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Corpus Christi Town Club had storied history

CORPUS CHRISTI — For decades the Corpus Christi Town Club was the place that drew the area’s movers and shakers.

Many a deal by South Texas business and community leaders was made in the fine dining room. Couples also clamored to have their wedding receptions in the exclusive venue.

“All the biggest oil deals were made there,” said musician Sonny Hill.

Hill led the club’s house band from 1983 until recently and said some of the faces in the crowd included the late Edwin Singer, a Corpus Christi philanthropist and oil businessman, and members of the Chapman and Kenedy families.

“It was a big tradition in the town and a prestigious thing to belong to the Town Club,” he said.

Fifteen businessmen founded the club in 1952 in the three-story Dragon Grill building at Water and Starr streets, which was one of the most famous gambling grills in Texas history. The Vietnam Restaurant and the V Boutique Hotel occupy that site now. The club moved to One Shoreline Plaza in 1988. According to the club’s website, the goal was to give members a place for fine dining, socializing and business networking.

In its heyday it did just that.

But financial issues, declining membership and the growth on the city’s southside — among other factors — contributed to the club’s demise.

The club’s Facebook page announced its closure last week.

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Hill said he was heartbroken to hear the news.

Fred Heldenfels III, who was a club board member from 2012 until it closed, remembers going there in the early 1950s as a teenager after inheriting the membership of his grandfather, Fred Heldenfels Sr. His dad, Fred Heldenfels Jr., was also a longtime member, and his uncle, H.C. Heldenfels, had served as board president from 1961 to 1962.

“I took my wife (Edna) there for dates,” he said.

The two have been married for 59 years and had just visited the Town Club two weeks ago, before its closure. They were frequent visitors, he said.

Heldenfels, 80, said he was disappointed but not surprised when it closed. He knew the club was struggling financially even though the last few presidents and boards had worked hard to keep it from closing.

Club membership had been down below 400 at the time of the closure. It had numbered about 800 in years past, he said.

“There are so many factors that contributed to the closure. One thing is the city growth to the south. Our primary membership used to live closer to the club,” Heldenfels said.

He also said there is so much more competition now from many more fine restaurants in the city.

Longtime Corpus Christi resident Dick McCracken, who joined the club in 2000, was among those who would often take business clients there for lunch and dinner.

“I would go to lunch there at noon and every room would be packed,” said McCracken, 76.

McCracken served on the board for eight years and was board president from 2010 to 2011.

The atmosphere on the sixth floor of One Shoreline Plaza was nice and companies would hold special events there, McCracken said. It was also a popular place for wedding receptions, although bookings for many of those events had been declining in recent years, he said.

Dinner clubs across the country have not been able to attract as many special events now as they have in the past and many are experiencing financial difficulties, he said.

“I was shocked, but the writing had been on the wall for a while,” McCracken said.

This article was written by Dayna Worchel from Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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