Old John O'Hara Haunt

Pottsville Club Gets Blackballed by Bank
If author John O'Hara were alive today, he might be disheartened to hear the Pottsville Club is slated to close, according to one of the fans of his fiction, Mantura M. Gallagher, Pottsville.
"John O'Hara, I believe, would be sad to see what impact the demise of such a long-standing institution as the Pottsville Club might have on his Gibbsville. O'Hara was a member of the Pottsville Club and enjoyed being part of the upper crust of Pottsville society until his father, Dr. O'Hara, passed away," Gallagher, former Schuylkill County commissioners chairperson, said Monday.
But O'Hara, who was critical of social classes and institutions, may have had something else to say about changing times and the closing of a club he alluded to in his novels.
Vincent D. Balitas, Pottsville, who started "The O'Hara Journal," a literary magazine published locally between 1978 and 1982, did not want to speculate on O'Hara's views when called for comment Wednesday.
"O'Hara's dead," Balitas said before hanging up the phone.
After being in operation for 125 years, the Pottsville Club will close Oct. 31, according to a recent notice its board of managers sent to club members. The board is planning to meet at 8 p.m. tonight at the club to vote to turn over the property to its mortgagee, Miners Bank, Minersville.
O'Hara, famous for novels including "Butterfield 8," enjoyed writing about society and class structure. And he loved social clubs.
"O'Hara firmly believed in identity, the badges of identity and clubdom. Having a pin for a particular club was very important to him. When he was rejected from clubs, it pained him," O'Hara fan Richard Carreno, Philadelphia, said Sept. 25.
Carreno is founder of the online The John O'Hara Society at www.oharasociety.blogspot.com.
One of the society's members is Lillian Hobbs, the librarian at Pottsville Area High School.
"Given his concern with social status, I would have to believe that he would be dismayed to see that this venue for perhaps who were considered the Who's Who of our area was closing. And probably he would lament the fact that this area was no longer able to support such an institution," Hobbs said Wednesday.
"I think he'd be disappointed that the club is closing. He was a member because he was interested in social mobility and being someone. But I also think he would revel in its final hours because of the gossip. For years, there's been speculation about whether it was closing or not. And that would have been good fodder for his fiction," Leslie Kraft, lead English teacher at Pottsville Area High School, said Wednesday.
After being given a week to think about O'Hara's possible reaction to the closing of the Pottsville Club, Carreno also said O'Hara would be "disappointed."
"But I don't think he would be surprised. The world has changed and he'd be quite understanding that the world he wrote about no longer exists, and he'd be critical of that of course. He felt that world exemplified the best values of society," Carreno said Wednesday.
Pottsville was O'Hara's "Gibbsville" and the "Gibbsville Club" was the Pottsville Club, which is mentioned in O'Hara books including "Appointment in Samarra" and "Ten North Frederick."
In O'Hara lore, it's a notable place, even though its location has changed since O'Hara's time.
The Pottsville Club opened at 100 S. Centre St. in 1888, according to the "Joseph H. Zerbey History of Pottsville and Schuylkill County," published in 1936.
It was re-located to 314 Mahantongo Street, Pottsville, on Nov. 16, 1910, according to "John O'Hara's Anthracite Region" by Pamela C. MacArthur.
Ione Geier, Pottsville, said the last time she saw author John O'Hara was in the 1960s at The Pottsville Club, which at the time was on Mahantongo Street.
"He was sitting in this arm chair, in a window looking down on Mahantongo Street. It was in the party room. I thought he was being very aloof. But later I found out he had back problems. And that's why he was sitting in this arm chair," Geier said Sept. 25.
Geier wasn't sure of O'Hara's views of The Pottsville Club.
"I only know he was willing to come back to see a friend of his, Ed Fox," Geier said.
O'Hara offered his insights into his views of society, clubs and "The Gibbsville Club" in "Ten North Frederick, published by Random House in 1955:"
"Anyone who belonged to the tennis club had made the club grade in Gibbsville. There were men in the Gibbsville Club who could not achieve membership in the tennis club because their wives had not come along in the social world to the same degree that the men had progressed in the business and professional world. Nor did membership in the Gibbsville Club automatically ensure an invitation to join the new, larger, more expensive golf club. Almost any sufficiently solvent Christian man, who had made his money in a sanctioned enterprise and did not habitually leave his car parked in front of whorehouses, could be reasonably sure of election to the Gibbsville Club within two years of proposal and seconding."
"Of all the giants of literature, I believe that John O'Hara was aware of social classes more than any other author. So many of his greatest works centered around the haves and the have nots. However, 2013 is almost antithetical to the 1930s that John O'Hara so vividly described. In the '30s, where you lived, where you went to college, who your friends were, to which clubs you belonged defined your person. Thankfully, in 2013, things are very different," Gallagher said.
O'Hara died in 1970 in Princeton, N.J.
On June 4, 1975, the Pottsville Club bought its current location, a former ski lodge at 201 S. 26th St., according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator.
Richard Jochems, Pottsville, president of The Pottsville Club Board of Managers, refused to comment for this article or talk about the club's situation when reached by telephone Tuesday night.

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