Ward II Social Club is heading to the auction block. But bidders face several challenges should they invest in the club’s future, provided there is one.
The property will be sold at a public auction Friday, June 5 at 11 a.m. It is being auctioned off by Salem Five Cents Savings Bank, the holder of a foreclosed-upon mortgage on the property.
The club formed in 1948 as “an everlasting brotherhood” and had more than 400 members when it celebrated its diamond anniversary in 2008.
By 2011, however, financial trouble began to plague the club and remaining members started talking of selling the property. One possible buyer included the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Derby Street.
Today, there is no activity at the 1 East Collins St. property. The doors are all locked; the main entrance, shaded by a “Ward II” canopy, is covered with a panel of insulation board.
“They haven’t been open on a regular basis for more than six months, and it may go back further than that,” said William Legault, at-large city councilor. “They had a history of bad decisions and managers ... and that just led to the club withering.”
Robert Allison, an attorney representing the bank, declined comment.
The club has an active “club” liquor license, set to expire at the end of the year as it normally would without a renewal, according to City Solicitor Beth Rennard.
New owners could renew the license or buy and transfer a regular license from another business in the city that doesn’t need theirs going forward, Rennard said.
The site also had a relatively clean building inspection history, according to Thomas St. Pierre, the city’s inspectional services director.
“I never personally had any real problems — minor code things from time to time,” St. Pierre said. “They fixed them when we talked to them.”
Big crowds and noise have been a detractor for the neighborhood, according to Rennard.
“The last couple years, there were a few incidents,” she said. “They were doing things to try to generate business, to essentially save the club, and they had some negative impacts.”
Opening a new club or reimagining the Social Club could be tough. The site is in an R2 zone — a “very restricted, residential one- and two-family” district, St. Pierre said.
“Unless you were to put a social club exactly the same way they were running that one,” he said, “you wouldn’t be able to put it in.”
The site is also affected by its proximity to the Algonquin gas line currently under construction and its presence in a federal flood plain, Ward 2 City Councillor Heather Famico said.
Legault isn’t optimistic about the club’s future following the sale.
When asked what he wanted to see happen to the site, Legault said, “what I want to happen to that property, it isn’t relevant here. It’s what the neighborhood wants.”
But he believes there isn’t a place for the Ward II Social Club going forward.
“They benefited for many years from having an organization that did a lot of good for the neighborhood,” he said. “Their experience in the last five or six years has eliminated any desire to have something like that.”
Famico said the club “used to serve a purpose,” but the need is different now. Today, the need rests solely on housing — and the Ward II Social Club site could provide invaluable space.
“What I’d like to see,” she said, “is the site turned into appropriate housing.”
For more on this story or other story-related inquiries, email Salem reporter Dustin Luca at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 978-338-2523 or message @DustinLucaSN on Twitter.