How the Gibson Girls Saved Gambling

Ca. 1905- a lady, looking straight out of a Charles Dana Gibson cartoon,  poses in Palm Beach on the porch of Figulus, the winter home of  prominent Cleveland businessman, Charles W. Bingham. Picture courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County

The Beach Club was a gentlemen's club when it opened in 1899. The game rooms were off-limits to the ladies who were welcome on the verandas and dining rooms only. The dining rooms were furnished and decorated for their comfort - gentlemen were banished to the back rooms and porches to smoke their cigars. Women gambled at the big casinos in Europe but the idea didn't sit well with Edward Bradley. 

At the time, Flagler's hotels operated on the "American Plan," where all meals were included along with the rooms and entertainment.

Bradley's strategy was to offer the finest cuisine in the country prepared by the best staff he could find. He also made sure that his dining rooms were also the most expensive.  Every year he gathered prices from the menus of the top restaurants in New York City - from Delmonico's to Shanley's- and topped them making sure that The Beach Club had the highest prices in the nation. Guests dining in one of the world's most prestigious hotels just next door must have felt like mere riff-raff. 

It wasn't enough. Just halfway through the first season, the Bradley brothers new venture was in dire straights.

 From The New Yorker magazine:

 Before the season was half over the Bradleys had decided to close up and move on to more lucrative fields. They fixed a date one afternoon having just enough money to run the place four days more. That evening a party of men and women dropped in for dinner., during the course of which one of the women asked if she might visit the gaming room.

Welcome in casinos in Europe but not in USA.

Ed Bradley was indignant at the request, but John said they might as well let the women in-it didn't make any difference, he said, because they were going to close in a few days anyhow.

They were admitted and word spread quickly throughout the resort. The next night women were at all the tables.

"The Bradleys kept open for the rest of the season and when they closed in March, their account books showed that they had paid for the building and furnishings, and had a small profit besides."

The ladies were the key. The brothers' empire was off to the races.

Coming: Racehorses

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