There is a marker on the side of a building on Bienville Street in the French Quarter that says “Young Men’s Gymnastic Club Administration 1903-1904.” What can you tell me about it?
You may not know the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club, but you’ve probably heard of the name it has gone by since 1929: the New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC). The NOAC’s facility is just around the corner in the 200 block of North Rampart Street.
The club was founded in 1872 when Jacinto C. Aleix and 13 friends formed the Independent Gymnastic Club, headquartered in the backyard of Aleix’s Esplanade Avenue home. Monthly dues were 50 cents.
In 1874, membership grew to 50 men and the club moved into an old stable at the corner of North Rampart and Bienville streets. The name was changed to the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club the following year. In 1884, the club purchased a former school building on Burgundy Street for its headquarters. It later moved into the former Mastich family mansion in the 200 block of North Rampart Street. According to a 1988 Frank Schneider “Second Cup” column in The Times-Picayune, the home, designed by architect James Gallier Jr., featured a terrazzo foyer, marble mantels and crystal chandeliers, all of which made for an impressive clubhouse. It also featured a large gymnasium, baths and a swimming pool.
The building fronting Bienville Street served various purposes for the club over the years, including its laundry and administrative offices. In 1929, the Mastich mansion was demolished to make way for a new building and the organization was renamed the New Orleans Athletic Club. Over the years, notable names have trained there or used the club’s facilities, including heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan, “Tarzan” star Johnny Weismuller, Roberto Durand, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Tennessee Williams, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Costner.
Season ticket packages ranged from $36 for the end zone to $48 for sideline seats and $64 for box seats.