Danish Athletic Club left on life support

Manager Reidun Thompson says that the Danish Athletic Club, a social club for Brooklyn’s Scandinavian population, is thinking about closing because of a dwindling Nordic population.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A once vibrant, 120-year-old Scandanavian social club on 65th Street is on life support — and could close its doors for good by the end of the year.

The Danish Athletic Club, a quaint holdout from the days when Scandanavian immigrants living in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights were an active and tight-knit community, has lost so many members that management is gloomy about its future.

“Business has slowed down a lot on account that the neighborhood has changed so much,” said Reidun Thompson, manager of the social club between Seventh and Eighth avenues — an area once known as a Scandinavian stronghold, but is now shared by Bay Ridge’s Hispanic and Chinese communities. “The people who used to come years ago are no longer around. They passed away.”

Thompson expects that the club will continue to operate through the summer.

“Then we will decide what we are going to do,” she said.

The Danish Athletic Club boasted 750 members during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. Members and their guests would pack the dining hall while eating, drinking and dancing the night away, Thompson recalled. But that number has dwindled to about 50 people — most of them inactive participants, observed a member.

“Only a handful show up for meetings,” said Leif Kuppen. “If we lose this place — that’s it. It’s a closed door for the Scandinavian people,” he said.

The people of Norway, Sweden and Denmark have called Brooklyn home for 400 years. From the mid-1800s through World War II, its Nordic population in the borough surged as stevedores, carpenters and shipbuilders came to work on the docks. After World War II, approximately 60,000 Norwegians settled into Bay Ridge, according to one estimate — a link the neighborhood tried to revive last year by becoming sister cities with a Norwegian town.

But that hasn’t stopped the club’s downward spiral, and management has tried to invigorate the fiscal slump by offering $50 annual memberships, $15.95 dinners, and renting out space for parties — a strategy some say should be changed to drum up more support.

“You could make a cultural center out of it,” said Victoria Hofmo, founder of the Scandinavian East Coast Museum. “There are people who are using the place who would like to become members.”
But one member said it may be time to call it a day — and already had a grim timeline laid out for the Athletic Club.

“Probably a couple more years — tops,” said Dave Auerbach in between mouthfuls of pot roast in the club’s near-empty dining room. “I’d like to see it hold a bit, but I’m a realist.”

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@cnglocal.com or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at twitter.com/dsmacleod.

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