[UPDATED FOR 2023]
Officer and other membership clubs often form the heart of a community, where bread is broken, stories are shared, and yarns are spun.From colonial times and even before, they were an integral part of life, sharing news, fostering friendships and elevating celebrations. The U.S. Naval Academy Club is no different. Not long ago, Jim Cheevers, the retired associate director, senior curator and self-proclaimed “relic” of the USNA Museum in Preble Hall, shared some of the fascinating history of the Naval Academy Club with us.
This institution was born in 1906, as the “New Academy” of Ernest Flagg’s vision came to life. It opened its doors at its present location on Truxtun Road, a beautiful example of the elegant Beaux-Arts architecture that had begun to grace the Yard. Called the Naval Academy Officers Club, it also went by “O Club” or simply “The Club.” The present location has remained intact since its founding and much in its same capacity. The lower level has always played host to dining and entertainment options. This social club brought together naval officers for exciting domino and card games, celebrations of sporting events, strategizing about current events and rousing conversation and comradery.
In the early portion of the 20th century, the lower deck of the Naval Academy Club also hosted a bowling alley. Cheevers recalls meeting George Belt, who remembered fondly his days of setting pins in the bowling alley in the 1940s. After a renovation to convert the space to a restaurant, the cozy dining establishment was named The Alley Restaurant in honor of the old bowling alley. An old bowling sign hanging at the bar entrance gamely commemorates the foul line.
The Social Scene
Cheevers joined the Naval Academy O Club in 1967. In those days, military officers and civilians of GS7 rank or above could become members. He was excited to be a part of this social club, and he and his friends would head to the lower deck for happy hour to play shuffleboard, relax at the bar and take a spin on the dance floor. He recalls with a laugh the bartender would hold a spot for his friend, Leann, with a martini glass filled to the brim with water and an olive, just to her liking. “Leann and I loved the staff; the people were so nice and I liked the ambience,” he says.
While the lower level was more informal, the first deck of the Club has always featured expansive and beautifully appointed dining areas that frequently hosted lunch and dinner. On Sunday mornings, these rooms were packed after the Catholic, non-denominational and Protestant services at the Chapels on the Yard, the Club was the place for brunch. (We currently have Sunday brunch for select dates throughout the year).
Along with regular social gatherings, the first deck dining spaces also hosted numerous official dinners. Guests were befittingly surrounded by historical naval images portraying Midway, Coral Sea and Leyte Gulf, the battles for which the rooms were named. This historic space also was home to many meaningful family events, weddings, showers, funerals, graduations, retirements and more.
Two notable events top Cheevers’ many memorable moments at the Club. The first occurred in 1973, when the U.S. Naval Institute celebrated its 100th birthday at the Naval Academy Club. The Chief of Naval Operations and Senior Admiral of the Navy, Elmo Zumwalt (then serving as honorary president), were present. They used Admiral David Dixon Porter’s sword to cut the birthday cake, a sword which held great significance because Porter had served as the honorary president of the Institute in 1873.
A second notable event occurred on January 13, 2006, and also honored Admiral Porter’s legacy. Admiral Porter had engaged enlisted marines in 1865 to set an example for the midshipmen and provide security. After 1881, Naval Academy graduates could also enter the U.S. Marine Corps, and Marine instructors and professors later taught at the Academy. The USNA maintained a close association with the marine security detail throughout this time, but stopped using enlisted security guards in 2006. That year, the ceremony for disestablishment of the marine barracks in Annapolis ceremony took place at the Club. “It was sad in a way, but interesting,” Cheevers remembers, “We had uniformed marines stand guard in the museum and the crypts and gates for years, so we had gotten to know them.”
Cheevers continues to be an active member at the U.S. Naval Academy Club, with more than 56 years of membership and counting. He loves sharing his good memories from those times. In fact, if you see Cheevers at the Club, be sure to ask about the sword he had at his retirement party —Porter’s sword.
As times changed, Naval Academy Club membership evolved too. In 1976, the Academy welcomed its first class of female midshipmen, and the Club welcomed women to its membership. More recently, Naval Academy Club membership has opened to eligible civilians. You can check your eligibility, fill out an application, and learn more here.
Related: Membership Eligibility.
The Club recently underwent a refresh. The rooms continue to pay homage to past naval history, but now exude a more modern, airier look. The maritime artwork, created by former Naval Academy graduates and local artists, features local sites around the Yard and in Annapolis. Along with the new surroundings, the brunch remains a highlight for members of the Club. The well-loved Naval Academy Catering is headquartered at the Naval Academy Club and provides delicious locally influenced meals for gatherings at the Club as well as across the Yard.
Experience the Naval Academy Club
Although the times and the décor have changed, the purpose of the Naval Academy Club remains true to its beginnings. As it celebrates over 117 years, the Club continues to be a special place of celebration, remembrance and connection for both military and non-military members and their guests. It has served an intimate role in many of their most important life events, and provides discounts and benefits that make it an integral part of Yard life.
The NABSD is happy to support the midshipmen through the Naval Academy Club. Proceeds from your visits here also support the Brigade of Midshipmen. Come experience this wonderful setting steeped in Navy tradition. You might even consider a Naval Academy Club membership! We look forward to welcoming you to the Club. And for those of you who already belong to the Naval Academy Club, please let us know your fondest memories—you are a big part of what makes the Club and the Yard so special.