The Historic Lafayette Club Celebrates Two Anniversaries

by | Jun 2024

Aerial Photo of the Lafayette Club

Photo: Lafayette Club

Lafayette Club marks its 125th anniversary and the centennial of its historic clubhouse.

It is a monumental year for Lafayette Club, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the private club and the golf course and marking the 100th anniversary of the iconic Spanish Mission-style clubhouse located on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.

At more than 800 members strong, the club continues to thrive. “Throughout all of the eras, Lafayette Club never seemed to fall out of fashion because it’s adapted to the changing tastes of its members without losing its essence of easygoing collegiality, warmth and fellowship,” says Steve Doyle, president of the Board of Governors, club archivist and member since 2000.

“I always feel like there is a special vibe when you walk through the doors at Lafayette Club. Our members feel the same enthusiasm about being at the club. When we are together, rooms are filled with great conversation and laughter,” says Rita Howarth, chair of the Anniversary Celebration Committee and member since 2011.

Not only does the club embrace local families, friends and memories, it is steeped in history. “Lafayette legacy will always be inextricably linked to James J. Hill, the railroad magnate,” Doyle says. “He built his Saint Paul, Manitoba and Pacific Railroad [later Great Northern Railroad] to Wayzata in the 1867 and further west for harvesting timber in the Great Woods around Lake Minnetonka. Later, he extended the line to a narrow peninsula between Crystal and Holmes (later Lafayette) bays and built a palatial hotel, designed by William S. Buffington.” This was the Hotel Lafayette, which opened in 1882, and was billed as the grandest hotel west of the Mississippi River. It welcomed some notable guests, including several U.S. presidents, members of royalty and beyond. Unfortunately, the hotel burned down in 1897.

In summer 1898, a group of residents was determined to rebuild the hub of society and sporting events, to which many had become accustomed. On April 10, 1899, Lafayette Club was incorporated in the state of Minnesota. Hill sold the 34 acres of hotel property to the club, and architect William Channing Whitney went to work on the first clubhouse, created in the Dutch Colonial Revival style.

Meanwhile, William Watson was hired to design the club’s nine-hole golf course, which was officially opened in 1900 with a gala celebration. Once again, the Lafayette property was the center of summer society on Lake Minnetonka and hosted President Howard Taft during his summer visit in 1911.

The first Lafayette Club as it stood from 1900 to 1922

The first Lafayette Club as it stood from 1900 to 1922. Photos: Lake Minnetonka Historical Society

Due to the popularity of the club and its links, a daily “golf train” allowed its members and guests to commute to Minneapolis for work and make it back home in time for a few holes of golf before dusk. Unfortunately, in June 1922, the clubhouse burned down.

Within a week of that setback, the Lafayette board members voted to rebuild the clubhouse and hired Hewitt & Brown to design a fireproof building. On June 21, 1924, the current clubhouse opened—just 500 yards from where the hotel and previous clubhouse once stood.

Imagine what occassion, match or round brought everyone to the Lafayette (ca. 1926).

Imagine what occassion, match or round brought everyone to the Lafayette (ca. 1926).

Time, as it does, marched forward. The club stood strong, and members continued to call it home for social and sport activities—with some changes. “Members’ tastes and traditions gradually, but markedly, evolved from the more stilted and formal mores of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations to a more informal, lake-casual, family-friendly lifestyle,” Doyle says.

The club evolved to meet these changes. A member dining area and bar were built on the ground floor in the 1950s, an indoor pool arrived in 1974 and an adjoining outdoor pool added in 2000. A fitness club opened in 1998, a new formal dining room (Layfette Room) and Arcola Grill were created in 2000, and a new members bar arrived in 2015.

Hopefully, none of the practice shots go into the drink!

Hopefully, none of the practice shots go into the drink! Photos: Lafayette Club

What will the future hold? The club conducted an extensive examination of the next phase of its life. Ultimately, the historical structure will remain while additional amenities will be added for the newer, younger members.

In the meantime, it’s time to celebrate, and events are planned for the week of June 16. “Our members really appreciate our club history, even the quirkiness of it,” Howarth says. Plans include golf and racquet sports, family-focused events, history-sharing programs and some fun surprises along the way—all leading up to the June 21 gala with dinner, prepared by chef Shawn Lowman and his team, dancing and spectacular fireworks, according to Howarth.

There are plenty of front-row spots within the club that showcase lovely lake vistas.

There are plenty of front-row spots within the club that showcase lovely lake vistas.

And who will be among those celebrating? “We have so many great memories that have been created at the club, from friendly or competitive rounds of golf to hosting our daughter’s wedding reception there, to the annual Easter, Mother’s Day, Gingerbread House, Santa brunches and birthday celebrations with our family,” Doyle says. “Our grandchildren grew up learning to swim and play golf at the club.”

Howarth echoes Doyle’s appreciation of the legacy the club brings to generations of families. “It’s very special to me,” she says. “It’s my second home.”

Lafayette Club
2800 Northview Road, Minnetonka Beach; 952.471.8493


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This