STEELE CREEK -- Here's a riddle: What sits right on the edge of Lake Wylie, has for 80 years and yet only a handful of people have seen it?
The answer is the brand new Red Fez Shrine Club, which wrapped up almost three months of renovations last week to modernize one of the more identifiable locations on the lake.
"It's completely different," said club vice president Tommy Clinard, a member more than 25 years. "If you stand back here now, you can see better than you ever have."
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Work began Jan. 2 and continued feverishly up until Saturday, when an afternoon wedding reception took place on the grounds. What began as the replacement of some faulty floorboards quickly became a more complicated task for the 150-member club.
"Our little $20,000 project turned into a six-figure project," Clinard said.
The 7,500-square-foot club didn't add space, but instead focused on addition by subtraction. Two interior walls were removed, offering a vast view of the lake from front door to the wall of windows on the east side of the building. Two new openings also were created accessing the kitchen and stairwell.
"It started out just to be a facelift," said Chris Sherwood, club president. "From there it just continued. We started peeling things back, and a 100-year old building started showing its age. Then it became a safety issue."
Members helped with electrical and mechanical work, though outside contractors also were used. Renovations include marble counters and a 24-inch granite, L-shaped bar along with hardwood floors, composite siding and smoke-eating ceiling fans for the bar area.
"They haven't banned it yet," Clinard said of smoking in the bar.
Structural improvements also were included, like new steel beams for support. Those changes should help the club, built in 1928 and the oldest Shrine Club in North America, remain a viable place for event hosting and club activities, Clinard said.
"This is something that's going to last another 50 years," Sherwood said. "We don't have to worry about it."
Many of the club features prior to renovations were original, while a few construction projects took place in the years following. A small fire in 1985 brought some changes, as well as a corner addition following Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Now, though, everything from windows, walls and ceiling space are energy efficient and up to 2009 building standards.
While Shriners past "did what they could do with the money they had," the latest project may be the single biggest renovation in club history. In recent years the club received upgrades to the outside of the facility, mainly for event hosting. Which prompted both lake traffic to comment on the new scenery and the idea for the inside improvements.
"The inside of the club needs to be as pretty as the outside is getting," Sherwood said.
Annually, many groups use the Red Fez Club for functions including company picnics, weddings and civic group meetings. Groups that meet there regularly, like the Lake Wylie Covekeepers, needed to find new spaces after the new year but now will be able to return.
"We had everything destroyed over here," Clinard said, explaining why so few people saw the inside of the building since December. "They couldn't."
In his seven years in the Charlotte area, Sherwood already has a sense of the history of the club. People often tell him how they remember a wedding there, or a company picnic. While those same people may have a harder time recognizing the place now, Sherwood hopes the improvement will allow for many more years of memory making.
"This building is a symbol of the lake," he said . "The new memories start basically this weekend."
Want to see the changes?
The Red Fez Shrine Club will host an open house beginning at 2 p.m. April 11, where guests can drop in to see the new changes to the club. For more information, visit redfezshrineclub.com.
Red Fez history and tidbits
• The Oasis Yacht Club, under Commodore Ernest J. Sifford, applied for a lease from the Wateree Power Co. in 1928 for 21.3 acres on the Catawba River in North Carolina originally belonging to W.M. "Buster" Boyd, for whom the nearby Buster Boyd Bridge is named.
• The original cost of the building was $6,500. Renovations cost about $200,000. In 1933 after five years of leasing the property, the Red Fez Club purchased 21.3 acres from Duke Power Co. for $500.
• The Red Fez Club Inc. of Charlotte and the Oasis Yacht Club, made up of virtually the same membership, merged on Oct. 13, 1932.
• A 10-slip boat house was authorized in June of 1934. Problems led to the boat house being put up for sale in 1937, but a two-story boat house was built in the summer of 1941 where it stood for 20 years. Lightning struck it in April of 1964, burning it to the ground.
• Beginning Oct. 14, 1936, the club held square dances every other Wednesday night for several years. The following year, the club added a chef and wait staff.
• A 25-year lease was signed between Red Fez Club, Inc. and the Red Fez Boat Club on Dec. 22, 1953.
• The boat ramp on the south cove of the property was completed in 1958.
• At the request of the county forester, the vast pine trees on the property were cut down in 1960 after it was discovered they were diseased.
• On Aug. 31, 1976, the club received its charter and was officially recognized by the Oasis Temple as a Shrine Club. Prior to that point it was simply a club for Shriners.
• The Ladies Auxiliary began on March 27, 1961 with the formation of the Minikins. The Camelettes were formed on Nov. 19, 1974.
• A contract to add an Olympic size swimming pool was awarded on Sept. 25, 1961.
• On Aug. 31, 1976 the club received its charter and was officially recognized by the Oasis Temple as a Shrine Club. Prior to that point it was simply a club for Shriners.
• The club signed a contract with a mobile communication company to place a tower on the property on Oct. 12, 1994. Another tower was installed 16 months later, allowing the club a more stable income flow.
• Red Fez Club Inc. is the official owner of the property, but leases it annually to Red Fez Shrine Club for $1.
• Current club properties include a covered picnic shelter, pool, two horseshoe pits, a basketball court, beach swimming area and visitor boat docks, along with kitchen service for events like company picnics and weddings.
• No money for the Shriner Childrens' Hospital was used for the renovation, which was funded through building rentals and associated fees. In fact, the Shriners have a clause in the building lease stating if it ever needs to be sold, all the proceeds go to the hospital fund.
For more historical information, visit lakewyliepilot.com.
-- information courtesy of Ray Phillips, Red Fez Shrine Club historian