At the center of all the action stands the clubhouse
Take a yacht club—any yacht club—on an ordinary summer afternoon. Out on the floats an outboard sailor is tinkering with his engine. Near by, a racing sailboat is tied up, but its owner is 300 yards away, drying his sails on the grassplot just above the beach. On the other side of the clubhouse where the marine railway leads up to the boatyard, an amateur ship's carpenter is scraping the bottom of a hauled-out boat far from the cooling comfort of the club bar. Meanwhile, half a mile or more out on the bay, a fleet of class boats is rounding the leeward mark amid a flutter of spinnakers invisible to the members and guests gathered in the seclusion of the dining room.
"Where's Dad?" someone may ask. "I think he took the station wagon and went down to the boatyard," will come the answer. "Well, I'll see if I can find him. I'll meet you up in the bar later, and then maybe we can find a boat and get out to see the races."
"In the ideal yacht club," says Bill Ficker, a tall, bald and lanky Californian, "comments like these, indicating a wide separation of activities, would never be heard." Ficker ought to know. A prosperous architect who has designed many of the fashionable Newport Harbor homes (including Briggs Cunningham's Lido Isle estate), he has spent most of his 35 years racing sailboats, from tiny Sabots and Snowbirds on up to mighty ocean-treading greyhounds like Howard Ahmanson's Sirius II. In 1958 he raced his Star to a world championship.
"The architecture of any yacht club should be an outgrowth of all the club's functions," Ficker says. "Its activities should be integrated, as they are in many golf clubs. There the locker room, bar and dining room are all handy to the first tee and the last green. The whole club membership is projected into the game of golf, and that concept can be applied to yachting." In the half-model shown on the preceding pages and at left (with roof removed in the lower picture), Ficker shows what it takes to make a yacht club ideal.
In Ficker's dream club three basic ideas are employed to bring the disparate activities of an average yacht club together.
First, the club is projected into the water, with a ramp walkway leading out from the shore.
Second, the club is a three-level structure, with each level coordinated in the service of the club as a whole.
Third, and most visually dramatic, the club is round. "I didn't start out with a round building," Ficker explains. "I started out seeking a meaningful relationship between inside and outside activity. The people inside should feel the excitement on the water—boats docking and leaving, boats racing, flags, sails, masts, sun—and with so many things going on at once, it seemed best to allow the activity to turn on an axis. Hence the round design."
Because of its circular design, Ficker's club serves its members as a dramatic theater-in-the-round where, appropriately, yachting becomes the scenery. "Imagine a party on a balmy night," Ficker suggests. "Everyone in gowns and white dinner jackets, the walls opened to a warm breeze and, outside, completely encircling the club, a lighted backdrop of rigging and masts and yachts—a fantastic background for a formal party!"