If ’36 was a social butterfly year for the Browns, the next year was grim. An accident took Townsend’s finger, possibly in December, when it was reported. A megaflood swallowed the Ohio River valley in January, The Hawthorne Club was lost in May, and the couple was divorced by the end of the year.
The club had been carved from the family estate where 19 year-old Townsend was photographed with elaborate radio equipment – built for the US Navy – in 1917. Upon USNR LtJG Brown’s return from Washington in 1932, he most certainly replaced this old system with the newest the Navy had to offer.
But, bizarrely, in the depths of the Great Depression, the Browns began to spend lavish amounts of money* turning 40 acres of the farm into a seasonal recreational facility. The pool at its heart, was “the largest in Ohio, under private ownership.”
Townsend and Jo incorporated The Hawthorne Club, Inc, in 1935. Jo, as the designated club operator, wanted to make the (formerly private) swimming club accessible to the community.
Many of the club buildings, like The Hen House (popular with the Ladies Who Lunch Bunch), were converted farm structures. But some, like the ‘nudist colony’**, as the next owners dubbed a high-walled, roofless enclosure, seemed out of place on a farm. The structure had a floor “as sandy as an ocean beach….[and] tables for those who prefer to acquire a sun-tan without getting sand in their hair.”***
Perhaps Townsend enjoyed basking in this sandy enclosure but there more comfortable places to recline in the all-together than on sand and tabletops. Given Brown’s long study of petrovoltaic energy in sands, I believe those tables once held lab equipment.
From the flurry of newspaper reports, it appears that community support for the club was strong from the opening night forward. After July 4, however, the club entered a decline. Forty newspaper mentions in June dropped to twenty-eight in July, and dancing was curtailed to two nights a week.
Reports of club activities dwindled further in August, and the last mention of it for that year was in October. A published notice stated that Columbus investors were “dickering” for the club and “the interest of Townsend Brown [was] involved.”
Fast forward to May – June, 1937. Townsend, as the plaintiff, put the Hawthorne Club, Inc, the defendant, into receivership. A receivership sale offers a lender a quick way to recoup some of their investment, without forcing a borrower into a much longer bankruptcy process. The court ordered the sale on May 8th and the auction was held on May 17.
The unnamed buyer picked up a property with improvements worth $1.5 million in today’s dollars, at presumably a bargain basement price and quickly sold it again on July 1. The buyer was the local 600 member club of ARMCO steel employees. (ARMCO Zanesville manufactured the electrical steel used in large motors.)
The Townsend Brown Foundation was established six months later. According to Josephine, it was created as a means for L.K. to pass on Townsend’s inheritance, while he (L.K.) still lived. From the speed with which the Hawthorne club sale and resale took place, it looks to me as though L.K. and his accountants – with, perhaps the connivance of his local cronies – found a way to do that and funnel the proceeds to the foundation.
*The facilities included changing rooms, a pool restaurant with an outdoor dance floor, a service building, several cabins, a gatekeeper’s office, tennis courts, a volley ball court, shuffle board, horseshoes, croquet and parking for 400 automobiles. One building, perhaps, a barn, had been converted to a theater, with a stage, a balcony, and a “special concrete floor.”
**Townsend’s fondness for nudity was evidently well-known to the locals.
***Polite people didn’t say crotch, crack, or buttcheeks then.