B.B. Club prepares to celebrate its centennial
Published 7:51 pm Saturday, March 18, 2017
From poker games to elaborate parties, the B’nai B’rith Literary Club played host to a wealth of events for its Jewish members for generations. /// Some of Vicksburg resident Richard Marcus’s fondest memories were of the club’s New Year’s Eve parties and dances. /// “The New Year’s Eve parties were really a big deal. Just about everybody I knew who were teenagers from up in the Delta came for that,” Marcus said.
Turnouts were also widely attended when the Red Tops, who were the most popular band in Mississippi performed, he said.
Although no longer an exclusive club for Jews, the facility currently operates as an elegant venue for weddings and other social occasions, and from 7 to 11 p.m. March 25, a Centennial Gala will be held.
The origins of the B.B. Club, as it is often referred to, dates back to 1871 when first formed as a Jewish men’s organization called the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Association.
In “The History of the Jewish Community of Vicksburg (From 1820 to 1968),” written by Gertrude Philippsborn, the author writes that in 1886 for tax purposes the group reorganized and changed its name to the B’nai B’rith Literary Stock Co., which was eventually changed to the B’nai B’rith Literary Club.
The group’s objective was to serve as a social outlet for Vicksburg’s Jewish community.
Before the B.B. Club constructed the facility, which is located at the corner of Clay and Walnut streets, members gathered at various locations around town.
Philippsborn writes the B.B. Club first met in the parlors of the Bazinsky home and later moved into a building at the corner of Crawford and Cherry Streets, which was known as the Balfour homestead.
In 1889, the club bought the Balfour homestead, Philipsborn writes, but had also began construction on a “beautiful and elegant” building at the corner of Clay and Walnut streets.
The three-story building was to include a reception room, parlor, banquet hall, billiard room, library and ballroom that could be used by the members.
It would eventually have a swimming pool, writes Iuliu Herscovici in his book, “The Jews of Vicksburg, Mississippi,” which Marcus said was the first ceramic tile swimming pool in Mississippi.
Unfortunately, on May 19, 1915, the building was gutted by fire. According to a newspaper story that ran in the Vicksburg Evening Post, firemen narrowly escaped death while trying to fight the flames.
The club was forced to move back into the Balfour homestead, but in 1916, the stockholders decided to rebuild. In 1917, the B.B Club held its first ball in the new facility.
Marcus said his father, Isadora Marcus, became a member of the B.B. Club while it was in its “hey day,” which was around the 1920s.
During this era, the B.B. Club functioned similarly to a country club, Marcus said, offering its members amenities that included a full service restaurant.
They also had a poker club, Marcus said, and his dad was a member.
“He would leave the store, (Marcus’ Dad owned a furniture store on Washington Street) around 5:30, come home, eat dinner and then go play penny ante poker.”
The wood paneled “poker room” is now where Story Ebersole, who is the caterer for the B. B. Club, has her office.
By the time Marcus became a teenager, the club was still operational he said, but not to the extent it had been in the past.
“We still had a lot of dances,” Marcus said, and in the summer time, the swimming pool, which is located in the basement of the building, was still used.
“The women had certain hours and the men had certain hours, because we swam naked,” Marcus said.
Unfortunately, through the years the B.B. Club continued to decline in its services, and in 1967, the City of Vicksburg made an offer to buy the building.
The police department was in the process of building a new facility and needed space during their transition, so the club was sold and the Vicksburg Police Department and police court moved in.
Thankfully, the beautiful moldings and architectural features of the building were covered over in paneling, protecting it from harm.
After the new police headquarters was completed and all parties moved out, the B.B. Club was put on the market.
Vicksburg resident Dan Fordice owns the building now. He said he bought the building to preserve history.
“This is a landmark of Vicksburg, and I want everybody to come in and enjoy it,” Fordice said.
“It’s a pretty big deal to have this thing here, plus it speaks so much about the history of the Jewish community in this area, which is going away quickly, which is a very sad thing,” he said, adding the Jewish community has been such a big part of this city.
To celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the first ball held at the B.B. Club in 1917, a Centennial Gala is planned on March 25 from 7 to 11 p.m. at the B.B. Club, 721 Clay St. The event will include a cocktail buffet, open bar, dancing with the Capitol City Stage Band and tours of the ceramic tile pool, located in the building’s basement.
The swimming pool has not been available to view for quite some time, but Fordice is working diligently to have it repaired and full of water for the gala.
“But there will be no swimming naked,” he said!
Also during the centennial gala, Vicksburg photographer Bob Pickett will be taking a photograph of guests.
A picture of the 1917 ball hangs in the foyer of the B.B. Club and Pickett will be replicating the image, Fordice said.
“After the thing, I want two big pictures, one of the 1917 gala and the other the gala of 2017.”
The cost for the event is $50 per person. Proceeds will benefit the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation. Reservations for the black tie optional event must be made by March 22.
For more information, call 601-636-5010.