Nonprofits and Real Estate

Women’s City Club vacates Heritage Hill

President cites lack of revenue, declining membership for departure from Sweet House.

May 25, 2018
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Sweet House
Sweet House, built in the 1860s, had been the home to Women’s City Club since 1927. Photo by Ehren Wynder

Following a long legacy of engaging and celebrating women in the Grand Rapids community, the Women’s City Club has vacated its home in the historic Heritage Hill district, but the club still will be active in the area.

The Women’s City Club moved out of the Sweet House on April 30. The club’s president, Nancy Dausman, cited lack of revenue and declining membership as the key reasons for departure.

The Women’s City Club’s financial struggles go back as far as 13 years ago. In 2005, the club staff realized it would be financially unrealistic to meet the expenses of maintaining the Sweet House, 254 E. Fulton St. in Grand Rapids.

“The best way would be to create a foundation so the members could contribute, and it would be a tax deduction,” Dausman said.

The idea for a tax-deductible contribution fund resulted in the establishment of the Sweet House Foundation the same year. The foundation continues to maintain the house and the grounds, as well as preserve the historic arts and artifacts inside the building.

The Sweet House also is part of the Heritage Hill Association, although the association will not have a role in maintaining the property.

The Sweet House’s history goes back to the latter half of the 19th century. A prominent grain merchant, Martin Sweet, originally built the house for his family in the early 1860s.

The historic building became the home of the Women’s City Club in 1927, three years after the club was formed.

The Women’s City Club was founded to provide a network for women to be able to meet socially and professionally, during a time when such avenues for women were scarce. During its 91-year tenure at the Sweet House, the club added a dining room and an auditorium, giving members venues for events, as well as lunch and dinner meetings.

Rhonda Baker, historic preservation specialist with the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Committee, said the HPC was “very sad” to see an institution as longstanding as the Women’s City Club leave the Sweet House.

“The Sweet House is a privately owned building and the city (HPC) has no ownership of it and, as such, has no say in the direction the owners go with it other than of course review of any proposed exterior work, per the Heritage Hill Historic District requirements,” Baker said.

The Women’s City Club still is very much alive, however. The club will move its regular Thursday meetings to Kent Country Club, 1600 College Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, beginning May 31.

Dausman also said the club will have its annual meeting at Kent Country Club and plans to host more events in and around Grand Rapids to increase exposure.

“What will be different for us now will be doing things in various locations around Grand Rapids and add more activities,” she said. “We want to reach a broader range of women, age-wise, in different stages of their careers.”

The club previously hosted such activities at the Sweet House, including karaoke, bingo and Sweet House-themed trivia night. Dausman said these events would be sorely missed.

But with plans already underway to celebrate the club’s 100-year anniversary, Dausman said they plan to stay around Grand Rapids, though in a different format.

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