it succumbed to economic troubles, in part fueled by a higher than average number of Prohibition-era police raids. History suggests that the close proximity of the building to the St. Ambrose Cathedral and Rectory drew unwanted attention to both illegal gambling activities and the sale of alcohol. A fresh start to form a club took place at the Hotel Fort Des Moines when the Gotham Club opened, but it also received more than its share of police attention. It was not until 1946 when the current Downtown Embassy Club opened in the former Gotham Club facilities that the newly invigorated Embassy Club was born. The Club went through several locations before settling at the top of the 801 Grand Tower in 1992.
The Des Moines Club
The Des Moines Club was founded in 1909 with Charles Hewitt of Hewitt and Sons Wholesale Grocers as president, FC Hubbell of Des Moines Union Railway as vice president, and Simon Casady of Central State Bank as treasurer. After heavy fundraising and membership recruitment, the first clubhouse was constructed at 800 Locust, the site of today's Des Lux Hotel. It opened in 1912, operating on the fourth and fifth floors with the rest of the building leased out to local businesses. Over the years, the Des Moines Club survived many circumstances that bankrupted other Clubs in town--the Spanish flu, Prohibition, the rationing of food and loss of members to battle during wartime. It took on Members of the other Clubs such as the Grant Club as they closed, further propelling it forward through times that were challenging for the United States. Post-war, the clubhouse suffered from deferred repairs, and the board voted in favor of moving to a new location. In 1975, operations were moved to the brand-new Ruan Center at 666 Grand.
While a merger of the Des Moines Club and Embassy Club was first entertained in 1961, it finally came to fruition in 2002, effectively creating Des Moines' only city club. For eight years, the Club operated two clubhouses down the street from one another. However, a growing number of Members began to live, work, and play in the suburbs and had expressed interest in having access to a club near home. In 2010, the 801 Grand location closed, and a brand-new lakeside clubhouse opened in West Des Moines. This city/suburban club approach represents the "next generation" in the Club scene and is an example of the forward thinking the Club's leadership has always exhibited as it looks for new ways to deliver the Club experience members have come to both expect and enjoy.