The Mountain Oyster Club has a long history in Tucson, Arizona, and is known for its exclusivity with a significant dose of fun and humor. Recently, Tiffany Selchow, Arizona Beef Council, Director of Social Media and Consumer Outreach, sat down with Wendy Davis, current president of the Mountain Oyster Club, and her husband to learn more about its history and how it relates to Arizona Beef.
The standing story of the founding of the Mountain Oyster Club in 1948, informally referred to as the MO Club, is a group of rowdy-type gentlemen who started a club and restaurant that wasn’t quite as stiff as others establishments of the time. The founders wanted to have a place for ranchers to go to feel comfortable in their Levi’s.
Throughout its storied history, the club has had various addresses, starting off in the Santa Rita Hotel basement, then to the Pioneer Hotel, and then in a historic house known as the Jacome home, where the club stayed for 30 years. 2003 saw another move, but this time the club decided they wanted to purchase a building so they wouldn’t have to keep moving.
As is told on the MO Club’s website, “The new home of the Mountain Oyster Club has a long, rich history of its own. It was originally built as a home for Miss Florence L. Pond, daughter of a distinguished lawyer in Detroit. The building, called Stone Ashley, was planned by Grosvernor Atterbury, a well-known New York architect. It was constructed of block and native fieldstone by the M. M. Sundt Construction Company for a price of $67,000. The estate consisted of 318 acres that extended approximately one mile on Speedway and a half-mile along Wilmot. Approximately 20 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds surrounded the 17 room residence, the rest was natural desert. Miss Pond made Stone Ashley and the grounds available to servicemen and other groups in the area during WWII for concerts, other programs, and swimming.
In 1947, Miss Pond put the property up for sale with an asking price of $300,000 unfurnished, and eventually sold it for $200,000 including furnishings. After approximately $400,000 in renovations by architect Bernard J. Friedman and the M. I. Poze Construction Company, which included the addition of a third floor to the main building and other building improvements, which would house up to 80 guests, it opened in 1949 as the El Dorado Lodge. Also added at that time, were tennis courts, a heater for the pool, putting greens, badminton courts, shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pitching facilities, an 18 hole golf course, horse stables, corrals, and a residential community.
The El Dorado Guest Lodge promoted itself as a place “…where breathless scenery, age-old traditions and the pleasures of today combine…”
It later became the Palm Court Restaurant before being purchased by Charles Kerr, former maitre d’ of the Tack Room Restaurant and opening as Charles Restaurant in 1979. Charles attempted to return the mansion to its original English manor style with slate floors, wonderful fireplaces, and a beautiful, beamed ceiling. He was also responsible for the addition of a first-class kitchen. What had once been elegant guest rooms were now offices for various Tucson businesses. In 1984, an additional 2 story office building was added to the northeast side of the existing buildings, which copied the style and materials of the original structures.
Most recently, for a period of about 2 years, the original mansion housed a French restaurant that went by the name of the original home, Stone Ashley.
While many changes have taken place over the years, much hasn’t. You still enter the property by way of the tall Italian Cypress lined road and the original paneled front door of the Pond mansion, believed to have cost $1,500 in 1936. A few of the fruit trees remain from what was a family citrus grove of grapefruit, sour orange and olive trees. To the right of the front entrance, the bathhouse with 2 dressing rooms still remains although the pool has been replaced with a parking lot. Many of the decorative gardens, fountains and other exquisite touches that made this estate one of the show places of the southwest can still be found inside and out.”
Beef is an obvious staple on the club’s menu, and Sous Chef Mike Estelle, who works with Executive Chef Obie Hindman, filled us in on some of the behind-the-scenes of the restaurant activities. Chef Mike brings a vast portfolio of restaurant knowledge with his career starting in the business as a 15-year-old washing dishes at another long gone, high-end Tucson restaurant called The Tack Room. Chef Mike met the head chef of the MO Club a few months after he started his dishwashing career and now has worked with him for 20 years. The MO Club dry-ages all of their beef in-house, meaning large beef cuts are aged for several weeks to several months before being trimmed and cut into steaks. It’s a process that helps the steak develop flavor and makes it far more tender than it would be completely fresh. Tenderloins are the cut of choice now for the MO Club, and Sous Chef Mike Estelle said they are purchasing a case of them every week and a half. The MO Club also cuts their own steaks from subprimal, and all their hamburger is double ground fresh daily. Veal is another item available that is very popular with club members.
If ever you are invited to join a member of the MO Club for dinner, this is one invite you don’t want to turn down. The club’s character and personality are seen almost everywhere you turn. While pictures are not allowed inside, you will leave with a lifetime of memories and a feeling of having stepped back into an era of finer things but with no lack of humor.