Concordia-Argonaut completes $4.5 million facelift

Past membership rolls at the 145-year-old organization have included such prominent San Francisco Jewish families as the Magnins, Gumps, Zellerbachs and Fleischhackers. Today, while the club is open to people of all faiths, a majority of the members — up to 90 percent, according to some estimates –are Jewish.

The newly unveiled physical changes — which come as the club's identity continues to shift from an all-male group to a family club — start with the entrance. Gone are the metal gates that once enclosed the front doors; unobtrusive security cameras have taken their place.

"The entry is now more ornate and more welcoming," said Shawn Atkisson, the club's general manager.

Once inside the building, visitors will notice such cosmetic changes as reupholstered furniture, refinished hardwood floors and new carpeting in the dining room and other areas.

But the most striking changes may be in the athletic facilities.

A racquetball court destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was rebuilt. A weight room was converted into an aerobics studio.

While the Olympic-sized pool hasn't changed, the tiles on the floor surrounding it were replaced with a lighter-colored variety. A mural depicting soft blue sky and clouds was painted on the ceiling, giving backstrokers the illusion of swimming in the great outdoors.

Potted plants placed at poolside add warmth.

In addition, a set of stairs was added on the side of the pool to make it easier for older and infirm members to enter the water. That change is one of several aimed at making the club more accessible to the disabled in accordance with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

"We added close to $300,000 of ADA upgrades," Atkisson said.

Among those upgrades are a sloped sidewalk in front of the club and lifts to the front lobby and pool. Bathrooms were upgraded and doorways and hallways were widened to make room for wheelchairs.

There are a number of other new additions, as well.

As part of its push to attract more women members, the club added a plush women's locker room complete with mahogany lockers, a sauna and steam room. Previously, women had only a temporary locker and dressing room.

Though the club began admitting women in 1987, until recently the only women around were mainly widows taking advantage of the dining and entertaining facilities.

Today's roster includes some 40 women members out of 500 — up from just a handful a few years ago.

"The old-timers may not like it so much, but we're definitely there," said Gigi Huser, a 61-year-old San Francisco accountant who joined the club last year. "They're really treating us ladies like the boys."

Along with the facelift, the club is also becoming more family oriented. Every month, according to Atkisson, up to five male memberships are being converted to family memberships, which include spouses and children under age 13.

Every Sunday, from 3 to 5 p.m., those children can participate in the Kids' Club, which includes swimming lessons, workouts in the gym and other activities.

Goldstein's 5-year-old son Noah is a Kids' Club regular.

"If for some reason I don't take him, he cries," Goldstein reported.

Just six years ago, in 1992, the Concordia-Argonaut's future didn't look so rosy. At that point, debts from the earthquake and an earlier fire that gutted the building led the club to declare voluntary bankruptcy.

However, a fund-raising drive among club members — who include some of the Bay Area's wealthiest Jewish families — brought in pledges in excess of $5 million.

For many, keeping alive a San Francisco institution that had served the city's Jewish families for a century and a half proved a compelling cause.

Said Claude Rosenberg, Concordia-Argonaut president, "There were many members who…didn't want to go anywhere else."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.