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What’s in a Name?

The Turf Athletic Club building on Market Street c. 1940 (courtesy Rosenberg Library)

More than you might think.

On August 6, 1932, Sam, Rose, and Frank Maceo, along with Oscar Ernest “Dutch” Voight (originally, Voigt) and D.D. Alexander, formed the Turf Athletic Club (TAC) to act as the parent company for their various operations around town (legal and otherwise). Its structure and principals would evolve over time.

To house its offices and for future development, the TAC purchased a three-story building on Market Street, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, that came to be known as the Turf Building.

On the third floor were the TAC’s administrative and accounting offices, a gymnasium, and a billiards room. The gym provided athletic equipment and tumbling mats, and it also contained a boxing ring. Early on, Sam Maceo was positioning himself as a boxing promoter. In 1933, he even contemplated building a boxing arena on the beach but by 1934 was regularly hosting championship fights and exhibitions at the Turf Gymnasium. In 1937, a pocket billiards champion from Chicago named Patsy Natalie was hired to be the club’s instructor in the sport, and he periodically held special demonstrations of his “fancy” shots to a packed house.

Over the years, the TAC sponsored or hosted many sporting events, from professional boxing matches and billiards tournaments to table tennis exhibitions and five-mile swimming marathons in the Gulf. Clearly, the word “Athletic” in “Turf Athletic Club” wasn’t chosen for nothing.

The Turf Building was also home to several “Turf” businesses. On the ground floor were two of the earliest, the Turf Grill, which opened in 1933, and the Turf Cigar and News Stand. At the back of the building was a betting parlor with “direct wires on all sporting events” where wagers could be placed on baseball, basketball, and football games as well as on dog- and horse-racing events. The Turf Tap Room would follow in 1947. On the second floor, the elegant Studio Lounge opened circa 1943, joined by the Western Room in 1950.

The “TAC” imprint appears on many items used at the nightclubs and restaurants owned by the Maceos, and most of the Balinese Room and Studio Lounge gambling chips display both “TAC” and the initials of the club. It is commonly believed that the generic “TAC” and “Turf” chips could be used at any of the Maceo clubs and, considered “good as gold,” were accepted around town as cash.

Sadly, the historic Turf Building was razed in 1968 to make way for an eight-story bank and office building.

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