Century-old Bath women's club faces pivotal decisions about building, survival

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BATH — After 102 years of existence, the Cosmopolitan Club is at a crossroads.

Necessary major repairs to its 894 Washington St. headquarters are forcing the women’s club to decide whether to improve the 1841 building, where it has operated since 1915, or sell it – and whether the club itself should continue at all.

To gauge community support before making those decisions, and to determine how much of a difference the club makes, the organization is inviting the public to a meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 8, at the headquarters.

While membership in recent years fell to as few as six senior women, new members joined three years ago and recruited others, boosting membership to 32, according to club President Michele Ober.

“With a current membership of 32, much-loved events such as the Strawberry Festival during Heritage Days, the November Gingerbread Social, the Yard Sale Extravaganza during Mayfair, and other fundraisers are back on track,” Ober said in a prepared statement.

“The house can be rented for weddings, showers, meetings, and parties. Funds raised by these events and membership fees support our philanthropic work with organizations focused on many issues, including hunger, child health, and support for women in transition, as well as (barely) the operations of the clubhouse.”

Membership in the club, which sponsored Bath’s first public health nurse, is available to women of all ages, from all economic positions, abilities and walks of life, and year-round and part-time residents alike, Ober said, adding that “(d)espite what you may have heard, no white gloves are necessary – in fact, you are more likely to need a cooking mitt or work gloves.”

But building maintenance has been put off over the course of decades, leading to a projected cost of repairs ranging between $250,000 and $400,000. The city has assessed the building and land at a combined value of nearly $250,000.

The club, recently designated a nonprofit organization, is planning a capital campaign, Ober said.

It is looking to renovate not only the meeting house area, but also to improve the top floors of the building so they can be rented to women in need of transitional or temporary housing, she said.

“Members have discussed the thought of another location,” Ober said June 18, “and they feel they’d either have to meet at members’ houses or perhaps at local churches, libraries or grange halls. Other women’s clubs of Maine do this.”

If the house is sold, the money from the sale would stay with the club, and would be used “only to accomplish the objective and purpose of the club as described in our by-laws,” she said.

If the club dissolves, she added, its assets would be distributed to other charitable groups.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Expensive, but necessary, repairs to the Cosmopolitan Club’s 894 Washington St. headquarters in Bath are forcing the women’s club to decide whether to improve or sell the 1841 building. Michele Ober is president of the 102-year-old women’s organization, which will seek community input on Wednesday, July 8.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.