based on "Talamore at Oak Terrace" by Dr. James Hilty. Edited for the web site. The complete paper with references is available in our archives.
On June 2, 1936, Elsie W. Wingel purchased the club and its 208 acres from PCILGA for the bargain price of $100,000. Elsie’s husband, Harry G. Wingel became club president. They moved into the upper floors of the McKean mansion and retained the bottom portion as a clubhouse. The Wingels owned Oak Terrace for the next 33 years. They made no major changes either to the club property or the golf course. As the years passed the Wingels and the club membership abandoned earlier pretensions of becoming one of Philadelphia’s premier country clubs and over time Oak Terrace gradually became known as a “blue-collar” country club.
Besides golf, Oak Terrace continued to offer swimming, tennis, and horseback riding. Horses were corralled in an area near the present-day sixth tees. The club also fielded a polo team and matches were played on the field below the manor house fronting on Welsh Road. The Oak Terrace polo team competed in round-robin matches against teams representing Penllyn, Gwynedd Valley, Whitemarsh, and Blue Bell.
In the 1930s a number of club members resided in the fourteen cottages and houses on the property, and several employees, along with the Wingels lived in the McKean manor house (clubhouse). Members and local residents from years ago recall when the head golf professional lived in the house directly behind the carriage house, once the McKean estate's Butler's and Coachman's House. Today it houses the Talamore pro shop. They also recall when the large brick building behind the carriage house (now housing the men’s and women’s locker rooms) served as a multi-unit apartment house for members. During World War II Oak Terrace contributed to the war effort by turning over the cottages, apartments, and part of the manor house to the U.S. Navy to house officers and their wives.
A cluster of five houses along McKean Road served as residences for the greens superintendent and other club employees. At some point the Wingels moved out of the mansion into the former McKean estate's "Manager's House," a large farmhouse and corral near McKean Road located a few yards ahead of Talamore's sixth tee. Eventually the Wingels razed all of the old houses along McKean Road and cleared the ground, leaving only the water tower. In 1946 the Wingels purchased a ten-acre tract along McKean Road and built a house at 721 McKean Road.
Tough luck repeatedly dogged the Wingels. A series of accidents, fires, and personal troubles befell them and the Club. In June 1937 the twelve-year old son of a club resident drowned in the swimming pool. He apparently struck his head on the diving board, fell into the deep end, and went to the bottom. His mates’ yells for help brought a golfer, who dove in fully clothed and pulled the young man from the bottom of the pool. John Schuebel, the head golf professional at Oak Terrace tried reviving the boy, but failed.
That same year Harry Wingel, then 41, was arrested for operating slot machines in the clubhouse basement.
Trouble struck again at three AM on October 6, 1947, when four masked thugs broke into the Oak Terrace clubhouse, terrorizing ten people, including the club manager, his wife, another employee, and seven resident members. The robbers tied up their victims, stole their valuables, methodically pilfered liquor, and forced the manager to open the clubhouse safe, before fleeing with $7,700 in cash and jewels.
Then, on a warm July evening in 1950 three hundred members and their guests were present in the clubhouse when County detectives and State police raided the club, seized four slot machines, and arrested the bartender, club manager, and Harry Wingel. A few weeks later Harry and the club manager, Charles Grieb, pleaded guilty of gambling and paid $500 fines. Because it was his second offense, Wingel was also placed on probation, escaping a prison sentence only because of poor health.
In 1950 Oak Terrace Country Club claimed 700 members, but the Wingels, who apparently liked to live in style, had difficulty making a profit. After the police raid, the Wingels announced an increase in dues, apparently to make up for the revenue shortfall occasioned by the removal of the slot machines. “Members Can’t Win,” the Philadelphia Inquirer observed in a classic piece of ironic understatement.
In 1954, as part of an effort to make ends meet, Elsie Wingel sold off twenty-nine acres of developable property abutting the van Steenwyk property at the upper part of McKean Road, reducing the size of her holdings and Oak Terrace Country Club to 188.7 acres
A series of destructive fires plagued Oak Terrace. In May 1958 a fire started by chimney sparks ignited and destroyed the roof of the Manor House (clubhouse) over the east wing. As firemen from four fire companies battled the blaze for nearly two hours, a group of fifty clubwomen continued their luncheon card party, undeterred by the fact that the $20,000 blaze originated in a fireplace ignited for their party. The following October, as TV anchorman John Facenda was filming a commercial, an even larger fire broke out in a second floor ceiling over a stairwell, requiring firemen from six companies several hours to suppress it and causing an estimated $25,000 damage.
In January 1963 yet another fire struck the carriage house and former stables. By then the horses were long gone and the building contained the pro shop, a bar, restaurant, and the members' locker rooms for men and women. The fire apparently started in the men's locker room, quickly broke through the roof, and raged for over an hour. Firefighters chopped holes through the ice in the swimming pool behind the manor house to draw pool water to fight the fire. Newspapers first estimated that the fire caused $15,000 damage, but the final costs for replacing and renovating the clubhouse, plus members' claims for lost property, were over $50,000.
Dr. James Hilty
Dr. James W. Hilty, retired Professor of History and Dean of Temple's Ambler campus, has written extensively about American politics, including Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (Temple). He has provided political commentaries for various publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and served as historical consultant to various news media, including C-SPAN, NBC News, NPR, and others. A Temple faculty member since 1970, Hilty also wrote the introduction to Marvin Wachman's The Education of a University President (Temple).