History of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor’s Weekly Luncheon Accommodations

As we prepare to move back to the Michigan Union on February 5th 2020 for our Wednesday luncheon meetings, our historic home, here is a summary of where our club has met since 1916.


In 1916 the Club’s original fifteen charter members began weekly luncheon meetings in the Catalpa Inn, located at the corner of Ann Street and Fourth Avenue. Weekly meetings continued in that building for the next three years.


Brothers, architects, and Michigan alumni Allen and Irving Pond designed the Michigan Union with construction beginning in 1916. Due to WWI, funding for completion was difficult to obtain. In the spring of 1917 the building remained unfinished and was used as a barracks and mess hall by the Student Army Training Corps. Construction continued through the end of WWI in 1918. The official opening of the Michigan Union was in the fall of 1919. The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor began holding weekly luncheon meetings in the commodious Union shortly thereafter. Weekly Club meetings continued in the Union for another twenty four years.


Due to WWII the Union was once again appropriated for war related activities. In August of 1943 the Club moved it’s weekly luncheon meetings to the Allenel Hotel on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Huron. Not as spacious or accommodating, the hotel asked Club members in October of that year to absorb a raise in luncheon costs to 85 cents in order to cover the 10 cent raise for waiters. The Pretzel Bell served as the Club’s weekly meeting place from July through September in 1947 while the Allenel Hotel refurbished its banquet hall. A lament recorded in a Harpoon during the Club’s time at the Pretzel Bell was: “No Beer!”


Upon return to the Allenel Hotel on October 1st, 1947, The Harpoon reported debates among Club members of whether or not the woodwork in the new banquet hall was mahogany, stained gum wood, or plastic.


The Club’s return to the Michigan Union for weekly luncheon meetings on July 11th, 1956 was announced rather unceremoniously in The Harpoon. One can only wonder if the Club’s decision to return may have had something to do with a report in The Harpoon some months before.


In that Harpoon edition, one of the Club’s original charter members, Shirley Smith, adhered to at least one tenet of The Four Way Test by announcing the steak served at a recent Allenel Hotel luncheon meeting was the toughest the Club had been served in its entire history.

With a more spacious meeting room, improved acoustics, and air conditioning, the first meeting back in the Union was also celebrated for no heavy truck noise just outside the windows.


The Club’s Golden Anniversary year saw the first luncheon meeting in the Anderson Room on July 6th, 1966.  The tradition continued until May 2, 2018 when the Michigan Union closed for renovations and the meetings moved to Weber Restaurant and Hotel and weekly bowls of black bean soup.


So, fear not Ann Arbor Rotarians! The Club has survived for over 100 years despite dubious accommodations, the turmoil of humanity, and culinary challenges to members digestive tracks. We are returning to the storied halls of the Michigan Union on February 5, 2020.


By Tom Millard