The Briar Club has a rich history as a Houston mainstay for those looking for a place for their families to call their "home away from home".
We are proud to present a brief history of our Club's origins and traditions, which we still cherish and uphold today. From humble beginnings to the grand vision of a country club which we now enjoy, The Briar Club has always been a place where big things happen and families focus on fun.
1949 - The Briar Club Begins
The Briar Club's story starts in the farmlands on the outskirts of Houston, in a subdivision named Loving Canada, with farmhouses and livestock. On December 30th, 1949, a major metropolitan referendum was scheduled to decide whether to annex 79 square miles of surrounding communities. The annexation was a commitment to Houston's continuous growth. On this same momentous day, thirteen local men, recent veterans of World War II, made concrete plans to improve the lives of their families and many others for years to come. They filed a charter with the state of Texas to recognize The Briar Club. The following morning, Houstonians woke up to discover they lived in the South's most populous city.
In The Briar Club's early days, the Santamaria family ran the club as The Coral Club, with Uncle Vince at the helm and Grandma Fannie Santamaria cooking for the Members, especially her famous raviolis. Without major facilities like a pool and tennis courts, a motivated group of Coral Club members self-named "the baker's dozen" created a charter with Mr. Santamaria to form The Briar Club, a glowing vision of recreation and sports for their families within a steadily growing campus.
"The word Briar, spelled with an a, alluded to the number of brier bushes that were on the property -- particularly behind and around the Clubhouse." - Joe Santamaria, grandson of Fannie Santamaria and current Briar Club Member
1950's - A Neighborhood of Members Form
As Houston flourished in the 1950's, a decade of industrial growth, The Briar Club flowered from its farmhouse origins as a family-focused social club with club events, amenities and organizations alongside its dining and recreational facilities.
During the 1950's, The Briar Club as we now know it truly began to take shape. The first pool was built. An initial code of conduct was established. Monthly dues were instituted, as well as a check system for the purchase of food and beverages. Furniture for the cocktail lounge was purchased from Suniland Furniture. In 1956, Al Chivers was hired as manager, remaining in that position for over twenty-five years.
The Briar Ladies organized and kicked off with a Box Supper, bringing gourmet sunday buffets, informal dances and holiday events to The Briar Club. Not to be outdone, the children of The Briar Club also organized very active clubs, including the Briar Patchers, the Briarteens with their pool parties, and the Junior Board. During these golden years, Club events were well-attended and a culture of "family and faith" emerged amongst the neighborhood Member families. This culture of togetherness would carry throughout the decades of The Briar Club's history to the present day.
"We found that we were able to do much of the maintenance and upkeep in and around the Club through member participation. I have in mind particularly our painting the entire inside of The Briar Club, upstairs and downstairs, on one Thanksgiving Day, when Texas and Texas A&M were playing college football at College Station. This was in November 1951, and members had been invited by letter to appear at seven or so on that Thanksgiving morning with a three-inch paintbrush. We arrived them that high-quality paint would be available as well as cold lunch and kegs of beer, with a radio giving us the returns of the football game throughout the Club property. I can't remember the exact number that showed up, but there were far too many, and each person with a three-inch brush could have probably painted his part in a matter of one to two hours." - Gerald E. Veltmann, Briar Club Member
1960's - The Briar Club Expands with Houston
In the 1960's, Houston was the first word uttered on the moon, and the Astrodome became a "wonder of the world". This decade was a period of rapid growth for Houston and the areas surrounding The Briar Club, and as Houston expanded, the Club grew in size and function to match. In 1965, Timmons Road was paved, offering a welcome less-bumpy entrance and exit into the Club.
The Briar Club became a popular lunch spot for its Members, catering to over 200 people a day. There were patio parties for Briar Kids (which led to many patio food fights!). One of our most cherished traditions, Briar Bingo, began in the 1960's on what was called Briar Nights. Air conditioning was a popular amenity in the summertime. Because liquor by the drink was still not legal in Texas, "Locker 500" formed in the Club, operated by trustees to comply with the Texas Liquor Control Board, to still provide libations at Club functions.
Briar Club events and traditions began with an exciting cadence, with the first Thanksgiving Dinner served in 1964, the first Derby Day in 1968 (which was standing-room only), and the ever-popular Briar Luau.
"Bingo was a big anchor-point for The Briar Club. It was called 'Briar', not Bingo. You played 'Briar'. You came for 'Briar Night'. The cards were printed BRIAR across the top. You had to juggle two R's on your card. There was an element of cleverness involved. It was great, great fun." - Peyton Burch, Briar Club Member
1970's - The Briar Club's "Happy Hour"
With Houston's economic boom in the 1970's, the city became synonymous with glitter and glamorousness. On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs at the Houston Astrodome. A passion for tennis raged across the country, and also on the Briar Club courts. The days at the Club were dedicated to creating memories and carrying on traditions.
The Briar Club's campus continued to expand, with the first Lap Pool (our current Competition Pool) construction, a snack bar called "The Play Deck", and a small family pool with a high dive. The tennis culture at The Briar Club continued strong, and The Briar Club Swim Team began a tradition of undefeated years with varsity-level swimming and calisthenic workouts, springing into life and popularity in the 1970's. As many current Briar Club Members will remember, "we always won".
"A special memory is of August 14, 1971. This was the day of our wedding. We had planned a small event. The wedding was held in River Oaks Baptist Church, and I had planned a small reception at The Briar Club, expecting 25-30 people. As the wedding guests arrived at the church, I asked a friend to call The Briar Club to say that the attendance might be more than expected...maybe 30-40 people. In the end, there were 115 guests who lined the street and clamored around our wedding cake. And The Briar Club served everyone so graciously. Weddings are miracles, and so are Briar Club receptions." - Jeannette Clift George, Briar Club Member
1980's - A Time of Renovation
The 1980's were a time for major renovations at The Briar Club, leading to a better club experience for all. Along with a new kitchen, a two-story Fitness Center, three new tennis courts and a casual dining area, the Club acquired another amenity -- its first computer.
As prolific as Briar Nights were, club events continue to ramp up on The Briar Club's yearly calendar for the whole family: Valentine's Day, Easter Brunch, New Orleans Jazz Brunch, Shrimp Boils, Oktoberfest, and Wild Game Dinners. The first HLTA women's tennis team began at The Briar Club in 1984, starting a tradition that is still alive today. And, of course, the Briar 'Cudas Swim Team continue their winning streak.
"On April 15th every year, we had a four-o'clock deal for dollar drinks -- all drinks for one dollar. All the waiters went around with their pockets out. There was a hearse in the circle drive with a casket hanging out. We were all celebrating tax day. There were hundreds of people here!" - Jay Grubb, former Club President and Member
1990's-2000's - Family Fun Grows
With the Club's culture and tradition securely in place, Briar Club Members turned their attention -- along with the nation -- to health and nutrition. The Briar Club expanded its Fitness Center in 2005 and added several popular fitness programs, including group exercise aerobics, yoga, and karate, creating the foundation of our fitness program that continues to be the envy of Houston. In addition to an expanded Fitness Center, the first Kids Club building was built, a space dedicated to fun and active childcare for the youngest Members. The Briar Shop, a pro shop dedicated to the growing tennis culture at the Club, was also constructed by the Competition Lap Pool.
Along with the City of Houston, the Club was no stranger to natural disasters, weathering three more hurricanes (Rita, Katrina and Ike) and a fire in 2002. These events did not disrupt the Club culture; rather, the Club became a place for Members to gather around while dealing with the aftermath at their own homes and businesses.
Two decades of family fun flew by at the Club, with the same beloved traditions being updated as the times and trends changed. Membership continued to grow, and as renovations continued to be completed, many Briar Club Members began to see a new vision for their Club, just as the "baker's dozen" did in 1949. From this vision, and many hours of hard work from the Board of Directors and Committees, The Briar Club Master Plan Project was born.
"It just makes my heart sing to see my friends' kids here, grown now and with their own children. Our kids have such wonderful memories. They'll never let us drop the membership." - Barbara Beich, Briar Club Member